The original Merry-Go-Round at the Lakeside Amusement Park was located outside. It would eventually be housed in three different buildings since the park opened in 1908.
Adjacent to Lake Rhode in Lakeside, Colo., gleams the Tower of Jewels, a 150-foot-tall wooden tower built in 1907 originally fitted with 5,000 lights. It is the centerpiece for the Lakeside Amusement Park, a family fun place that opened in 1908 and is still going strong more than 100 years later.
Today, the Lakeside Amusement Park features a total of 37 rides, including a large Ferris wheel, water rides, three roller coasters, a miniature railway, and the Merry-Go-Round—a carousel that has been with the amusement park since it opened in 1908.
“This carousel is in its third building and its second location,” says Rhoda Krasner, whose family has owned and operated the amusement park since 1935.
“It’s the most unusual carousel I’ve ever seen. Well, it’s really more like folk art,” says Barbara Charles, who has created a census of carousels in the United States.
The individual carvings on the Lakeside carousel quite unusual in that they are boxy, particularly the horses, and generally have little to no additional decoration as seen on other carousels of the era.
Charles is referring to the menagerie of horses, dogs, goats, monkeys, hippos, pigs and, perhaps, a panther created in the factory of C.W. Parker, a carousel maker in Kansas who usually specialized in only horses. I say perhaps, because each of the individual carvings are quite unusual in that they are boxy, particularly the horses, and generally have little to no additional decoration similar to other carousels of the era, except for a carved face in a saddle or the growl of a dog or two. These are the kind of embellishments not usually associated with the carousel carvings of master craftsmen, but they have a gentle folk art beauty nevertheless.
“Parker makes his first carousel in 1901; he’s been repairing other ones before that,” Charles says. “This ride is 1908. It’s really in what I call the first generation of Parker’s where he’s trying to find his style. And this ride is really the biggest one he ever made. And so it’s really his showpiece, you might say, for that first generation of rides for him.” In fact, of the 1,000 or so carousels built by C.W. Parker, only 16 are known to be in operation today and Lakeside’s is the only menagerie left.
For years no one thought that the little animals came from the Parker factory at all, but Charles found evidence that they did in her collection of Parker company early photographs. His factory first operated in Abilene, Kansas, then moved to Leavenworth in 1911, where he continued producing more colorful and decorative carousels until his death in 1935.
“It’s hard to tell you how unbelievable it was when I first saw this carousel. I didn’t know what it was. It was just so wild, with these figures! I’d never seen anything like it. It’s truly one of the great carousels of America and you just have to treasure it. For Parker, it’s a star. It’s a gem,” says Charles.
The current Merry-Go-Round house at Lakeside Amusement Park.
The Krasner has preserved a slice of Americana in the heart of the city. And you can help preserve all our national carousel treasures, too, through the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum website.
Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects, including vexillology, or the study of flags.