Every chance I get to ride a vintage carousel, I ride it! There are SO few of these gems left, and their craftsmanship needs to be admired up close and personal. So, when you are at the San Francisco Zoological Gardens, this is the second “historic” experience you can have!
This rare menagerie Carousel is one of only 14 left in the world, and it is one of only seven Dentzel Carousels remaining in the United States!
The antique Eugene Friend Carousel is located near the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo. It was made by master carver, William Dentzel in about 1921.
The carousel concept began as early as the 1100s, when Arabian and Turkish horsemen played a pseudo war game. Italian and Spanish crusader spectators described it as a “little war,” or garosello and carosella, in their respective languages.
Part of the event was a ring-spearing tournament in which the men would ride at full speed and try to spear a small ring hanging from a tree or pole, and, indeed, even early American carousels still had brass-rings as part of the experience. How they were used I’m not quite sure, but in such a way the 19th and 20th century term for “success” was coined as “grabbing the brass ring”.
I think the ring was at the edge of the compound and people used to reach out from the twirling carousel to grab it. The inherent danger, on what has become a child’s world tool, is undoubtedly why this practice is no longer part of the experience.
But the adventurous crusaders brought the game back to Europe where it evolved into an extravagant display of horsemanship, which was called carrousel in French.
By the 1700s, some Frenchmen decided to build a device for (somehow) training young noblemen in horsemanship. This became the beginning of the carousel as we know it.
During the 1800s, carousels became geared toward amusement rather than practical horsemanship.
By the 19th century, wagon-maker Michael Dentzel began to construct and operate carousels in Germany, where there was a long tradition of inspired woodcarving..
His son, Gustav, carried the idea to America in 1860, where the Dentzel family became renowned for its intricate woodcarving, craftsmanship and “menagerie” style, depicting many different kinds of animals, not just horses.
The Zoo’s Carousel was named to honor Bay Area philanthropist, Eugene Friend. This particular merry-go-round showcases the lavish, expensive, intricately detailed, lovingly hand-carved wooden artwork which disappeared during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Modern carousels are made of cast metal and fiberglass, sadly.
The antique Dentzel Carousel has 2 chariots and 50 animals, which include: horses, giraffes, ostriches, tigers, lions, pigs, rabbits, cats and even a reindeer. They are individually embellished with whimsical details and jewels.
It’s now 3 million revolutions and counting, since its placement at the San Francisco Zoo in 1925!
The historic Dentzel Carousel has undergone a complete renovation and then successive restorative upkeep.
In 2000, after spending almost 1,000 hours on each animal, the restorers have painstakingly and lovingly recreated each sculpture as originally intended.
In addition, the carousel received a new set of hardened steel gears cut to the original Dentzel specifications, and a new drive system with electronically controlled motors, along with new steel bearings. The Zoo also tended the interior and exterior carousel building and roof, which were repaired and repainted. The project totaled $1 million.
So, it will bring pleasure for generations and please support its upkeep in every way you can.
Dentzel Carousel – Fee $2 per child
Adults may ride free when standing next to a child with a ticket.
Enjoy your visit!
©2010 mystic at Travel Vacation Review