The Employee's Tribute
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The AstroWorld Carousel
AstroWorld’s Carousel has a long and very interesting history. The current carousel is actually made up of pieces from two different earlier carousels.
Pen Mar Park
Just before the turn of the last century, the age of the great Railroads was nearing it peak. Competition among the railroads drove them to seek new routes and new riders wherever they could. Many railroads and trolley lines began to build weekend destinations along their routes to attract and create additional weekend ridership. In 1877, the Western Maryland Railroad created just such a Park in a scenic spot right on the Pennsylvania – Maryland border. Because of its location, it was named Pen Mar Park. It began as a weekend lodge and picnic pavilion, but soon added a miniature steam train, a penny arcade, swimming pools, gambling halls, and many other attractions.
In 1907 William Libby and August Karst bought a carousel from Daniel C. Muller & Bros. Company and brought it to Pen Mar. This carousel was renowned far and wide for the incredible beauty of its carved horses and fantastic animals. The "Grand Carrousell" as it was called, remained a popular attraction at Pen Mar until the Park closed in 1946.
Chic Hutton, a miniature carousel builder, did some research at Pen Mar and interviewed some of the original park workers. In a posting on Carousels.com he described some of what he learned during his research:
"The Pen Mar Carousel had some unique features. The rounding board was plain with only one colored light at each sweep (no pictures, no mirrors, no carvings), probably because it was in a building. Unlike most carousels that had plain white lights, it had colored lights. It is the only known Carousel to have strands of beads lining both sides of the sweeps… The sweeps were not painted like most, but were lined with velvet, red on one side and blue on the other, as can be seen in the photo. The Carousel was referred to as a STANDING MACHINE, since the animals did not jump."
By the time Pen Mar closed in 1942, Karst’s son (also named August Karst) was working at Forest Park in Hanover, PA. Forest Park (formerly Eichelberger Park) had been founded as a Trolley Park in much the same manner as Pen Mar.
Forest Park had a Dentzel Carousel. Records show that in 1927 it was refurbished by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and given PTC number 77R. This carousel had 18 sweeps with three rows of horses and animals. The two inner rows were jumpers that moved up and down on an overhead crank mechanism, and the outer row was populated by large ornately carved standers and two chariots. This is the frame and mechanism that is the foundation of the AstroWorld carousel.
Evidently, the younger Karst had always admired many of the animals on the Pen Mar machine, because in 1946 when his father placed the Pen Mar carousel in storage, Karst removed many of his favorite animals and placed them on the outer row of the Dentzel carousel at Forest Park. His father then sold the Pen Mar carousel (perhaps with some of the Forest Park horses) to a man from Willits, Alaska, where it remained until it was abandoned in about 1968.
1968 was also the year that Forest Park closed for the last time. Fortunately, it was also the year another man was building a new park in Houston, Texas. Roy Hofheinz was a local Houston entrepreneur who was also the County Judge, owner of the local baseball franchise, and the father of the Houston Astrodome. Hofheinz bought the Forest Park carousel and had it installed at AstroWorld in time for its inaugural season. The park and the hotel he owned were a tremendous success and became Houston landmarks. By 1975 however, Hofheinz had fallen on hard times and sold his Park to Six Flags. For the next 30 years the Park would operate under their ownership. Many new rides were brought to the park and tens of millions of visitors came and enjoyed themselves. The Carousel would operate there for the Park’s entire history.
The Carousel Today
Today’s carousel is made up of many pieces of this long legacy. There are 8 outer row horses that came from the D. C. Muller "Grand Carrousell" at Pen Mar. One of them, a Cavalry Horse, still has the initials "LK" for Libby and Karst carved into the canteen and halter. It was a common practice for D.C. Muller & Bros. to carve a buyer’s initials into a horse on request. Other Muller figures include the spectacular Hippocampus (half horse and half fish), an Armored Knight’s Horse, an Indian Pony (one of only three still known to be in existence), a Zebra, a Deer, a Goat, and a Giraffe. The Lions and Tiger may have been from Pen Mar, or may have been from Dentzel, since Muller carved for both companies at different times. More research and perhaps old photographs may allow us to continue to fill in the details in this colorful story.
The chariots are original to the Forest Park Dentzel carousel, as are three of the outer row horses, including one draped with a flag. The Camel appears to be a PTC animal, most likely added in 1927.
The inner row horses, or jumpers, all came from either the original Dentzel carousel, or from when it was refurbished by PTC in 1927. Most are menagerie animals and horses of a style that was produced later in the Dentzel company’s history.
The frame and sweeps are original, and may date back as early as 1895. The deck was rebuilt of ironwood at AstroWorld in 1999. The motor and drive mechanism was replaced many time, most recently in 1998. Some of the paintings and rounding boards are original, but the elaborately carved frames and jester heads were lost some years ago. The Wurlitzer 146-A band organ was sold in 1975, and has not been replaced, although the façade for the front still remains.
Schlotterbeck, Judith A. "The Pen Mar Story: 1877-1977" ASIN: B0006CUXS6
Dinger, Charlotte "Art of the Carousel" ISBN: 0914507001
Fraley, Tobin "Carousel Animals: Artistry in Motion" ISBN: 081183347X
The National Carousel Association
Barbara Chronister Historical Photos
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