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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Going for the brass ring

Today I rode the  carousel at Hempstead Lake State Park. Counting my daughter (who did not want to go on by herself) and one other kid, the total number of riders came to three. On the round just before ours there were just two riders. I suppose carousels have fallen out of favor, though they actually have a much longer history than I suspected. 
On the cashier's counter was a pile of papers with some more information about the carousel. Unfortunately, the powers that be at Hempstead Lake State Park did not bother to upload that to the park's site. For example, the historic carousel is named for Heckscher  because August Heckscher donated it to the park in 1931. It continued operating until 2001  (though according to this, it faced a crisis in 1981. In 2003, the carousel was taken apart and shipped across the country to Carousel Works in Ohio  for a full restoration at a cost of $400,000. The carousel was put back in place  and once again opened to the public in 2005.

 Pictures and some more details about its history are in About article by . What's interesting about the major restoration is that it truly lived up to its name. writes that in the decade between 1951 and 1961, eight of the original horses were replaced by aluminum ones. During the restoration project 10 years ago,  those replacements were taken out. In their place "four original Illions carved horses that had been found in storage, as well as two Illions horses that were taken from a carousel in Pennsylvania, and two new horses that were carved in the Illions style by Carousel Works, Inc." were put in their palce. 

The handout at the carousel also gave some general history of carousels, which is easier to find sourced online. Specificially, what we consider a plaything of children -- and the young at heart, of course -- actually started out as an exercise in knightly combat. Wikipedia covers that in its entry on carousels:

The word carousel originated from the Italian garosello and Spanish carosella ("little battle", used by crusaders to describe a combat preparation exercise and game played by Turkish and Arabian horsemen in the 12th century).[3] This early device was essentially a cavalry training mechanism; it prepared and strengthened the riders for actual combat as they wielded their swords at the mock enemies.
By the 17th century, the balls had been dispensed with, and instead the riders had to spear small rings that were hanging from poles overhead and rip them off. 

The same point is made in a NYC report posted online  in connection to a carousel in Queens (which wasn't in operation when we visited the park a couple of years ago). Starting out with an eye to SEO, the NYC report includes all variant on name and spellings: "including carousel, carrousel, carousell, carousal, carosello, merry-go-round, roundabout, and steam riding galleries. " However you spell it, the mechanism dates back to the 16th century:  "Following Henri II’s unintentional death during a jousting match in 1559, French horsemen began practicing with straw and wood figures attached to rotating circular frames."

The NYC report includes  this  citation: 
Much of the information found in this section is found in Frederick Fried, A Pictorial History of the Carousel  (New York: Vestal Press, 1964, various editions), Lisa English, “Roundabout,” Metropolis (July/August 1990), 57-69, “Forest Park: The Carousel,” viewed at  Also see Richard W. Johnston, “The Carousel,” Life (August 27, 1951), 100ff.; Robyn Love, “The Painted Ponies of Queens: Celebrating the Magic of the Carousel,” poster, City of New York Parks & Recreation, 1995, LPC files; Eric Pahlke, Treasures from the Golden Age: East Carousels (forthcoming, 2013). It is worth noting that most essays and books that are devoted to carousels lack specific citations and references to primary sources. 

In the Hempstead Lake State Park handout, it explained that the brass ring that used to adorn carousels represents what the knights tried to catch as a test of skill. That was later adapted for riders of the ride for amusement around the beginning of the 18th century, according to the NYC report cited above.  The oldest one still around is in Germany. It was built in 1780, and there is more information about it here

As for the power used to propel the carousels, according to the NYC report,  the rides were first moved by serfs, then oxen. Later carousels incorporated steam power. In 2011, GE set up a solar powered carousel at South Street Seaport that it called Carousolar. But the ride was not intended as a permanent fixture in New York. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Telling a story through letters and posts

Don Quixote is the work that many identify as the first modern novel, a work distinct from epic romances or other high-brow treatments of fictions that were considered worthy of poetry rather than prose.  Of course, that was not an English work, but a Spanish one. The novel genre only arrived in England nearly 2 centuries later, and often the stories were told in the form of letters. 
Epistolary novels are set on the premise of the narrator, telling the story to a correspondent. Samuel Richardson opted for the epistolary form for both Pamela and Clarissa in the 1740s About a half a century later, Jane Austen used that form in Lady Susan.  Some decade or two afterwards, Mary Shelley framed the story of the archetypal mad scientist, Frankenstein, in her novel of the same name by having the story related by the sailor who picks him up on his sea voyage in letters to his sister. However, as the novel gener took off during the 1800s, most dropped the epistolary device, even if they were written in first-person. 

It hasn't disappeared altogether, though, modern treatments tend to mix the letters with narrative, often from different points of view, as in  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Some contemporary novels substitute emails for letters and sometimes also throw in texts or social media style updates in telling their stories. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a novel that is relayed solely through tweets, possibly grouped under hashtags rather than traditional chapter titles. 

But I wonder if anyone has attempted to tell a story through an online community bulletin board. I know that some reveal an awful lot about their lives through their posts -- about having children, having financial difficulties, attempts at getting a job, attempts at getting a loan, divorce, and calls for outright handouts.  That's all from one person's posts over the past 3 or 4 years. For writers of fiction, I thought that such an account could  form the central line of a narrative from which several key characters branch off. 

Related interest: