Thursday, July 17, 2014

St. Augustine's Carousel

St. Augustine has a treasure just north of the City Gates, it's the J&S Carousel.  Charles Wallace Parker, known for his Country Fair style manufactured this mechanism that carries a variety of carousel art.

A collection of American Carousel Art at its most dramatic and enchanting would include, not only the Country style such as Parker, but the ornate grandeur of M.C. Illions of the Coney Island style and the famed carver D.C. Muller who brought realism to the Philadelphia style.

The Country Fair style, form-following-function horse, of C.W. Parker were typically long and sleek, and were developed to withstand a whirlwind of travel throughout the Midwest in carnivals.  Country Fair animals were more stylized than the Coney Island style or the Philadelphia style.
Parker of Abilene, Kansas bought a secondhand carousel and took it on tour in 1892.  The invigorated showman became the “Amusement King” “Colonel” Parker, a colorful showman.
Parker decided that he could build a better machine after 1892 and was in production as Parker Carnival Supply Company within two years.  His early horses were small and carved in standard poses with compact, portable designs and hair tails.
Cost-efficient entertainment was his aim, rather than establishing an original artistic style.  These machines were setup and dismantled every few days as the carnivals criss crossed the country each summer.
Parker horses changed, as the industry became more sophisticated since he understood the necessity for novelty and flamboyance.  After a move to Leavenworth, Kansas in 1911, Parker’s carousel horses became wild creatures, with forelegs ready for a lunge and hind legs kicked out.  Parker Amusement Company became the world’s largest manufacturer of Amusement devices.
Parker’s “carry-us-all” were small and portable, designed for traveling fairs and carnivals.  His catalogs give testimonials by satisfied buyers about the earning power, ease and speed of erecting and dismantling the machines.  This was an advantage in beating competition to the customer’s purse.
Despite these testimonials to a quality product, his animals were constructed with glue and iron nail, considered a shortcut, instead of dowels.  Few survived the rough life of constant movement in carnivals.  This fact alone makes the C.W. Parker carousel in St. Augustine very special.  The “Amusement King”, Charles Wallace Parker, died in 1932 at age 68.  This was five years after the St. Augustine Carousel was manufactured.
Although the carousel and its’ painted ponies originated in Europe, they achieved their highest artistic glory in America and once they numbered in the thousands.  No trip to an amusement park, carnival or state fair was complete without mounting one of their brightly colored steeds.
Once they transported millions-young and old alike – to the far reaches of imagination.  The distances they traveled were measured not in miles, but in dreams.
My grandson
Now, their numbers are few but the memories and the lore remain, as do the exquisitely crafted museum pieces of the painted ponies, the multicolored giraffes, and the camels in their ornate trappings.
The City of St. Augustine itself has a wonderful appeal for many reasons, but not everyone knows about the carousel.  The St. Augustine, C.W. Parker carousel was built in 1927 and is owned by James Soules, local resident.
Mr. Soules inherited the carousel from his late brother Gerard Soules, who was a famous performer with the Ringling Brothers Barnum  and Bailey Circus.  He found the carousel in a barn in Mystique, Michigan in 1987, purchasing it for $25,000.  Jerry spent another $70,000 restoring it, replacing the machine’s metal horses with fiberglass reproductions of Illions, Carmel, Muller and Dentzel horses.  With the help of Carl Theel of Theel Manufacturing in Leavenworth, KS, he expanded the mechanism from its original 28 feet to 34 feet in diameter.  Theel fabricated new fiberglass rounding boards, wooden platforms and hardware; it would be the last carousel Carl Theel worked on before passing away in 1992. 
The carousel was in operation in 1992 at the Fort Wayne, Indiana Zoo.  Gerard Soules was working at the famed Circus, Circus in Las Vegas, Nevada, when a burglar killed him.  He was fifty-six years old.
After inheriting the machine, James Soules restored the carousel for a second time in 1992.  Two years later in November of 1994, he brought the C.W. Parker carousel to its present location in St. Augustine. Old time music plays while the carousel…now known as the J&S Carousel, takes you back to another era. There have been two weddings on the carousel.   In 1998 James Soules’ daughter was married aboard the carousel.  Previous to that an ex-employee was married on it in 1995. 
My grandson and his dad

Santa appears just after Thanksgiving at the carousel.  Rides are one dollar. This colorful carousel is located in Davenport Park between San Marco Avenue and US 1 at San Carlos Avenue, next to the Public Library building.

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