TIDBITS Blog Archives

A Whirl Around the Carousel

In my story, “The Merry-Go-Round,” four-year-old Ginny, seated on a fancy turquoise-and-gold painted pony on her first merry-go-round ride, is feeling jittery about finding her way back. Her grandpa, Mayor Marty, declares, ‘”What goes around, comes around,” as he accompanies her on the merry-go-round, also known as a carousel. Let’s take a look at the iconic carousel, a ride that has, for generations, faithfully returned its happy riders right back to where they started from.

Jousting traditions from the Middle East and Europe were forerunners of the modern-day carousel. Knights would gallop in a circle as they tossed balls to one another, sharpening their skills as they played. The word carousel comes from the Italian word, carosella, which means “little battle,” referring to a combat preparation game originating in Turkey and Arabia in the twelfth century.

By the seventeenth century, the game had evolved into a cavalry spectacle, popular in Italy and France. The balls had been dispensed with; instead, the riders had to spear and rip off small rings that hung from overhead poles. The game gained popularity with the general populations; the cavalry games inspired rides using wooden horses, which began to spring up at fairgrounds across Europe.

By the early eighteenth century, an increasing number of carousels could be found all over Europe, as well as in England. Families would craft the wooden horses (and other animals) during the winter season, and then go touring with their creations later, as the weather warmed. These early carousels did not yet have platforms; the wooden horses would hang from chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism. The rides were powered by real animals walking in a circle or even by people pulling ropes.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the platform carousel was developed. The horses (or other animals) and chariots were attached to a circular floor suspended from a center pole, from which they would rotate. The first steam-powered mechanical carousel appeared in England in 1861. Soon after, English engineer Frederick Savage became the top innovator of the carousel (known in England as the roundabout). His innovations were purchased for fairgrounds the world over. By around 1900, electric motors began to replace steam-powered merry-go-rounds.

During the heyday of the merry-go-round, from about 1870 to 1930, between five and six thousand carousels could be found throughout the United States. They were fixtures at just about every fairground and amusement venue. Pleasure seekers everywhere looked forward to getting their whirl around the colorful carousels. Today, only about 160 of these historic carousels remain. National Carousel Day is a salute to the summer day in 1871 when William Schneider of Davenport, Iowa, was issued the first American patent for a carousel.

As we gallop ahead in time, over a century later in small-town Iowa, Ginny learns an important lesson. At a crucial time, her painted pony will bring her right back to where her grandpa’s lesson will take on new significance in her life—and in the life of her kind and wise grandfather.


Matt Blitz, “Take a Spin on the Most Beautiful, Handcrafted Carousels in the Nation,” in Travel, July 24, 2015

“Carousel,” Wikipedia

The JKO Reservoir and the Central Park Reservoir Loop

In my story, “The Bicycle,” Garret has an extraordinary experience on the running loop surrounding New York’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. It is early spring, the sun is shining, the cherry trees are blossoming, and the wind is blowing vigorously. Let’s acquaint ourselves with this unique and scenic locale as we imagine it through Garret’s eyes.

The JKO Reservoir covers 106 acres in New York’s Central Park, which is about an eighth of the area of the park. It contains over a billion gallons of water. When it was built, back in 1862, it was one of two receiving reservoirs of the Croton Aqueduct system inside Central Park. The other, smaller, reservoir was decommissioned in the 1930s and covered with grass; the area is now known as the Great Lawn.

A new main under 79th Street ultimately rendered the larger reservoir obsolete. In 1992, amid news of the impending decommissioning of the main reservoir, people began to express their concerns that the reservoir would be covered over, as the smaller reservoir had been. A flurry of letters of protest from residents and advocates to the city government and the Central Park Conservancy successfully rescued the beloved reservoir. It was allowed to remain untouched, even after it was decommissioned in 1993.

Originally known as the Central Park Reservoir, it was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in 1994, in recognition of Jacqueline’s contributions to New York City. She served as a board member of the Municipal Art Society of New York. She was admired for saving the Grand Central Terminal from demolition and encouraging its restoration as an architectural landmark. And she protested against the proposed building of structures that would have hindered Central Park’s natural beauty, something she clearly appreciated on a personal level.

JKO Reservoir, Central Park
JKO Reservoir, Central Park. Photo by Andrzej Barabasz (License: CC BY-SA 4.0. Photo has been cropped from original.)

Mrs. Onassis, who had a view of the water from her Fifth Avenue–residence windows, enjoyed jogging on the path surrounding the reservoir. This 1.58-mile jogging path is variously known as the Central Park Reservoir Loop and the Stephanie and Fred Shuman Running Track. In springtime, it is lined with blossoming cherry trees and rhododendrons.

The reservoir area is an important ecological sanctuary. It attracts numerous species of waterbirds, including ruddy ducks, coots, loons, cormorants, herons, and egrets. It is also a favorite watering place for various species of gulls, in addition to the familiar mallards and Canada geese. Beloved by birdwatchers, locals, and tourists, the area has also found a prominent place in popular culture. The iconic trail and reservoir have been featured in several films, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Marathon Man, and Hannah and Her Sisters.

Of course, it is also featured in my story, “The Bicycle,” where we find Garret making his way along the reservoir’s running track as he resolutely clings to Annie’s old bicycle against the raging wind. Safeguarding the old bike, he feels the jolt of the path he must follow to an unknown future.

“New York,” TripTins, January 6, 2023
“Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir,” Wikipedia
“Restoration: Stephanie and Fred Shuman Reservoir Running Track,” Central Park Conservancy