The (Carousel) Horse Whisperer

Part archivist, part carny, and part mechanic, Ed Serowik has been working on or around the Crescent Park Carousel since 1948, when he was 12 years old. Nearly 70 years later, during J.D. Kay (photographs) and Shawn Badgley‘s visit with him this spring, he was telling stories and showing off his scrapbook, scampering up and down ladders, and puzzling over the 1895 Charles D. Looff masterpiece’s latest mechanical issue – a hub bearing that keeps sliding out of place, leading to a wobbly ride.

This carousel is “the only one left in the country that’s still all married together – the original horses in the original building with the original organ,” Serowik says, and he has solved many problems before this one. Broken horses, broken gears, broken windows … you name it, and Serowik has probably fixed it.

What follow are photos and excepts from our conversation with Serowik, who will take part in a free panel discussion at the Aldrich House on May 3. He’ll also join the RIHS for Spring Forward … Think Back: Midway Memories on May 10. Tickets are still available!

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Charles D. Looff “worked at a furniture-making business in Brooklyn as a carver, and in his spare time, he carved horses with all of the spare wood. And his first horses were very crude, but he would soon improve. He finally made enough horses to put a ride together for Coney Island, where he’d later have a factory.”
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“People used to come around to the hotel and resort here, but George Boyden needed more amusements and rides for Crescent Park, so he got ahold of Looff, who built a merry-go-round on the pier. And he built this as a showpiece, and then he built another factory in back of it. I used to play in the shop as a little boy, and I could see all of the tools they carved the horses with.”
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“I was 12 and I got a job taking the live ponies around the track over here. Then I got a job as a pinboy in the bowling alley, and finally I got a job up here as a ringboy on the merry-go-round, which every kid in Riverside wanted to do. … I just asked, you know? Later, I became Head of Maintenance for the entire park. I worked for the Looff family, and they were here until about 1969.”

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“I’ve got pictures here,” Serowik says in a bit of an understatement. His massive scrapbook is overflowing with memories … photos, flyers, tickets, and more. “It’s just the love of meeting people,” he says. “And being here at this particular place is so special because it is special; it’s the only one like it in the country.”

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“Originally, this ran on stream. There’s a lot of moving parts here that need to be taken care of. They all need to be lubricated and checked every day. And then there are the major restoration projects. With the hub bearing, they put that on the mast, then they put the top bearing on, then they stood the pole up, and then they hung the ride. So the first step was the hub bearing. And that’s what’s broken. So what do I do? I can’t take the whole ride apart. It would cost us a million bucks to take this thing down. So I’m trying to put the bearing in as two halves.” Is this something you’ve done before? “Nobody has done it before. Well, I can’t say that. [We tried it before with the late Dan Horenberger’s help], but there weren’t tabs on the bottom, so the bearing fell out. So, here we go again. But this time, I have Oliver Barrette’s help. He’s a millwright from Providence.”
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“When we had a shop here, we used to take the horses down and sand them and repaint them ourselves. But now it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, so we gotta have documented proof of who does it and what they’re doing to the horse. We send them to the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut. I’ve got six horses out there right now. But some of the horses on the inner rows of the ride, they’ve still got the paint that I put on them years ago. We’ve done the first two rows; we’re on the third row now.”
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“Other people painted them long before I came here, so in between those years, it’s hard to say for sure what the original colors were. This particular horse right here …  it used to be this color. But one day I was painting it, and a woman came in and was a taking a bunch of photos. I didn’t pay much attention because I was busy. She walked around and left. A month or so later, I get a package in the mail, and it was Smithsonian Magazine with this horse on the cover that I had just painted.”

While the Crescent Park Carousel has typically opened Easter weekend, this year’s weather and other issues have led to a later opening. Serowik said that would probably mean Memorial Day; please check the Crescent Park Carousel website for updates.

For further reading on Serowik, check out George LaCross’s recent post here.

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