Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum

Tuesday was Adventure Day! A dear friend and I started out early with a big breakfast out to give us a good foundation for the day. Then, we spent about an hour and a half at Vidler’s 5 & 10 (see previous post) in East Aurora, NY. After that, we spent a couple hours touring the historic Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, NY. And, we finished off the day with a stop at Paula’s Donuts in Clarence, NY for a deliciously fresh donut to eat there and one (or two) to take home! WHEW! A lot to cram into one day, but all three places were on my Adventure Bucket List and all were in the Buffalo area, so we just decided to knock all three off the list in one big day trip!

I ADORE carousels!!! I always have….they have always been my favorite ride at any amusement park, fair, or carnival….I get all nostalgic when I see one or listen to a wonderful old Wurlitzer Military Band Organ, or even just hearing the song “Teddy Bear Picnic” (or, for that matter, just thinking about a teddy bear picnic)……and, I have collected carousel horses for many years! I just love them! So……when I discovered that within about an hour and a half drive from my home there is one of the most famous and historic carousel factories in the world, I instantly put it on my Adventure Bucket List!!!

The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is located at 180 Thompson Street, North Tonawanda – visit their web site here! The Allan Herschell Company (1915-1970) was founded in North Tonawanda, NY and produced carousels and other amusement park rides. Their specialty was the manufacture of portable carousels that could be used by traveling carnival companies. They hand carved over 3000 wooden carousels across four Herschell companies that operated at this location across the years. The museum is fascinating!!! Much of the original equipment is on display with videos and message boards that explain how each step of the process was completed. There is also many examples of vintage amusement park rides on display and an original 1916 carousel – it was one of the first carousels shipped out of the Thompson St location after it opened in 1915. It is 40 feet in diameter and has 36 beautifully hand carved horses and over 580 lights! It is unique in that it has a combination of horse styles – the outer row has larger wild looking horses in the 1916 Allan Herschell style and the two inner rows are older style horses dating back to the late 1890s.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was watching how they made the music rolls for the band organs! Someone had to sit and carefully represent specific sheet music into hand drawn master rolls by marking the measures and drawing dots in various lengths indicating the length each note is held in multiple lines, each representing a different instrument on the band organ! The hand written masters were put through a machine that created a master template with holes in each of the hand drawn dots, which in turn was put through a machine to transfer the song to the musical rolls that would be sold with the carousel. Each master held one song – each musical roll that was sold with the carousell contained ten songs. The process was very involved and extremely time consuming……and just fascinating to learn about! It was also very interesting to watch videos of how the wood was hand carved into parts of the carousels and the various animals that went on the carousels and then assembled and painted to create the final product!

The ultimate joy, though, was getting to ride the vintage 1916 carousel……what a thrill……what a wonderful memory!!! Alas, I had to ride it by sitting in one of the stationary chariots cause I can no longer get up on the horses, but it was still an experience I will never forget!

Here are some photos…….if you are ever in the general area, I highly recommend you include a visit to this museum – it is an incredible experience and wonderfully educational!!! And….it is great for kids, as well – they have a vintage kiddie carousel, a kid’s craft room, and a Kiddieland with cool vintage amusement park rides for children to ride on and enjoy!

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The four Herschell companies

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Vintage 1923 kiddie carousel

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The next TWO photos compare the hand carved wood style of Allan Herschell (second photo) and the newer fiberglass molded styles (first photo) – the newer ones might be flashier, but they lack the depth and craftsmanship of the hand carved styles!

Also – in the first photo you see a portrait of Allan Herschell

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All Herschell animals began with a painting that was used as a model

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Original Wurlitzer Roll Shop – equipment used to make music rolls

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Table where an individual sat to transcribe the sheet music into a series of dots onto the music master roll

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Vintage barrel organ manufactured in North Tonawanda

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Wurlitzer Military Band Organ – all vintage band organs were manufactured in North Tonawanda either by Wurlitzer or one of three competitors

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Vintage Wurlitzer home player piano manufactured in North Tonawanda

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The carving room display

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Parts in various stages of carving – hard to see in this photo, but the mane on the smaller partially carved horse has the most incredible detail!!!

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The frog is unique to the Herschell companies – other companies carved a variety of animals, but only Herschell made a frog and Herschell’s frog is the only animal that was adorned in human clothing

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I was fascinated by the detail work and craftsmanship in the carvings!

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Photograph of workers performing various tasks in the carving process

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We both really liked this ostrich

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The center base of the 1916 Vintage Carousel

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Vintage Artizan Band Organ

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LOVE THIS…..great words to live by:

“Once Around is Never Enough”

An amazing day……I had such a great time and learned so much!!! Check it out……well worth the time!!!

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