Along the Santa Barbara waterfront, where afternoon ocean breezes drift off the slow waves, mini-equestrians mount mechanical horses for a rhythmic, whirling, three-minute ride through Chase Palm Park. This is the daily scene at the Allan Herschell 3-Abreast Carousel, which this year celebrates its centennial of catching the hearts and imaginations of galloping youngsters, with its carnivalesque organ music, Wild West paintings, and blinking lights.
Over its 100 years, the 40-foot-wide carousel’s 35 hand-carved, jumping wooden horses and two chariots have had their own shares of trail adventures. Though details are hard to confirm, its life most likely began in an amusement park on the East Coast before pioneering its way across the country to Seaport Village in San Diego. It arrived at Chase Palm Park in June 1999.
Herschell was a Scottish immigrant who got his start working with steam engines in New York State. When he discovered the magic of the European carousel in 1882, he began building steam-run merry-go-rounds and completed his first carousel in 1884. A business partner forced him into retirement in 1911, so he started his own company in 1915 but is only believed to have built four more carousels before dying in 1927. That includes Santa Barbara’s, which is one reason it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
The merry-go-round is now owned and operated by Historic Carousels, a company out of Hood River, Oregon, that specializes in purchasing, restoring, and operating endangered antique carousels. It purchased the carousel in 1990, and, with the help of the International Museum of Carousel Art, conducted an extensive restoration in 1997.
Once, there were more than 10,000 carousels in America, but today that number is estimated to be closer to 300. Thanks to such increased efforts to preserve carousels, generations ahead may be able to take a trip back in time on one of the centerpieces of America’s nostalgic community amusement parks.
The Allan Herschell 3-Abreast Carousel is located in Chase Palm Park at 223 East Cabrillo Boulevard. It costs $2.50 per ride.