A Carrousel for a King
When I think of classic amusement park rides, the first thing that pops into my head is the carousel (which can be spelled correctly with one “r” or two). I don’t think I’ve ever been to an amusement park without at least seeing a carousel in motion. Sure, there are some beat down old carousels out there and some new state of the art carousels like at Six Flags Great America park, but nothing says majesty like the carousels still in great condition from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Before talking about how Disney got in touch with their original carousel for Disneyland, lets talk about the Dentzal family. Never heard of them? Probably because the business of making carousels ended for them in 1927 but the family is credited for not only the popularizing of the modern carousel in Europe, but also in the United States. In 1745 Micheal Dentzel started making carousels in what is now Southern Germany. He would make the carousels in the winter and during the spring and summer, would travel to towns in the region with a carousel. Micheal Dentzel had 4 children, and sent them all to America to try and make a living for themselves in the free land. Gustav Dentzel took to his father’s craft and created some very beautiful carousels, considered the best due to the mechanics and hand sculpted horses, which are still in operation today across the country. Gustav had two sons as well and they both joined into the family business, but William is the better known of the two. He built carousels for several parks all over the U.S. including the one that eventually came to Disneyland.
King Arthur Carrousel was purchased by Walt Disney in 1954 from where it had been operating since 1922, Sunnyside Beach Park in Toronto, Ontario. The carousel was built in 1875 by William Dentzel but where it had claimed residence up until 1922 is unknown. When Disney went to look for a carousel, he wanted one that was similar to the Griffith Park carousel in Hollywood where he took his two daughters every Sunday to play while he sat and watched.
Disney liked the three rows of horses as it meant more guests could fit onto the attraction at one time, but like most everything Disney did, what was good wasn’t good enough. He had his imagineers add another row of horses boosting the total count of guests riding to 72 riders at one time. Of course Disney did buy extras so that some horses could be taken out and maintenced while guests wouldn’t know the difference. The extra horses came from either Coney Island, or a defunct San Francisco carousel. Each horse does have a name and Jingles, due to his jingle bells, is considered the lead and most famous of the horses. You can see all of the horses names at City Hall on Main Street U.S.A.
Disney, also feeling like the carousel was not yet ready for Disneyland, had his imagineers turn the stationary horses into moving “jumpers” to create the perfect carousel for Disneyland, which was also just like the Griffith park carousel. To do this, not only did imagineers have to adjust all of the stationary horses and add gears for them, but they also cut off the legs of those wooden horses and attached new ones so it looked like they were moving.
Of course, like most carousels, the King Arthur Carrousel not only had horses, but other animals as well as chariots, but Disney wanted those removed as well and had horses from Coney Island and San Francisco replace the empty spaces. The animals and chariots were reused in the Casey Jr. Circus Train attraction just down the way from the carousel in Fantasyland.
King Arthur Carrousel opened with the park on July 17th, 1955 with all 72 “jumping” horses” and a crowd that was pleased to hear the sounds of the classic Wurlitzer band organ. Anyone who had riden on a late 1800s-early 1900s carousel would have been delighted to see such a prestine piece of art refurbished for a new generation, and this carousel has stayed prestine through Disney “magic”. Every night, the carousel is touched up with paint, and due to the large amount of extra horses, at least once a year, each horse is stripped and completely refinished in the maintenence shop. While the horses get touched up, all of the brass polls are hand polished and can take up to 6 hours to finish before looking like new again for the opening of the park.
The carousel is also unique because of the theming. King Arthur Carrousel has a medieval theme, as did most of Fantasyland at the opening of the park, and the theme stuck despite the retheming of Fantasyland in the 1980s. The carousel is painted with the coat of arms of each of the knights of the round table, and during a 2003, a year long refurbishment had the tent done up in pink and blue was added above.
In fact, the carousel has only had a few refurbishments. One in 1975 when all of the horses were painted white. Up until that point the single white horse was considered the favorite, so imagineers detailed all of the horses in white. Then in 2003, the carousel was taken out of commision for an entire year to revitalize the motor and gears, as previously mentioned, adding new technology to the attraction, allowing the ride to start and stop in the exact same spot everytime. During this time, some of the horses were taken off to make way for a wheelchair ramp and chariot to sit in to meet with ADA regulations.
During Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration, Jingles was taken off of the carousel and painted with 18k gold for photo opportunities and was replaced with another lead horse at the time. After the celebration, Jingles was repainted, still with a bit of gold in its finish, and added back the the attraction. Also during the celebration, the jester head and sleeping beauty figures were painted in 18k gold.
Today, the King Arthur Carousel can be seen twinkling as you look down main street towards the castle and is one of the opening day attractions still bringing in guests for each turn of the carousel. It’s sure to continue a legacy of fun for children of all ages and will be a classic forever.