Saddle up for this week’s Hittin’ The Town at the Merry-Go-Round Museum

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) – Who doesn’t love a ride on the carousel? Beautiful machines have been delighting young and old for hundreds of years. And there’s a museum that features all kinds of carousel animals here in northwest Ohio.

In fact, one of America’s premier collections of carousel animals is at Sandusky. The carousel museum is full of creative sculptures that have stood the test of time.

Bonnie Behm is the Volunteer Coordinator and Gift Shop Manager.

“The heyday of carousels in the United States was 1885-1925. During that time, over 3,000 carousels were built,” Bonnie said.

There is incredible beauty everywhere you turn in the museum. Many pieces have multiple layers of carving, full of intricate detail.

“Some of them have what we call secondary engravings. We have a horse with five additional carvings on it. Besides the horse detail, there is a cherub’s head on the saddle and a sphinx detail on it. -do that you can’t find anywhere today,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie says the carving of these pieces took between 400 and 600 hours. The most talented sculptors worked on the animal’s head and neck.

“Most of the animals were cared for by a team of people,” Bonnie said. “It was not done by one person. You worked your way up, so you started at the tail and worked your way up to the leg, and then became a body sculptor.

And here’s some inside information: the animals outside are usually the largest and most elaborate. The sculptors were able to save time on the details inside.

“Since no one pays attention to an animal’s back anyway, all the details are put on the front and most people don’t realize that the same design doesn’t fit all around.”

Bonnie says carousels started out as adult entertainment.

“They were meant to get your blood pumping, they were the original roller coaster, so to speak. They were designed to keep you entertained and coming back for more.”

And these numbers might surprise you.

“Most carousels today go 2-3mph. We’re on the faster side with ours, it goes 9mph. But there are machines that were designed to go 36mph.

The museum carousel originally traveled to Illinois and Indiana.

“Like most carousel operators, they found that selling it piece by piece was more profitable than selling it as a whole. So when we got it, they had already sold most of the animals. We have 21 animals on it that were carved between 1900 and 1930 and nine that were carved here at the museum on it.

While most of us think of horses on rides, there are so many other animals. Everything from farm animals and wild animals to mythical creatures.

“Deer, elk, sea monsters, seahorses, giraffes, elephants, wolves, roosters, rabbits to name a few.”

The carousel animals are not only on display in the museum, there are also people working on them.

“We have some that have been recently restored, others that have never been restored and others that need to be restored. Sometimes we have sculptors and you can see them working on a new piece or a restoration and ask questions.

Bonnie says she discovers something new here almost every day. And she likes to see the smiles on the faces of young and old.

“There are no unhappy people in the museum.”

The museum is open almost all year round. It closes for the month of January for repairs and exhibition work. In February, it is only open on weekends.

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