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In Search of Merry-Go-Rounds

Now that you are a new mom or dad, the important things in life have changed. You no longer need to find the best restaurants, the most stylish shoes or the latest movie. What you really need to find are the merry-go-rounds.

Herschell-Spillman. Dentzel. Philadelphia Toboggan. If you are a merry-go-round, or carousel, expert, you probably recognize these as famous makes. If you are a new mom, all you really want to know is where the merry-go-rounds are and what time they open. It turns out Southern California is bursting with carousels – some fast – some old – and some very precious.

Merry-go-rounds were manufactured by a handful of companies, many of which started in the 1800s in the United States. Gustav Dentzel emigrated from Germany in the mid 1800s to start building hand-carved wooden carousels. He carved menagerie animals, including zebras, lions, tigers, camels and ostriches, and horses. Knotts Berry Farm has one of his originals. His family continued the tradition into the 1900s manufacturing a series of delightful small merry-go-rounds with four to eight animals. You can find one of these today at the La Habra Children’s Museum.

The Herschell-Spillman Company started in the early 1900’s with steam-powered carousels. They manufactured up to 18 different menagerie animals along with a great variety of horses. The only Herschell-Spillman in Southern California is in Balboa Park in San Diego. Later, Edward Spillman started his own company focusing primarily on horses. The Griffith Park Carousel is one of his originals. It has wonderful music and is fast, so hang on! Allan Herschell also spun off his own company making mostly portable merry-go-rounds that you might find at a fair. You can find a permanent one at the Lakewood Mall in Lakewood and in Adventure City in Anaheim, an adorable amusement park that is just the right size for children under age eight.

The Philadelphia Toboggan Company focused on very natural-looking horses. One of their most famous productions is the Santa Monica Pier Carousel, which appeared in the movie, “Sting”. Actually, beaches, piers and merry-go-rounds seem to go together. Others are at the Balboa Fun Zone carousel in Newport Beach, the Shoreline Village Carousel in Long Beach near the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Belmont Park carousel in San Diego, and the Chase Palm Park Carousel in Santa Barbara.

Finally, the most charming merry-go-round in Los Angeles is at the Montebello Barnyard Zoo. This 1940’s carousel has only small white ponies and is just the right size for very small children.

When you visit a merry-go-round for the first time with a baby or toddler, you may want to sit and watch a few rounds to get used to the motion and music. You may want to take your first ride on a bench or a horse that does not go up and down, or your toddler may not want to ride at all. On the other hand, your child may go for the fastest horse the first time, and want to ride several times. In any case, follow your child’s lead.

So saddle up your palomino and have a great ride.

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