Antique carousel prospers at Trimper park WOODEN WONDER

July 17, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City--It has charmed children and adults alike for almost a century, spinning around and around while the music plays and the horses go up and down, up and down.

pTC Actress Sissy Spacek rode the Trimper's merry-go-round in the movie "Violets Are Blue." At least two people have gotten married on it. And on a hot summer afternoon, the wooden animals feel cool to bare legs, just as they have every summer since the carousel was installed in 1902.

"All ages ride it," says Marty Trimper, whose husband, Granville, has managed the amusement park since 1980. "Older people, just for the fun of it. Parents take little tiny kids . . . and kids that you'd think would say, 'It's too childish for me' -- they still love it."

Even on a weekday, the truth of her words can be seen inside the boardwalk amusement arcade built by Daniel and Margaret Trimper in 1892. The carousel has riders of all ages: little children grip the brass rods that connect the animals to the machinery as their parents grip them; adults ride it alone and a teen-ager or two takes a spin.

Mrs. Trimper surveys the ride with obvious pride as she describes how it has survived and prospered at the park. As she talks, two of Daniel Trimper's great-great-grandchildren ride the carousel. Adam Lewis, 3, and his brother Matt, 6, are among the children enjoying the gentle breeze the carousel brings on a hot summer day.

The carousel was purchased from the Herschell Spillman Co. in Tonawanda, N.Y., Mrs. Trimper explains. It has 45 hand-carved animals, three chariots and one rocking chair. Although more modern machinery has replaced the original steam engine, the animals have been restored to look the way they did in 1902.

The restoration began in the 1970s and took three years to complete, Mrs. Trimper says. The two restorers, a Ukrainian brother and sister named John and Maria Bilous, worked on the animals two at a time so the ride could continue running during the restoration.

"All of this was green when I was a kid," says Granville Trimper, indicating the carousel's platform floor. When the restoration began, the Bilouses removed the green paint that coated the carousel's top, floor and side panels. Underneath, they found the original oil paintings that had decorated the panels -- women's heads, animals and other scenes.

The couple stripped the paint a coat at a time, the Trimpers say, so as not to disturb what was underneath.

The painstaking work was worth the years of effort, because only a handful of antique carousels survive today.

"The antique ones have been broken up and sold," Mrs. Trimper says. "Fires have gotten a lot of them. When we went to California, we visited one -- just went there to see it! It was outside Los Angeles on the Santa Monica Pier."

The restorers' work and care is evident on the carousel's animals. The horses' paint is bright and precise. A rider who doesn't want a horse has a wide range of alternatives, equally lovingly restored: two dogs, two pigs, a frog, a stork, a giraffe, a deer (with real antlers), a lion, a sea lion, a tiger, an ostrich, a rooster, a cat or a zebra.

The carousel evokes affection even from those who see it every day: the park's workers, who are trained by year-round staff on how to jump on and off the platform while it moves. Big summer crowds make the maneuver necessary to collect tickets and keep the ride running without long delays.

"This is my favorite -- you meet so many people on it," says park employee Timothy Williams. He's a summer hire from Philadelphia who hopes to get a full-time job at the park. "People come from all over -- it's one of the main attractions," he says, stroking the lion's mane while the carousel is stopped. "This and that roller coaster out there!"

The origin of carousels isn't entirely clear. No one is sure when the first one appeared, but Mrs. Trimper offers the work of researcher J. William Joynes for history of the amusement.

Mr. Joynes says the name comes from a European word meaning little war, a game played by horsemen during the 17th century. The French changed the game into a lavish display of horsemanship and spectacle, and a famous such game was held in 1662 by Louis XIV at a place still called the Place du Carousel.

Shortly thereafter the carousel became a mechanical device to train young noblemen for the tournaments, and by 1822 carousels were popular in France and England. In 1870, an Englishman developed the overhead cranking device that causes the horses to go up and down, according to Mr. Joynes. A German cabinetmaker in Philadelphia began making carousels America at about that time, and one was moved to Atlantic City, N.J., where it was so popular that other resorts began to install them.

The ride's popularity has certainly lasted along with the wooden animals. New fans are created all the time, as people line up at Trimper's on a busy Saturday or Sunday to hand over three tickets for the three-minute ride.

"It's our first time," says Diane Forssell of Laurel, as her daughter, Kirby, 3, waves from the carousel. "We were here last night and she wanted to ride it again. She loves the animal shapes -- she wanted to ride the lion, the giraffe."

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