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20 years in the Amusement industry

Part 9: You need to know an awful lot About Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carroussels in Virginia

In 1903, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company was founded in Germantown, Pennsylvania with the philosophy of building the best and finest carousels and roller coasters in the world. The PTC factory was established in an area where many immigrants were employed as wood carvers and painters in local furniture factories, hence the availability of experienced painters and carvers. PTC built approximately eighty carousels from 1904 through 1934, including three, four and five row designs.

From the beginning, PTC was known for the exquisite carving, the lavish crestings and magnificent animals. The chariots were the finest made in the United States. As master carver for the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in the late teens, John Zalar established the characteristic design and style of carrousel horses for that period.

Zalar came to America from Austria in 1902, and carved carrousel animals at the Looff factory from 1911 through 1914 before joining the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1916 as master carver while living in Germantown. The elegant PTC #67 horses at Carowinds epitomize Zalar's style. He carved bold and daring, with fierce facial expressions, sleek muscular legs, and flowing manes. Decorative saddle blankets were other Zalar trademarks. Zalar moved to California for health reasons in 1920, established his own workshop, and continued to carve horses for PTC, shipping them back east through the Panama Canal. Poor health forced him to terminate his employment with PTC in late 1923.

The number of horses carved by Zalar may never be known, but their design, style, and craftsmanship are a tribute to his masterwork. Other master carvers for PTC included Daniel C. Muller, who may have carved the horses for #44 at Kings Dominion. A true artist, Muller took a more realistic approach to his horses. He retired from PTC around 1925, and after retirement carved only heads from his home on Long Island. He eventually moved in with his grandson Robert in Marietta, Ohio, and died in 1952.

Master carver and long-time PTC employee Frank Carretta carved less realistic, but more noble, legendary-type horses.

A total of six early PTC Carousels, including Kings Dominion’s #44 (pictured at right, operating in Riverside Park prior to 1936) have operated at one time or another in Virginia, including one in the city of Richmond. Of the six, only two are still operating. PTC Carrousel #1 was originally an all-stationary three-row machine built in 1904 for Piney Beach Park in the Hampton area. In 1913 the Carrousel was bought by showman Louis Berni, the “Band Organ King”, and transported back to PTC to be converted to all-jumpers, a move that cost Berni $1,443.00.

The ride was then moved to Pine Island Park in Manchester New Hampshire, where it operated for 47 years before it was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1961. Two more fires in 1962 and a fourth fire in June, 1963 closed Pine Island Park permanently. A picture of this machine appeared in “Merry-Go-Roundup” magazine, volume 10, no.2, Summer, 1983.

PTC Carrousel #10 was a 3-row carrousel made in 1906 for Idlewood Park(now Byrd Park) in Richmond, before being moved to Sand Springs Park near Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1914. Its whereabouts are unknown -- probably destroyed by fire in the 1950s.

PTC Carrousel #13 was built in 1906 for Luna Park in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1909 it was moved to Broad Ripple, Indiana, a resort town on the northeast side of Indianapolis before being shipped around 1917 to Bailey’s Park in Norfolk. (Broad Ripple replaced #13 with a Dentzel Menagerie unit, which now operates in the Indianapolis Children’s Museum). From Norfolk it went to Trier Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It is unknown what happened to it, although it may have been destroyed in a fire on June 22, 1953 .

PTC Carrousel #48, a 1919 model 4-row, was made for Ocean View Park near Norfolk. Sadly, the city of Norfolk and the Norfolk Library have no records of it.

PTC Carrousel #50 is a 48-horse, three-row machine made for Norfolk’s Buckroe Beach in 1920, and owned by Virginia Electric and Power Co. VEPCO sold it to the Stieffen family in 1945. The machine ran at Buckroe until July 12, 1986, when Mr. Stieffen sold it to the city of Hampton. The ride was then shipped off to R&F Designs in Bristol, Connecticut for a complete restoration. Hampton City Managers had concerns about the original Auchy Friction Drive, and had R&F replace it with a computerized motor. The carrousel today is operating at Carousel Park downtown Hampton near the Radisson Hotel.

PTC Carrousel #44 at Kings Dominion is a 1917 four-row machine built for Riverside park in Springfield, Massachusetts (Riverside Park is still open, and is touted as the largest amusement park in New England). Around 1938 it moved to Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode island. Kings Dominion bought the ride in 1973 when offered for sale by Williams Park management Joseph Michela, Inc.

A photograph of the Carrousel operating at Riverside Park prior to 1938 appears in the book "A Pictorial History of the Carousel" (Vestal Press).

