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Playing the Ponies

By Charles Apple The Spokesman-Review

DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

On this date 110 years ago, the Looff Carrousel began operating at Spokane’s Natatorium Park. Since then an estimated 25 million riders have climbed aboard the original hand-carved, hand-painted and regularly-restored horses for a three-and-a-half minute merry-go-round ride through history.

Running for that brass — er, plastic — ring

The Carrousel has 54 horses, arranged in “teams” so they complement one another: Color, poses and so forth. Each horse has a name. Each horse is hand-carved from poplar wood, painted with linseed oil-based enamels and coated with polyurethane. Their tails are made of real horse hair.

All 54 of the horses on Spokane’s Loof Carrousel are “jumpers” — meaning they’re sculpted to look as if they’re leaping and the carousel mechanism moves them up and down as the ride revolves.

While most carousels in the U.S. turn clockwise, Loof Carrousel turns counter-clockwise.

The ride revolves at four revolutions per minute. This means riders near the rim are traveling 7 miles per hour.

In addition to the 54 horses, the Looff Carrousel has one tiger (Sneaky), one giraffe (Geri), one goat (Billy Bob) and two chariots ... both of which are decorated with dragons.

The animals are decorated with 1,056 jewels — mostly made of European stained glass and mostly on the right, or outside of each animal. The exception is Geri Giraffe: Hers are mirrored glass jewels.

Riders on the outer rim can grab a brass ring that can be traded for a free ride. Most of the rings are plastic, however. If you can throw your plastic ring into the mouth of a clown on a nearby sign, a bell will ring.

The ride uses 180 clear 25-watt light bulbs. There are 14 mirrors on each of the Carrousel’s 20 rounding boards, 40 mirrors that turn with the center section and 11 stationary mirrors on the center section: A total of 333 mirrors.

The original organ Looff installed is mounted in the center and still operates ... although it’s not used much.

It plays player-piano-like rolls, but it’s hard to find rolls these days. So that’s saved for special occasions.

Charles I.D. Looff

Spokane’s Carrousel was built by master carver and amusement ride maker Charles I.D. Looff, who emigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1870.

Looff created the first carrousel at Coney Island, N.Y. in 1876. He’d go on to build nearly 50 carrousels around the country — some still exist in Providence, R.I., Santa Cruz and Griffith Park, Calif.

Interesting fact about Looff: His original name had been Carl Jurgen Detlev Looff. It’s theorized that the German “I” and “J” look so much alike that, at some point, Loof just went with it.

Looff built this particular Carrousel in 1909 as a wedding present for his daughter, Emma, and her husband, Louis Vogel. It was installed at Spokane’s Natatorium Park, where Vogel operated it himself until he bought the entire park in 1929.

1910
File

Natatorium Park shut down in 1968 and was turned into a mobile home retirement community. The Carrousel was put into storage for a while and then, in 1975, was installed in the former Bavarian beer garden building from Expo ’74.

1979
HAL BLEGEN/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

The Carrousel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. In 2018, the newly-restored Carrousel was reopened in a new $7 million glass rotunda in Riverfront Park.

2018
Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

If you go

Per ride: $2.50 plus tax

Unlimited day pass: $5.50

Children age 2 and under ride free with a paid adult.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Hours revert to 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. after Labor Day.

Sources: The Spokesman-Review and Spokane Daily Chronicle files, SpokaneCarrousel.org, the City of Spokane, Josh Morrisey of the city of Spokane Parks & Recreation Dept., HistoryOfCarousels.com, the Carousel Project