Carousel is trotting into home stretch

Monday June 4, 2012


We called them merry-go-rounds and rode them whenever we had a chance -- at the Brockton Fair when we had a day off from school to go, at the Big E when the town of Westfield also gave us a day off from school and, much later, on Martha's Vineyard where our kids strove for the brass ring as if it were the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Watching them lean way over in the saddle to reach for the ring dispenser was a little nerve-wracking, but none of the eager riders was thrown from a horse. At most brass-ring carousels, the dispenser offers brass only once a ride. The rest are steel.

Grabbing the ring involved not only dexterity and a little courage, but also plain luck. If your horse was rising as you passed the ring spot, you had a better chance of reaching. Long arms were an asset as well. And you had to mount a horse in the outside row.

Interesting that "reaching for the brass ring" or "grabbing the brass ring" has become synonymous with major aspirations or achievements, a part of our phrase vocabulary that has outlived most of the carousels where it originated. According to sources on the Internet, fewer than 20 of the pre-1960, brass-ring carousels are still in operation.

The Vineyard's Flying Horses, built by Charles Dare in 1876, came to Oak Bluffs from Coney Island in 1884. Despite its popularity, it nearly disappeared 100 years later when someone wanted to dismantle it and sell the beautiful steeds to collectors of antique carved horses. Purchase by the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust put an end to that plan, and the horses still run at Oak Bluffs, $2 a ride.

Carousels are important and potentially, it would appear, historic, in addition to being beautiful, imaginative and a source of great fun. Years ago at Disney World, grandson Sam was turned over to me for a period of time -- his parents were probably contemplating one of the roller coaster-type rides that Disney doesn't call roller-coasters.


Sam was about six, a little scornful of the horses that went up and down and round and round. He was more into Pirates of the Caribbean or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. But he was polite, too, and I convinced him we should do the carousel first while the line was short. So we did, and he liked it, and so did I. That music is a basic prompt for nostalgia. Then we went on to something zippier.

All this is to say that after years of carving and painting and dreaming, the Berkshire Carousel people are on the brink of deciding where to put their creation. Its success, of course, will be based on the real estate broker's traditional cry: Location, location, location. It's a little hard to imagine that the Berkshire Mall would be ideal. It has no neighbors who might walk to the carousel of an afternoon or evening. The mall's focus is shopping, which usually involves adults and teen-agers, rather than tourism. And it might be worth noting that the vintage carousels around the nation are in parks, not business centers.

The mall offers parking, an advantage, and a less costly installation. But the carousel was born in Pittsfield, and it is nice to see that Mayor Bianchi is trying to get his hands on the reins as decision time nears.

As the geographic and population center of the county and as a place that is luring visitors with its theaters and galleries and restaurants, Pittsfield seems like a perfect place to add a carousel. With a superb project like this, the permanent location should not be decided on the basis of where it will cost less to set it up.

Doing whatever stretching is needed, the city should reach for the brass ring.

Ruth Bass was an Eagle reporter or editor for twenty-four years. She lives in Richmond.


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