95 Riverside Ave., Rte. 72, Bristol, Connecticut
What Americans of today know and adore as the merry-go-round was not created for child’s play. In its earliest incarnation the carousel helped noblemen train for jousting and even for war, providing rounds of target practice in “lancing” the brass ring. Many years later carousels became a favorite with elite, wealthy grown-ups.
This delightful museum is filled with fascinating facts about the ride’s history and folklore, as well as its unique craftsmanship and art. Situated in a beautifully restored 33,000-square-foot brick building, it’s also home to the country’s largest collection of antique carousels. Inside, carousel fans can wander among the pretty painted horses (and the occasional pigs, cows, ducks, lions, tigers, and giraffes) at their leisure or take a wonderfully informative guided tour.
In addition to carousels and their animals, the museum showcases an antique Wurlitzer carousel organ, an exhibit on how wooden carousel horses were traditionally created, and an array of carousel art. Children can sign up to create a carousel-themed craft. The museum’s showroom sells full-sized resin reproduction horses.
In the center of nearby Hartford, the museum manages an antique beauty—the Bushnell Park Carousel. Created in 1914, the artistic merry-go-round was rescued from an Ohio amusement park 60 years later and painstakingly restored. The huge three-row carousel sports 36 jumper horses, 12 stander horses, two chariots, and a Wurlitzer 153 bend organ. Visitors to the lovely, revitalized downtown area can take a memorable spin for a mere dollar.
Open daily Apr.–Nov.; Thurs.–Sun. Dec.–Mar. Closed major holidays. Admission charged. The Bushnell Park Carousel is open Tues.–Sun. May–Oct.