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Carousel Disasters


In the old days, the outdoor amusement business was difficult under the best of circumstances.  In much of the country, the season during which earnings for the year were made ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Bad weather during this crucial period ruined business and left ride owners and operators broke.  Natural disasters destroyed rides and livelihoods.  Amusement park fires were not uncommon, with all of the right ingredients – overloaded electrical wiring, flammable materials (wood, paint, grease) and substandard structures.  Carousels burned.  When the historic trail of a carousel abruptly ends, fire is usually thought to be the culprit.  We know of a number of carousels that burned, and, no doubt, there were others.

Photos and postcards B. Williams collection


Venice Pier, Venice, CA – On the night of December 20, 1920, a huge fire swept the Venice Pier, burning the pier’s Dentzel carousel. In the detail of the ruins, bottom right, you can see the cranks and poles from the carousel. The cards are not postmarked.

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Ocean Park Pier, Ocean Park, CA – Sept 3, 1912, the fateful day for the Ocean Park Looff and Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousels. Both were destroyed by fire. There are no postmarks on the fire scene postcards.

Philadelphia Toboggan Company #20 (below)


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Carousel photos – Frederick Fried Archive, B Williams collection

Ocean Front Walk, postmarked August 27, 1911, a Sunday, fifteen days before the fire of September 3rd (below)


The Fire


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For pictures of the Looff carousel:

The Carousels of the Santa Monica Bay, Volume 24, #2, Summer 1997

Tennessee State Fair, Nashville, TN – On the fair’s opening day, September 20, 1965, a fire destroyed the exhibit buildings and sent 18 people to the hospital.  No rides were affected.  No postmark.

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Cedar, KS (population 24 in 1996) – The message on the front of the card reads – “This picture was taken on the morning 3rd of Aug – the Merry Go Round moved out on the bar.” You can see the Dare horses from the carousel. The card is postmarked December 1, 1911.

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New Brighton, PA, Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913 – Western Pennsylvania fell victim to the horrific floods of 1913. The earlier view is postmarked 1907. The make of the carousel is unknown.

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Long Branch Pier, Long Branch, NJ – You can see the protruding rim on the ravaged carousel, a result of the September 14, 1944 hurricane that destroyed every building along the beachfront. The card is not postmarked.


Galveston, TX, “Merry Go Round on Beach, 1919”. After the September 4th hurricane. Possibly a Carmel horse.

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A Stein & Goldstein carousel in a storm-ravaged building. Unknown date and location.


A parker carousel after a storm. From left to right – an Illions chariot, early-style Parker horses, later-style Parkers. Unknown date and location.


Rome, NY, 1912 – Not destroyed, but rained out. Not postmarked.



Long Beach Pike, Long Beach, CA – On March 10, 1933 a 6.4 earthquake destroyed much of Long Beach. It is not known how the Looff carousel building was affected. The later postcard shows the area after it was rebuilt. Neither card is postmarked.

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