Take a Historical Spin at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum

Sleigh ride!

Sleigh ride!

When one considers the history of Western New York, several things probably come to mind. There is the Erie Canal, and all of the industry that the waterway brought with it, and, perhaps most notably, the steel mills where our ancestors diligently earned us the Rust Belt moniker. Because of our station on Lake Erie, as well as the Buffalo River and the Canal, we were able to produce grains of all types – including malt for brewing, and oats for General Mills, which provides the city with the glorious perfume of Cheerios. We have brewed beer that was distributed nationally, and we’re returning to those roots, too. However, among the products that Buffalo is quietly famous for is a carnival ride we all loved as children (and secretly still do): the Carrousel!

Completely mechanized organs provide the soundtrack for your visit!

Completely mechanized organs provide the soundtrack for your visit!

On a gray, chilly autumn day, my son, my sister, and I made our way to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda. Navigating the roads as we approached the museum, it seemed that the clouds broke over a spot off in the distance, and as we arrived, it was serendipitous that the sun was indeed shining on this place where pure joy is created. We pulled into the parking lot of the bright building painted fire engine red, which has been the home to the world’s beloved wooden horses since 1915.

We entered the museum, and immediately, my son was in awe. While we waited for our host, Maureen, we peered through the large glass windows to the left, which displayed carrousel animals and carnival games that were nearly a century old. He pointed out some of the animals he saw, and Maureen approached us and took us into the gift shop. There, we received our self-guided tour pamphlet, and we were on our way.

The object of my desire.

The object of my desire.

The first stop we made was a short corridor that held some original bumper car carts and roller coaster trains, as well as a small train modeled after the steam engine, which was for smaller children to enjoy; the Herschell companies were innovators in this regard, and also pioneered thrill rides for adults that would first be popularized in the 1930s. Hanging from the ceiling was a very Buck Rogers-looking spacecraft with twin front-facing and rear-facing “laser pistols” mounted on either side. I imagined myself and Noah flying through the air and battling the cruisers that surrounded us. He agreed that the spaceship looked like fun. We then entered a large room where a carrousel from 1916 was running. The organ loudly played a familiar tune as the hand-painted horses took turns leaping and falling to the deck. The smile on my son’s face told the whole story, and he hadn’t even started riding yet. The music faded and the horses slowed to a stop. Excitedly, Noah handed the operator his wooden nickel, and he and my sister chose a sleigh for his first ride. I loved watching him take a 360 degree tour of the room, and he enjoyed finding me each time his revolution was complete. When the ride had come to an end, we went back toward the entrance of the building to investigate the making of these magnificent works of art.

CLOSE!  But no cigar...

CLOSE! But no cigar…

We entered the display room, where we learned some of the intrinsic differences between fiberglass-molded horses and hand-crafted horses. We toured the room, where we were treated to all sorts of carrousel creatures; there was a rooster and an emu, a boar and a dog – beautiful wooden animals brought to life by incredibly talented artists. Perhaps the most intriguing items were a set of cows with big knobs on their foreheads. These were not carrousel animals at all – they were some of the first carnival games of strength. Contestants could pay a fee and strike at the knob with a sledgehammer. If they hit hard enough, the cow would drop to its knees, and the victor would be rewarded with a cigar. If the contestant failed to strike hard enough, it was declared: “Close…but no cigar.”

We continued through to the carving shop where planks of wood were glued together and forms were beginning to take shape. Each one was shaved, chipped, and planed by hand, and the pure craftsmanship that went into the animals is beyond description. One truly has to see it to believe it. Also displayed in this area are a collection of Wurlitzer band organs and a library of sheet-music rolls. One of the organs can be played by those visiting the museum with an attendant present.

Wurlitzer put the Roll in Rock 'n' Roll.

Wurlitzer put the Roll in Rock ‘n’ Roll.

As the factory’s motto states, once around is never enough. We made our way back to the giant carrousel and this time, Noah climbed onto a brown steed bearing the green, orange, and white colors of our people. As the horse started to rise, the pure joy on Noah’s face was moving, and I was disappointed I didn’t have my camera on me to capture the moment. The horse, which he had named ‘Cookie,’ came to a rest and our visit had come to an end.

I have lived in the area for over 30 years, and while I knew of the museum, I had never visited. This piece of our local heritage can be experienced hands-on and is a great place to go with family. Children of all ages as well as the young at heart can find an afternoon of fun here.

On October 17th from 5:30 pm-8:00 pm, the museum will be hosting their Spooktacular, a Halloween event boasting fun for the whole family. Costumes are encouraged, while visitors will be treated to clowns, crafts, snacks, and of course, RIDES! Be sure to stop by and check out this amazing tribute to our most enjoyable historical contribution. I defy you not to get dizzy as you take a spin on this tribute to century-old Buffalove.

Once around is never enough.

Once around is never enough.

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One Comment on “Take a Historical Spin at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum”

  1. johngatas November 28, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Reblogged this on North Tonawanda's Premier Real Estate Agent and commented:
    Check out this amazing place, that North Tonawanda is so famous for!

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