One of the joys of travel is discovering new facets of yourself. It could be a delicious food you’ve never heard of, or maybe that zip-lining over the forest is not really as fun as it looks. On occasion, something catches you by surprise. On a recent visit to Sandusky, Ohio’s Merry-Go-Round Museum an unexpected appreciation for carousels surfaced within me.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of carousels. Clambering onto an uncomfortable horse to slowly spin and bounce along to the loud oompa-oompa of the pipe organ. Even at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, my favorite place on Earth, I’m happier to watch my wife and daughter ride the merry-go-round than to join them myself. The appeal is just not there. Well, I take that back. There is one with a place in my heart.
The Cedar Downs carousel in the Cedar Point amusement park is like no other, it’s a racing derby. Saddle up on one of the sleek horses and hold on tight, because it’s one fast ride. The trumpet blares out it’s fanfare and your off. The announcer calls the race as the horses fight for position. You glance left and right at the competition. You’re in the lead, now falling behind, then pulling ahead at the ride slows to the finish. Adrenaline pumping, you race to the back of the line for another thrill. It’s an unique experience and I’m told there is only one other racing derby still operating.
Just a few miles down the road, in downtown Sandusky, Ohio, is the Merry-Go-Round Museum. I likely would have walked on by if it hadn’t been a stop on a press tour I was attending. The building itself is interesting, a former U.S. Post Office with a large, rounded front dominating the corner of an intersection. Once inside, I quickly found myself drawn to the displays. Dozens of carved animals, representing over a century of history, lined the walls.
While we are used to seeing horses on carousels, the earlier merry-go-rounds contained a whole menagerie of animals. Roosters, goats, zebras, lions, tigers, and even giraffes were there to capture the imaginations of riders. These early rides must have looked like a mobile zoo; especially to kids who had never seen some of these animals.
Upon getting a closer look at the animals, I instantly took interest in the workmanship and details the carvers put into each one. The vibrant colors no longer seemed so oppressive when the animals are viewed on their own, but rather added an impressive beauty and individuality. The tour guide led us through the displays and highlighted some of the history and particular creators.
The museum contains an area where modern day carvers, mostly volunteers, perform restoration work for old carousel figures. Some are still in use, while others are from personal collections. It is vital work in keeping these historic pieces around for future generations. The museum also produces a completely new carousel horse each year, which is raffled off. The work area also contains displays of old tools from prominent carvers.
In the center of the museum showroom is an antique carousel from 1939. It is filled with animals from several eras in the museum’s collection. We took a ride at the end of the tour. While this old model spins a bit faster than most current carousels, and my new found appreciation was fresh in my mind, it still didn’t draw me in as an attraction. I guess some things do not change. However, I am looking forward to taking my daughter on her first trip to Cedar Point next year. She may be staring up at the giant roller coasters, but I’ll be glancing over my shoulder the the Cedar Downs; ready to race again.
The Merry-Go-Round Museum is open all summer with very limited hours in the off season, so be sure to check the current schedule before you visit. Admission prices are very affordable at $6 for adults, $4 for kids 4-14, and free under 4 years of age. A ride on their carousel is included in the ticket price. For more information on the museum collection and schedule, visit their official website here and don’t forget to enter their raffle.
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Looking for more family fun in Sandusky, Ohio? Read my article on Six Truly Fun Family Vacation Activities.