Looff Carousel, Rhode Island – past meets present

In 1886, the shores of East Providence (i.e. Riverside), Rhode Island were fortunate to become the home of a very popular and luxurious waterfront destination. Along those shores, summer visitors were given an opportunity to enjoy numerous summer cottages, bath-houses, and a beautiful deluxe hotel. Labeled the “Coney Island of New England” visitors flocked to these shores and beaches to relax. Thus “Crescent Park Resort” was founded.

In effort to lure visitors off the beaches, and offer a different type of entertainment, the owner of the property at that time (Charles Boyden) came up with an interesting idea. He decided to build an amusement park on that Riverside waterfront section. A few years later, he hired a furniture maker/wood carver Charles I.D. Looff to build a carousel on the property. Looff’s carvings were different than most.  His animals and horse designs were creative, imaginative, unique, and stylish. Hence the Looff Carousel in Riverside was born.

During my youth in the 1960’s, I have strong memories of this very special place. It was one of my family’s and my favorite weekend destinations. During the summer months there was always something special happening there. The park catered to family members of all ages, young and old alike, On hand, was your typical theme park fair, awesome sea food, delicious all-you-can-eat clam cakes and chowder at the shore dinner hall, peanuts and cotton candy, among other usual amusement park snacks. There was even a special stand for popcorn and saltwater taffy-a seaside favorite.

Obviously one of the other major attractive features of the park were the notable rides and midway games. Many might remember, ‘Kiddy-land’,’Tumble Bug’, ‘the Flying Fish’ (a roller coaster style ride), ‘Go carts’, ‘The Fun House’, ‘The Showboat’, ‘The Whip’, ‘The Riverboat’, ‘Dodge Em’s’, “The Penny Arcade (with of course ‘Skeeball’), ‘Shooting Gallery’, and the “Ferris Wheel”. Many of these were riding-style attractions, while others were walk-through adventures.  Nonetheless, with the classic “in your face’ dayglow paint, their sights and sounds, offered us the fun times many of us remember.

Sundays were always a special day for me at the park.  On Sunday, they offered a lot of free entertainment. Many notable celebrities visited and performed for us.  Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (and Trigger of course), The Lone Ranger and Tonto, The Three Stooges, characters from TV’s Gunsmoke, were just a few of the entertainers that come to mind. When I think back, I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to see many of my TV idols (most of which I’d only seen in black and white!) appearing on that stage right in front of me in living color!  I remember what a thrill it was for me to actually shake hands and speak with “Festus” (Ken Curtis) from TV’s Gunsmoke. Those days, were happier days. People still had to deal with the challenges and strife of everyday life, but it seemed to be a lot easier to cope.

The park continued to thrive over the years, surviving tough economic times, as well as some pretty catastrophic weather, namely hurricanes. The Hurricane of 1938 caused significant damage, and Hurricane Carol, in 1954, which decimated a lot of the coast. Nonetheless, with a few repairs, and Crescent Park was back in business. Unfortunately, in the 1970’s, (along with many of its peers) the Crescent Park Amusement Park, ran into financial difficulty, and was forced into bankruptcy. A sad day for all of us who remembered the fun times we had experienced at their park over the years.

Luckily, the Looff Carousel has survived over time. A group of local citizens rescued the Carousel from being sold off. Shortly thereafter, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In 1987, the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service designated the carousel as a National Historic Landmark. The building is one of Looff’s classic circular buildings. From the exterior, the building appears to have three tiers.  The lower portion is the main entrance to the carousel ride itself.  The second tier provides additional interior lighting for the carousel. Finally, the topmost tier creates the “coppola or dome” shape that you can see.  The third tier, provides natural air circulation-a way to allow the heat to escape on those hot summer days.  Here are some photos that I’ve taken around the exterior of the carousel building.

In the summer of 2010, the Carousel was closed while they were conducting some major repairs. One of the main gears from the ride drive mechanism had to be replaced. It was not an easy job. The main center portion where the drive mechanism was located beneath the ride had to be exposed to gain access and replace the gear. There was no way of obtaining a replacement gear locally, so they had to have a company in some other area of the country, manufacturer and ship a replacement gear.

A “band organ” that was manufactured in Germany provides the “calliope” style music for the carousel. It utilizes a Wurlitzer 165 music roll system, to provide the music. [The Wurlitzer 165 replaced the original German cardboard book music system that was installed]. The carousel manager Ed, was nice enough to allow me to take some photos during its repair. I was fortunate enough to be able to see some of this equipment that normally is concealed while the ride is in operation. The music system, the drive mechanisms, the gears, etc. One note, the photos of the gear that needed to be replaced doesn’t really do justice to its size.  In person, its size is impressive.

During the repairs, I was fortunate to be able to get close and photograph many of the horses and animals in the carousel. Some of which were even mythical. The colors and designs were extremely vibrant, and they looked amazing. Many of the horses themselves were adorned with beautifully colored saddles. On some the harnesses and saddles they were decorated with gold and jewels. Some of the horses had smaller creatures and animals clinging to them. Rabbits, dragons, and serpents are just a few of the creature’s inhabiting the carousels domain. The following are some photos I took of the horses and animals in the structure.

In the building there are numerous other signs and artifacts from the original park.  There are vintage photos, original park game kiosks, sign’s, etc.  Many of which will bring back vivid memories of bygone era – an era that has not been forgotten.  Here are just a few of these images.

I’m very fortunate to live close to the carousel in Riverside.  I visit there numerous times in the summer. When I walk thru the carousel doors, I feel as though I’m stepping back in time. When you see the ride, hear the music, smell the popcorn, you are transported, to a different time and place. It really conveys a true vision of the past. Also, in today’s day age of video games, IPods, and computers, its’ really nice to see adults, children, and families spending quality time together enjoying each other’s company. I would strongly recommend to anyone, if you have an opportunity to see and experience the Looff Carousel, do it. It’s a fun filled afternoon with family and friends, both young and old.


Carousel motion video click to view















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