Carousels, or merry-go-rounds as they are often called, have been around since the 1400s. The golden age of the carousel fell between 1880 and 1930 but these days, it appears to be making a come back.
This carousel, which opened in June, is the newest feature in midtown Manhattan's Bryant Park. Its position here in the shadow of the giant headquarters of the New York Public Library was secured by Dan Biederman, the director of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation.
"I'd been seeing them in Europe, in places I didn't expect them. Downtown in French cities, far away from residential neighborhoods," he said. "So, I thought we could do it here even though this is right in the center of the business district here in Manhattan. I thought somehow the kids would find it, and they have."
The carousel has an octagonal enclosure with sky blue rounding boards, adorned with painted fluffy clouds. Colorful horses share the rotating space with a less-traditional rabbit, cat, deer, and frog. At night, the carousel lights up.
It seems very much at home in the park. Marvin Sylvor, owner of the Fabricon Carousel Company and designer of the Bryant Park carousel, explains this is intentional.
"New York is not a little town where you can just get things done," he said. "You have to go through all sorts of bureaucratic processes, including the community board, who said, 'No, no, no. You're not putting a merry-go-round in our park. You're not going to ruin our park.' So, it took three years to convince them that we are not a merry-go-round company, but an art company. We understood the park, and the serenity of the park, and the tone of the park. We convinced them that we would do a carousel that would feel comfortable in the park. In that park."
The Bryant Park carousel is attracting children from neighborhoods throughout the city. A ticket-taker named Barbie helps youngsters get seated on their animal of choice.
"It's been wonderful," she says. "The kids have really enjoyed it. We've had young hearts, from newborns to senior citizens, teenagers. We had a newborn baby on yesterday. It's the most enjoyable job I've ever held. Seeing the kids smile. And wave!"
As she indicates, children are not the carousel's only beneficiaries. Joan Platbroad, who has been coming to Bryant Park for years, says, "I just think this is the most marvelous addition to Bryant Park. When we used to have Bryant Park, it was a park that ordinary people, civilians, just didn't enter. And then a few years ago, a genius - I think her name is Linden Miller - had a vision, and she built this wonderful area. And now we have this perfect carousel as another part, for children of all ages to enjoy. Even if you don't ride the carousel, you listen to the music and you watch the children, and it's just a joy."
Carousel-maker Marvin Sylvor says many of the 72 carousels his company has made over the past 20 years have been shipped abroad. Mr. Sylvor worked on EuroDisney's carousel outside Paris, and has sent carousels to Korea, Bolivia, Dubai, Singapore, Brazil, China, and New Zealand.
But Mr. Sylvor stresses one particular international experience showed him the universal appeal of the carousel. "We did this one in a small town in Saudi Arabia, and I was stunned that the kids and the people respond to it just the same as American kids," he said. "It has nothing to do with culture. It just bypasses it all. It's universal."
Mr. Sylvor is currently developing a carousel with a sea-life motif, featuring manatees, dolphins, and mermaids. Another carousel in the works includes characters taken directly from children's drawings. Most recently, he was asked to design one based on Greek mythology for an amusement park in Greece.
He says he has as much fun making the carousels as people do riding them, but points out that the original purpose of the carousel was not amusement. Initially, carousels were used to teach children how to joust.