Nothing brings to mind the sweet nostalgia of childhood summers like the vivid sights, unmistakable sounds and familiar motion of a grand and glorious carousel. I should know. I’ve ridden many a merry-go-round since beginning a new fun-finding mission with my young daughter: Zoe’s carousel tour of Ohio.
The first carousel in the United States was created in Hessville, Ohio during the 1840s by Franz Wiesenhoffer. Experts agree that to this day, some of the very best antique carousels can be found in Ohio.
Here are some of our recent favorites – and a few from our wish list of carousel stops to come:
The Sandusky Carousels. Three of the nation’s top 10 carousels are right here in Sandusky, Ohio. These are the Midway Carousel, the Kiddy Kingdom Carousel and the Cedar Downs Racing Derby ride, which is part carousel and part thrill ride. All are at Cedar Point. While in Sandusky, we’ll be sure to visit the Merry-Go-Round Museum to learn about the three traditional carving styles of carousel animals – and to ride their vintage 1939 Allan Herschell carousel.
The Zoo Carousels. Akron Zoo ($2 per rider, open March through November), Columbus Zoo & Aquarium ($1 per rider, open year round), Toledo Zoo and Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden ($2 per rider, seasonal access) each boast wonderful carousels with ornate horses and – in some cases – zoo animals. Toledo Zoo actually has two carousels open during the warmer seasons – a modern one inhabited by African animals ($2 per rider) and a restored 1950s Allan Herschell carousel ($1 per rider). The Columbus Zoo showcases an authentic 1914 Mangel-Illions carousel complete with 52 restored original horses, chariots and band organ.
The Mansfield Carrousel District. In Mansfield, they spell it “carrousel” as a nod to the word’s French origins. Richland Carrousel Park in Mansfield, Ohio, houses an indoor, year-round carousel in the downtown historic Carrousel District. Completed in 1991, it was the first hand-carved indoor wooden carousel to be built and operated in the United States since the early 1930s. Mansfield is also home to Carousel Works, the world’s largest manufacturer of wooden carousels, which occasionally opens to the public for tours.
Columbus Commons Carousel. Columbus Commons is home to one of Ohio’s newest carousels – a small, gorgeous number topped with images of great places to visit in the city. This is a really nice “first carousel ride” for little ones, due to its size and the promise of fairytale trips atop a princess horse or frog prince. There’s also a Nemo-like clown fish, the OSU Buckeye horse and chariot, and other fantastic characters, all hand-carved by Ohio artists at Mansfield’s Carousel Works. Parents are free with a child rider ($1) and everyone rides for free on Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm.
Where are your favorite carousels in Ohio – old or new, big or small? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments, so Zoe and I can continue our whirlwind carousel tour! Although wouldn’t you know, she is now big enough that she prefers to ride them without me – so I guess I’m destined to stand on the sidelines and take pictures now, instead of riding.