This Carrousel features 66 hand-carved boxwood horses, arranged in an outside row of 16 stationary horses and three inside rows of 50 "jumpers", which are presumed to have been carved by Daniel Muller. Only two horses have their mouths shut. Originally, the ride came with 68 horses; however, one (possibly the "lead" horse) was donated to the Smithsonian Institute. The other was given as a gift to Lew Hooper, a former PKD General Manager.

Also included with the machine are two carved chariots which seat four persons each. The center decorations of the Carrousel include 10 large mirrors and 22 large oil paintings by local Philadelphia artists of different pastoral scenes and portraits. Eighteen water-colored garlands of flowers, each topped with a crest are also featured. Thirty-six angelic cherubs, eighteen ornately framed oil paintings and eighteen mirrors decorate the filigree rim. Approximately 1800 electric lights highlight the decoration.

Kings Dominion's Paint and Utilities department took the task of restoring the ride upon its arrival in 1973. The condition of each horse and chariot was painstakingly documented, down to the tiniest chip and scuff mark. Approximately 20% of the horses were held together by nothing more than old paint -- 16 to 18 layers in most cases. Once the old paint was removed, the horses were re-assembled and reinforced with steel or wooden dowels and body putty.

The Carrousel features a 66-key Artizan band organ including a continuous playing, double-track Wurlitzer system driven by electric motor (According to PTC, Artizan organs were not original equipment in their Carousels, therefore the whereabouts of the original organ may be in doubt). Also originally included was a matching ticket booth. After extensive renovation the ride opened in Candy Apple Grove May 3, 1975.

Another PTC Carrousel that passed through Kings Dominion’s hands was #67, and has the most colorful history of all the Virginia-based Carousels. #67 was purchased and brought to Evansville, Indiana in 1923 and set in Pleasure Park (formerly Cooks Park). The original owner was Henry Kersting, who managed the carousel at Pleasure Park until 1936 when it was moved to Mesker Park. In 1937, Mr. Kersting sold the carousel to his brother-in-law, George Schmitt, who operated it until his death in 1945.

Schmitts wife Katherine operated the ride until it was acquired by two of her daughters, Irene Kelly and Babe Shagaloff in 1950, and then Irenes twin sister Irma Koenig after 1961. The sisters sold the carousel to Mr. F.C. Shafer of Shafer Enterprises in 1972, and it operated briefly before Shafer announced to the Mesker Park board on August 10, 1973 he had sold the carousel.

“I sold it along with some other rides... I can’t remember who to,” explained Mr. Shafer in a 1980 interview, “Some guy with a Greek name from Chicago.” (actually, it was sold to Family Leisure Centers, Inc., c/o James Figley, Director of Ride Development Kings Dominion). The sale prompted a flood of calls from irate area residents. City Parks Director LaMoine Torgerson contacted the purchaser investigating the possibility of keeping the carousel in Evansville. “There’s no chance we would sell it back. We looked too hard and too long to find it” Replied an unnamed official of Family Leisure Centers.

Concerned Evansville citizens, determined to keep the Carrousel in the city, formed a “Keep the Merry-Go-Round at Home” committee headed by Mrs. Louis Koch, Jr. “We are pleading with the new owners to have some sympathy with our cause,” she reportedly said. The committee asked area residents to write letters requesting the Merry-Go-Round be sold back to Evansville. Tri-state residents responded with more than 1,200 letters.

In a letter to Jim Figley at Kings Dominion, dated 9/4/73, Shafer wrote, “You’re lucky you got such a good ride witiout [sic] the H that I’m catching here. Letters to the paper, TV comments and a million calls to me - harrassing [sic] …I put out the story that ride so badly in need of expensive overhaul to let them know if they could buy it back it would cost a million to repair. . .”

Figley later wrote to Dudley Taft, Vice President of Taft Broadcasting in a letter dated Sept. 13, 1973 that “… It appears to me that we may have to fight our way in and out of the city to dismantle this Merry-Go-Round. Maybe there is a law to protect the innocent.”

On October 1, 1973 when disassembling started, city officials reportedly tried to obtain a circuit court order preventing it from being moved out of the city. City Attorney John Cox claimed the legal arguments were based on a lease agreement which called for Shafer to use Mesker Park for amusement rides, including a carousel. However, it was later reported that Judge William Miller would not sign the order.

The next day the Mesker Park Carrousel was moved out of town (apparently with no rioting after all). After being stored for five years, Family Leisure Centers renovated the machine and placed it in the Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera at Carowinds Theme Park in Charlotte, North Carolina as part of a 1979 expansion program, where it operates today.

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