The largest part of this attraction, one that brings quite a few folks there (including myself) is the "world's largest carousel" (or at least it used to be, I haven't looked up to see if there's any with more than the 269 animals on this one). What's odd is, unless you're a carousel enthusiast as I am, you may not find it more than a curiosity as no one (at least except for Neil Gaiman) gets to ride it, it never stops turning, and there isn't a single horse on it.
Okay...so that's one of the first lies they tell you, as there are actually dozens of horses on the carousel - they're all cleverly hidden up at the very top where you can't see them except in the darkness, their shadows and an occasional feather peaking out from a hole cut into the ceiling in the upper catwalks. The miniature horses are hidden by a carpeted overhang that hides the upper workings from view, and were probably produced en masse by the workers at the HOTR. You will see similar miniature horses on the doll carousels, but more about that in a different blog.
The second reason that 'there aren't any horses' on the carousel is that many of the strange and wonderful creatures started off as horses at some point. The most obvious ones are some of the zebras, but then nearly all of the centaurs and other oddly mixed creatures were either created by mixing other pre-existing ship's figureheads with horses bodies or they were added by the staff. The most bizarre of which I believe are the twin "knight" centaurs who have bodies of women and helmets on their heads, but the eyes under those helmets make them look like strange, expressionless aliens. Maybe Alex thought everyone would be looking at the breasts on these things rather than their faces. Even one of the employees commented that he was "very particular about getting the proportions right" on the female bodies...didn't quite care about the rest apparently.
The rest of the animals are either real carved animals from other carousels that Alex collected over the years, or carved by the staff (the bulldog is featured in many of the shop's many souvenirs and I haven't been able to find out any information about it). Or some of them may have even been duplicates and replicas. I saw quite a few Dentzel animals on the carousel including cats, rabbits, bears and ostriches. There's no real way to tell which ones were the 'real' animals and which are copied, as I'll show you here in a moment, because all of the real animals were stripped and painted in the "Alex Jordan style".
|Plaques in the Welcome Center.|
If you try to research this carousel, you'll actually come up with a lot of very strange blanks. I was actually pretty surprised that all of my carousel resources have virtually no mention of the machine, even of it being fabricated, it's just simply not there. I tried posing the question to the group to see if maybe someone had a hush order put on it, or perhaps they just didn't see it as a "real" carousel. People commented on wanting to "see it" or "I love looking at it when I go to HOTR" but no one had any information on it!
Thankfully I did run into one helpful staff member who worked at the house when he was a teenager and remembered a few details that the displays didn't mention. He said that it was a carousel bought from Detroit, MI and that it originally had only three rows. Some of the animals even used to go up and down at one time. He said he would be sent on errands by Alex with a large sum of cash to go buy up as many carousel horses and animals as he could find. He also mentioned hours upon hours of stripping paint off of the garish carousel horses.
There's even a mention briefly in the welcome center's files about an "artist" named Mark Miller who created the style of painting for the carousel. The fellow we talked to said didn't paint but had learned to dowse the horses in paint stripper and work layer upon layer off. So the staff put in a lot of man hours into this thing followed by hours by the artists like Mark.
What I find is odd though, carousel websites don't even mention the restoration efforts of Alex Jordan's staff anywhere either. It's rather a whole huge 'shush shush' thing.
|Possible Parker carousel horse circa 1900's.|
This horse sits between the welcome center and the hallway that leads down to the "attraction" itself. Not quite sure what type it is, (my first gut instinct said Parker, but I'm not professionally trained on identification) and you can see that it most likely is missing a real tail (although some on the walls still have real horse hair tails) and there was some repair work done to it before it was painted. You can get a good look at the detailed painting that went on here. I really wish there would have been a better record of the painters and artists who worked at HOTR as they were pretty decent restorationists even at a time where that was only just becoming a thing. Many horses like this one would have been carted around to various carnivals all over the country and would have been beaten up pretty badly. For a horse to have been restored even to this level would have taken hours of labor.
|Dentzel replicas in the lobby.|
I think another reason this technique was used is because of the way that Alex lit the "attraction" as everything is dark, light mostly with red or hardly at all. When lights shine up on these animals the colors appear even brighter, casting dark shadows on them. Of course, in daylight they look beautiful as well, and I'll post a few that are kept well away from most eyes that still have a ton of work put into them.
Admittedly, much of this is conjecture as there really aren't a whole lot of people left from that era who worked with Jordan and I really didn't get to talk to the worker there a whole lot since he only knew as much as what he remembered as a teenager. Most of it occurred in the 1977-1980 time period, and the carousel was opened to the public in 1981.
|Pegasus in the hall of innovation.|
I'm fairly certain that just one of these animals are the real one. Heaven knows which though! Perhaps it doesn't even exist anymore, having been molded into oblivion.
It's entirely possible that there is a Dentzel carousel workings under the lights and weirdly shaped animals. There aren't any "missing" carousels we know of from that period that came from Detroit, but there was one from Missouri that they lost track of in the 1960's and it had menagerie animals on it. But, there's no way to tell as all of the outer panels have long been stripped off of the carousel. Perhaps within the meticulous notes kept by his accountant there's mention of it, but I doubt that anyone would be allowed access to them to find out for sure.
