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1911 Loof Carousel

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Rides Series#3)

 

The Boardwalk's Oldest Ride

 

Whether you call it a merry-go-round, carousel, or whirligig, visitors have always been enchanted with the Boardwalk's oldest ride. In 2009 the Boardwalk’s Looff Carousel reaches its 98th Anniversary at the historic amusement park, charming children of all ages with its magical horses and challenging ring game.

 

In August of 1911 one of the great carousel carvers of all time delivered the merry-go-round to the Boardwalk. Danish woodcarver Charles I.D. Looff had achieved success with his first complete carousel placed at Coney Island in 1875 and went on to create several more around the country, including Santa Cruz. Charles' son Arthur Looff later designed the Boardwalk's Giant Dipper.

 

According to his great-granddaughter, Charleen Cowan, Charles I.D. Looff was an immigrant to America as a young man when he chose his middle initials. Ellis Island officials told Looff he had to have a middle name "for his I.D." (or identification), so he chose "I.D." Looff's sense of humor and personality show in his hand-carved horses.

 

Several of the Boardwalk’s carousel horses display their teeth in open smiles; others are more serious, with a gentle demeanor and closed mouths. Each horse is unique, with colorful details, from swords at their sides to garlands of flowers around their necks. Real horse hair tails, muscular bodies, and decorative, jeweled trappings also add to the charm. In all, the carousel is home to 73 horses (71 jumpers and two standers) and two Roman chariots decorated with the heads of rams and cherubs.

 

It is also one of only a handful of carousels in the world still featuring a working ring dispenser. Rings were once hand loaded by "ring boys," as the young employees were called. The process was mechanized in 1950. Steel rings are used today, with brass plated rings added on special occasions. Riders on outside horses can grab rings from a dispenser as they spin, then toss them into a large clown's gaping mouth, rewarded by bells and flashing lights.

 

Music for the carousel is provided by a 342-pipe Ruth und Sohn band organ built in 1894. The German-made music machine is one of the last of its kind. In 2007, a rare Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ from San Francisco’s (now closed) Playland was purchased by the Boardwalk. In 2009, a new exhibit in the carousel building will showcase the Boardwalk’s rare antique band organs: a Wurlitzer 165 originally from San Francisco's Playland and the Boardwalk's original 1894 Ruth & Sohn organ which has played alongside the carousel since 1911.

 

With the passing of Looff and his peers, the art of carving carousel horses has almost disappeared. Due to scarcity, they have become collectible and increasingly valuable. The Boardwalk’s entire carousel cost $18,000 in 1911; now, a pair of the Looff horses are valued at more than that.

 

Carousel horses seem magical, ethereal, and even immortal; the reality is that these beautiful carved figures are sturdy but all too mortal. Over the years some of the Boardwalk’s Looff horses have been lost to the ravages of time and wear. However, the Boardwalk was able to reinstate its collection in 1978 with the acquisition of additional Looff horses from parks in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Belmont Park in San Diego.

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Taken on August 9, 2009