By: Dustin R. Wasson
Missouri’s oldest carousel will be putting smiles on faces once again this summer. The 116 year old, 1898 model Armitage-Spillman carousel will make its return to the Perry Fourth of July Celebration in Perry, Missouri on July 4, 2014. The carousel is owned by the Faust Park Foundation in Chesterfield, Missouri and is on loan to the Ralls County Historical Society through Perry’s 2016 sesquicentennial.
The 1898 model Armitage-Spillman carousel was built in North Tonawanda, New York. The carousel was originally powered by a two-cylinder double stroke Armitage-Herschell steam engine. The engine is equipped with a coal burning vertical boiler. Today, the carousel is operated by the original steam engine converted to compressed air.
The 24 rocker style horses are hand carved and feature frayed tails. The carousel also features four chariots. The chariots have decorative side panels that depict several childhood fairy tales including Mother Goose, The Hunter, Sinbad and Little Red Riding Hood.
Originally a steam calliope played music for the riders enjoyment, today the restored calliope is on display at the carousel building at Faust Park in Chesterfield.
This carousel is 43 feet wide with a seating capacity of 40, not counting any adults holding onto their children.
The carousel construction is not exactly that of a mass produced kind. It has 16 sweeps which are pinned to a hub attached to the center pole of the tent. The sweeps carry the horses, chariots and board walk way.
Each sweep is supported on an iron wheel which runs on the circular track. The horses rock through a system of bars and eccentrics drawing power from the wheel on each sweep. The faster the carousel goes, the faster the horses will rock.
Originally the carousel was owned by two partners, Steinbeck and Potter of Clifton Hill, Missouri. Later they traded the carousel back to the Spillman Engineering Company for a new carousel. In 1923 the company sold the carousel to Mr. J.F. Rager of Hunnewell, Missouri. Rager operated the carousel for six years until he sold it to the Montgomery County Old Settlers Association at New Florence, Missouri. In 1942 the carousel was sold to the I.O.O.F Lodge in Perry, Missouri. The lodge operated the carousel at the Perry Fourth of July Picnic from 1942 through 1956. The carousel was sold in 1956 to Mark Twain Amusements, a group of five Perry area men including E.D. Long, Marvin Hodges, F.W. Kuda, M.D. Akers and R.W. Allen of Perry. In 1959, the carousel was operated at the Mark Twain shrine in Florida, Missouri. The carousel was still a featured attraction at the Perry Picnic until 1963. The carousel made several stops including Platte City, Florida and Perry, Missouri and Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
In May of 1966, the carousel was put on loan by the Mark Twain Amusement Company to the National Agriculture Museum in Bonner Springs, Kansas. The carousel was seen at the museum in disrepair and many thought it was gone and would never be found.
Once the carousel left in 1966 for Bonner Springs it never returned to Perry. The carousel went through a tornado in Bonner Springs and was eventually purchased by Bill Auckley of Montgomery City, MO in the late 1970s. Auckley reconstructed the ruined pieces and restored the carousel from its ruined state. Auckley said, “Twenty or so of the horses are original, but not all of them.” Auckley also remembers riding the carousel in New Florence as a child. In the 1980s the carousel was sold to Carlos and Judy Sardina of Warrenton, MO. After restoring the carousel, the Sardina’s ran the carousel at Union Station in St. Louis before it was sold to the Faust Park Foundation in Chesterfield. The carousel ran for a short time at Faust park before it was put into storage. The last year it was operated according to park officials was about 1992.
Research of the historic carousel was started by Ron Leake, president of the Ralls County Historical Society during the early 2000s. Leake’s research led him to Faust Park in Chesterfield. In 2012, Leake led a group of two other Perry men to visit Faust Park to take a look at the carousel and horses, that started the process for its return to Perry.
“Our main goal was to make sure it returned for the Perry Sesquicentennial in 2016, but we were able to obtain the carousel two years earlier thanks to Faust Park” said Ron Leake. The carousel is on loan thanks to the Faust Park Foundation for the next two years.
Once an insurance policy was obtained, a group of 15 men and women went to Faust Park and brought the carousel back to Perry in May of 2014. The horses stayed and will be brought up by the park crew when the carousel will be in operation.
Men, women and children have spent many nights putting the carousel together. The carousel was put together at a nearby farm. “We had to put it together before the fourth, we had no idea how it went together and we didn’t know if anything was missing,” said Brian Hodges. Every piece of the carousel has a specific place to go and every piece has a roman numeral. Several individuals have been working on pieces that were broke or missing.
After the carousel was put together and pieces were fixed, the group of individuals took everything down, loaded it up and installed the carousel on the tennis court at the Bill Trower Memorial Park in Perry for the Fourth of July Celebration.
The carousel will feature all 24 horses and four chariots and will be powered by the original steam engine converted to compressed air. Many people that remember the Merry-Go-Round in Perry are making the return home to ride it once again. People are coming back home from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana and Florida.