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Picture this: way back in medieval times, during the Crusades, horsemen played a game tossing a clay ball back and forth, leading to the birth of the term “carousel.” The Spanish and Italians caught wind of this game, dubbing it “carosello,” which loosely translates to “little war.” Fast forward to 17th century France, where the game got a fancy French makeover as “carrousel.”

What started as a ball game soon transformed into a royal jousting tournament, complete with knights spearing rings suspended on posts. Wooden arms with majestic horses were later added, spun around by royal servants to train young princes in the art of jousting. To amp up the fun, a crank mechanism was introduced, alongside some horsepower – literally, a horse or mule – making the rotation smoother than a buttered slide. Imagine it resembling an arrastra used in mining, but way more whimsical, adorned with bells and intricate details to delight little ones. The cherry on top? The first U.S. carousel factory popped up in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1867, courtesy of the carousel maestro G.A. Dentzel!

The Armitage-Herschell Carousel at Pioneer Village stands out as a rare surviving example of the innovative carousel design introduced by the Armitage-Herschell Co. in 1879. Here are some interesting details about this historical carousel:

• It features a two-row track with a variety of traditional carousel horses, derby horses, and other animals.

• The wooden carousel animals, crafted by renowned manufacturers like Allan Herschell, Philadelphia Toboggan Co., Evans and Church, William Dentzel, and Stein & Goldstein, all date back to the early 20th century.

• The carousel is powered by an antique vertical wood/ coal-fired steam engine, operating on a slender 154-foot cable along a circular ground track. Pioneer Village obtained the carousel from Pontiac, Illinois in 1955, where it had been inactive since 1907. Following restoration, it reopened in 1958, quickly becoming a popular attraction as the oldest operational steam-powered merry-go-round in the United States. The original steam engine, including a 1955 Hamburg Firetube Boiler, is now exhibited at the museum. Unfortunately, untreated water led to the boiler’s deterioration over time, causing safety concerns due to the aging steam engine and lack of maintenance, resulting in its closure years ago.

Skilled volunteer artisans Jo Ann Weisman and her team, have been working tirelessly to restore carousel animals in the basement of the Village’s two-story hotel since fall 2021. They have already restored over a dozen figures for the carousel.

The Y2V RV crew, a group of committed volunteers from different regions, arrived as heroes to promptly fix the carousel roof during the sunny summer of 2022. Another heroic team, the RV Volunteer Friends returned in 2023 for additional repairs on the carousel. Currently, this enthusiastic and talented team is dedicated to building a new enclosure for the carousel from June 26 to July 8, among work on key restoration projects at the Pioneer Village. With their unwavering determination and sup- port from the Pioneer Village Museum team, they aim to have the carousel operational for everyone to enjoy later this year. Let the enchantment of the carousel commence!

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