Since I took hundreds of (oftentimes fuzzy) photos of the carousel itself, I found myself attracted instead to some of the ones that didn't make it. Or maybe they were just more copies? One that hangs near the plaques that talk about the carousel is one of the Dentzel cats. These two are more examples of identical copies and at least for the one below that reside in the cafe area for you to climb on, they are most likely both fiberglass. There are two or three more on the carousel itself. Usually they did come in pairs but as you can see, the carvings are exactly the same.
|Dentzel cat reproductions.|
I got to sit on the one below as there are a few different animals that are "touchable". At the time I didn't think much of it but I did tap it to see if it was fake and heard an obvious hollow sound when tapped. The other animals in the room were quite possibly the same.
There is one other cat on the carousel that seems to have been carved by someone else, but I haven't been able to figure out whether it was by an 'original' carver or not. There doesn't seem to be many other carvers who added cats, but quite possibly as the plaques mention, it may have come from Mexico or Europe. I don't have a clear picture of it unfortunately as it was about three rows back and you get a one second glimpse of it before its whisked away around the machine.
|Dragons in Welcome Center and Walkway to the Attraction.|
A few other animals were treated like that too, as you'll see below, these animals are similar to ones on the carousel but have special features.
|"Hidden Santa" St. Bernard.|
|Touchable Wolf in Cafe.|
In all of my research though, I have found no information on squirrels, although it's quite possible to have come originally from a kangaroo sculpt. The way the feet sit on the ground and the elongated neck and slightly long ears give that clue. However, they re-purposed it to hold the acorn and have a large, fluffy tail. It's an odd sculpture though as it looks sort of 'off' and uncompleted, more like it was created with clay or something other than wood. The underbelly looks almost like you can see the base of the kangaroo tail. Perhaps it's hidden in this corner because of those defects.
|Hidden Gems covered in Dust.|
|Dentzel Bear and Goat.|
I'm fairly certain that many of these horses were replicated too, but I haven't pinpointed any for certain yet after perusing the pictures for awhile. Maybe these jumpers (inner row horses typically and moved on the polls up and down) may actually be originals. Although some of them seem to barely be hanging by wire which might mean they're lighter than the typical wood counterparts.
And even though I am aware of their being European centaurs, they almost all were of a certain war hero and not a cowboy like the one you see to the left, or the pirate above the mermaid! Most likely this was a copy of another centaur and changed to look more recognizable for Americans. Others similar but different are spread throughout the carousel itself as well as our goat friend at the bottom. You can see him from two different angles in the photo above and to the left. He's a typical Dentzel (again) and the only difference from him and the ones on the carousel itself are the ones on the carousel have exaggerated horns that are almost twice as long.
|PTC style dragon in the circus building.|
|Mark Miller's Initial White Mare.|
The unfortunate thing about all of this, is since there isn't any information on these horses online but for what has been published by the house and a few authorized biographies, there's not much about the artists behind the hundreds of horses. The only name we have is Mark Miller, and there was only one small nod to his name in the horses themselves that I could find as I'm unsure if he signed any of them, this white mare on the left has a very distinguishable "M" scrawled on its saddle blanket. I wonder perhaps if this artist was tired of them calling the painting the "Alex Jordan Style" and rather it should have been called the "Mark Miller Style" as if he did most of these horses he must have been painting non-stop for quite a few years. I think, rather, that he may have developed the style, taught a few skilled painters, and then perhaps finished off the detail work on some of them himself (like on the white mare). Some of the fine flowers and other detailed paintings on the sides of the horses look like they were done by the same artist. A few had the feel of other artists, but they all had extensive paint jobs done on them that would rival any carousel you see today (minus a few of the exceptional restorations that have been done). It's just a pity that they hang upon black walls, mostly hidden from sight, collecting decades of dust.
My theory is, if the HOTR were to ever close down, there would have to be a serious consideration by the carousel horse collectors and auctioneers as to which horses were real and which were reproductions as well as what the significance of the paintings done to even the reproductions would have on value. The market might be flooded with "fakes" that were painted beautifully, or it could be flooded with real carousel horses that were restored beautifully. It's really quite hard to tell. I do hope that the HOTR will stay around for many generations, but things looked a bit bleak as most who worked there were well into retirement age and it was fairly quiet the majority of the time I was there. Would the carousel collectors be excited to see this collection out? Or would something terrible happen to all of the hard work, either distributed out all over or destroyed by time if it were to quietly shut down and just get closed up as is?
It's a question I hope not to live to see the answer to, as I would really hate to see "vidoes of the shut down HOTR decay..." start showing up on YouTube. I'd also wonder though, if finally the carousel would be brought out into the daylight and whether carousel enthusiasts would finally decide that they could talk about the horses and animals there. Maybe the taboo of not talking about it would finally change if collectors started looking for the "Mark Miller/Alex Jordan Style' painted creatures.
In Part 2, I will be sharing some of the less fuzzy photos of the carousel in motion. I hope that if you enjoy carousels as much as I do you'll come back when I post them as well! Please pay a visit to the HOTR as it's a good way to spend an entire day and discover some of the things I won't even be posting here! Thanks for sticking with me to the end and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting this together to share with you.
(Disclaimer: The proceeding article was written by merely a fan of the HOTR, and I'm not making any money off this blog and am using this merely as conjecture and to share it with others to hopefully get more interest in this awesome place! The images were taken not for professional purposes but for my hobby and the handful of people who actually see this blog. The photos are not for sale nor print, they are just to look at and you can take some of your own if you go yourself! In fact, PLEASE GO SEE THEM YOURSELF! This place is is awesome, even if you just go see the second/third section to see just the carousel horses, you'll be well rewarded. I'd love to be able to share this with more carousel enthusiasts and maybe we can finally get more information on this awesome place.)