Monday, November 8, 2010

A GRAND Addition

This is not a photo of the Worlds of Fun's "newest" attraction but it was carved by the same artist, M.C. Illions and gives readers an idea of the quality involved.

Back in 1972, when Worlds of Fun was originally designed, a large, elaborate carousel was one of the many focal points in the design of the park to be cut from the original plan. In 1977, the park added a Bradley and Kaye carousel to the Europa section of the park, and entitled it Le Carousel. While one of the better recreations in plexi-glass of the golden age of carousel art, it is still a recreation.

It would take the park 39 seasons before it would receive what is considered by many the crowning glory of any amusement park or theme park worth the name. A classic carousel.

Most classic carousels that one sees at amusement parks where originally manufactured by Philadelphia Toboggan Company, which manufactured over 100 hand carved carousels during the span of thirty years, Six Flags St. Louis is home to PTC #35.

Worlds of Fun's newest arrival won't be a PTC though.

Back in the hey day of carousel manufacturing, which spanned roughly from the turn of the century to about the early 1930's, there where three major types of carousel manufacturers. The Philadelphia style (PTC is the most widely known but there are others), Country Fair style (our Lawrence, KS hometown C.W. Parker was known for this style), and finally the Coney Island style. Philadelphia and Coney Island are relatively similar, both reaching for life-like realism, with Coney Island style being, no surprise, the more flamboyant of the two.

For more information on the Coney Island Style:

A Stinson band organ. Its unknown at this time whether it is operational or not. These unique music machines where the predecessor of every music device that followed it, the juke box, the boom box and even the ipod. Amazingly they weren't powered by electricity but instead by compressed air. They played by use of music rolls (think like a player piano) which orchestrated the dozens of different musical instruments (pipes) found within.

Charles Looff and Charles Carmel are two carvers and carousel manufacturer's that one often hears associated with the Coney Island style. M.C. Illions is the third. Very little is often heard of M.C. Illions since he produced very few carousels by himself (though he worked for many years with Charles Looff), but what he lacked for in numbers he more then made up for in quality. Illions came to the United States as a Russian emmigrant, a cabinet maker by trade (like so many carousel carvers) he was hired under Charles Looff, and went off later to form his own company. His reasoning for separation from Looff were quite simple, he appreciated the creativity and craftsmanship involved in the creation of each animal, and saw the future for carousel art headed down a mass produced road he did not want to follow.

Many familiar with Illions are also familiar with the fact that he raised and owned several real horses, allowing him a close familiarity with his subjects that few other carousel artists enjoyed. That experience, and Illions own talent made him into what is considered one of the top tier American carousel carvers. In fact it is due credit to Illions and his skill that even though fewer then a dozen of his carousels still exist, one, the 1927 supreme is one of the most duplicated carousels in existence. One of such copies is located at Gilroy Garden's in California.

It is probably due to the fact that Illions would not sacrifice quality that he produced as few carousels as he did. One of which a 1926 Supreme, has partially already made it to Worlds of Fun.

The center hub!

The Sweeps of the carousel, these support the upper half of the carousel and the cranking rods (or jumping mechanism). On the ends you can see the gears that connect to the rounding board.

The Ring gear, in two pieces. This is the center gear for the ride, that the sweeps and cranking rods all connect to.

Here is a great picture showing how everything comes together...

Though at this time we have no photos available of the horses from the 1926 Illions headed to Worlds of Fun here are some great photos from a similar Carousel in New York also carved by M.C. Illions.

The platform in sections, taken from E Lot.

Though the year can't be confirmed (the plaque states 1918 the National Carousel Associateion states 1926) it can be confirmed that this ornate carousel was one of a handful of supreme carousels created by the Illions shop. the term Supreme refers to the fact that it was the largest model that the Illions shop produced, boasting over 64 jumping horses, and 90 foot diameter base, making it one of the largest carousels operating in the United States.

The carousel's specific history starts in 1926 when it was originally produced for Philadelphia's celebration of the US Sesquicentennial, it then went on to spend the next 12 years in Birmingham, AL and found itself a permanent home at Geauga Lake park in Aurora, IL where it operated from 1937 until the park closed in 2007.

The Geauga Lake sign, which from what I have heard will be re-used.

Geauga Lake's story is one that is also over a century long, but one's who's story, atleast as a classic amusement park, has come to a sad ending. But Geauga Lake's story has not ended entirely. Many of its rides, even its classic Giant Dipper (which has of recent been saved), have found new homes. Geauga Lake's crown jewel though, its carousel was the final piece of the puzzle, its one that we know now for sure will live on, completely restored at a new home, waiting for new families to enjoy for hopefully another century to come.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I'd like to clear up some misinformation in this blog, I'm the publisher of Carousel News and Trader magazine. Once misinformation gets started it's hard to stop.

This carousel is not a Illions Supreme. All the Supreme carousels were 3 row carousels this machine is a 4 row.

The trim is completely different and the most important thing this carousel is missing the Illions American Beauty horse commonly known as a Rose horse today. The lead horse on every Supreme. You can see one of the Supreme American Beauty horses on the cover of the carousel book Painted Ponies. The book also goes into details about the three Supremes.

There were only three Supremes made and all are still around.

The last and finest Supreme made is currently undergoing a museum restoration.

Another is in Maine with some of it's original animals the rest of the machine populated with Illions horses from various Illions carousels.

The last is currently up and running at Gilroy Gardens in Gilroy CA. The original animals replaced with fiberglass animals made from molds taken from the Supreme carousel.

This information comes from Barney Illions the youngest son of the carver Barney Illions who painted the last Supreme and Barney Illions great grand daughter.

Also there is extensive information about the machines from the Harry Illions archives. The family owned several amusement parks. Harry was the oldest son and worked on the parks not as a carver. These archives also show his father Barney got his start carving with Frank Bostock in England prior to coming to the US.

There is a surviving picture of Harry with a model 4 row Illions that they called Supurbas in their advertising. Illions would take this Suburba model also know as a salesman's sample to the conventions of the National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches or NAAPPB. This group is now know as The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions or IAAPA today. This model is on display at Disneyworld in FL today. Disney purchased this model direct from the Granddaughter at auction.

Harry was also married to Florence Lusse one of the owners of Lusse Bros. The company not only made bumper cars but was the machining company for both Dentzel and PTC for their carousels.

All of this documentation is very in depth and complete.

Your carousel is a very nice machine but it is not a Illions Supreme.