Carousel revolves as resort evolves

Attraction: Generations have ridden the Trimper family's Ocean City merry-go-round, built in 1902.

August 13, 2002|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY - Granville Trimper's grandfather bought the intricately carved and painted merry-go-round almost before there was an Ocean City, back when the resort consisted of three hotels and a block-long strip of boardwalk.

One hundred years later, the ornate contraption has become a symbol of the enduring appeal of Maryland's favorite beach town - and maybe a totem for its most enduring clan.

"In all of our business, we pretty much consider that carousel to be priceless," says Trimper, 73, who oversees a three-block arcade operation that began in 1890 and is now run by his three children, their spouses and several of his nine grandchildren.

The three-row, 48-animal menagerie that includes plenty besides horses - dogs, pigs, a giraffe, a deer, an ostrich, a tiger, a lion, a zebra and even a rooster - is still whirling day and night during the summer season, year-round on weekends.

"You figure a few thousand people a week riding it for 100 years, and that's a lot of people," says Trimper, who often works 12-hour days keeping an eye on things. "Generations have ridden the carousel. We have people nearly every day who rode as kids and are now bringing their grandchildren."

Hilda Williams never rode the Trimpers' merry-go-round as a child, but she was drawn to it immediately on her first trip to Ocean City 15 years ago. Now, the Scranton, Pa., native books the same two weeks every summer, a holiday that wouldn't be the same without a trip to the arcade.

"We always head here every year," Williams said as she watched three of her grandchildren, Amanda Lance, 13, Kaitlyn Fitzgerald, 14, and Lauren Fitzgerald, 7, spinning around on the carousel. "We've already reserved our place for next summer."

1970s restoration

Thanks to a mid-1970s restoration and continual spruce-ups, the 1902 beauty looks pretty much as it did when Daniel Trimper ordered it from the Herschell Spillman Co. in Tonawanda, N.Y., a now-defunct manufacturer that lives on as a carousel museum.

Most of the early work was trial and error, says Maria Bilous Schlick, staff artist for the restoration. She removed years of grime and paint that had obscured the original colors on the wooden animals and background scenes that adorned a series of panels above and below each row on the ride.

The first effort turned out badly when the carved wooden pieces of a horse began to fall apart, coming unglued after being dipped in paint remover, Schlick says. A water-soluble paint thinner and a pressure hose worked just fine for the animals, as well as the landscape scenes Schlick uncovered on the carousel's wood panels.

The restoration took three years, but it never really ends, says Schlick, whose work is also apparent on a few of the "new" rides such as the miniature carousel, the Kiddie Whip or the Kiddie Ferris Wheel, some of which date to 1910.

`Ongoing project'

"Now, it's an ongoing project," says Schlick. "I like that Old World look; I don't go for much gold leaf. I like the rich colors that were original. I guess Granville trusts my judgment."

That hands-on approach and continuity is the key to the ride's longevity, says Terry I. Blake, president of the National Carousel Association. The 800-mem- ber group works to preserve the 160 wooden merry-go-rounds operating on a regular basis in the United States and Canada.

"It's just very, very unusual that it's still in the hands of the original owners, the original family," says Blake, who took a side trip to Ocean City a few years ago when her association held its annual convention in Washington.

"When you think of the wear and tear the animals get from people who step on a leg or pull on an ear or maybe try to carve their initials, it's just awfully unusual," Blake says. "In a town where pretty much everything is transient, this is something that obviously has been taken care of for the long haul."

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