While Afterburn and Hurler celebrated big milestones (20 and 25 years respectively) in 2019, there’s another Carowinds attraction celebrating a landmark anniversary this year: The Grand Carousel.
Like clockwork, the carousel horses of Carowinds’ Grand Carousel have been galloping around the park for 40 years. The one catch? They’re actually galloping counter clockwise. But where did they first get their start and go off to the races?
The Grand Carousel was originally crafted by legendary carver John Zihar of Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters in 1923. It is PTC Carousel number 67 (out of 87) and is one of approximately 30 PTC Carousels still in operation today.
PTC #67 originally operated in Evansville, Indiana at Pleasure Park in 1923, before moving to nearby Mesker Park (also in Evansville) in 1936, after Pleasure Park closed following the Great Depression. The ownership of the carousel changed hands multiple times while it operated at Mesker Park, though all owners were part of the same extended family.
The original owner, Henry Kersting, sold the carousel to his brother-in-law, George Schmitt, in 1937. Schmitt’s wife Katherine operated the carousel following his death in 1945, and it was acquired by two of her daughters, Irene Kelly and Babe Shagaloff in 1950. Irene’s twin sister Irma Koenig took over after 1961.
After 49 years of being owned and operated in the same family tree, the carousel was sold to F.C. Shafer of Shafer Enterprises in 1972, who operated it for approximately a year before announcing that he had sold the carousel to Family Leisure Centers, Inc. (Family Leisure Centers, Inc. was a joint venture of Taft Broadcasting, who purchased Carowinds from original owner E. Pat Hall in 1975.)
The decision to sell the carousel was not taken lightly by Evansville residents, and the town attempted to buy the carousel back from Family Leisure Centers, Inc. A “Keep the Merry-Go-Round at Home” letter writing campaign was started by Evansville residents, to no avail. The carousel was disassembled in October 1973. After a period of time in storage and lengthy restorations to return it to its former glory, the Carousel was opened at Carowinds in 1979.
When the Carrousel (how it was spelled back then) opened at Carowinds, it was located inside of the “Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera” children’s area.
In 1995, the Carowinds Carousel was re-dedicated to the children of North and South Carolina in honor of Nelson Schwab III, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Parks from 1980-1995, who helped acquire the parks from Taft Broadcasting under the Kings Entertainment Company banner. The lead horse on the carousel was renamed Nelson in his honor. (Ironically enough, Schwab III is now a senior advisor for a company called Carousel Capital.)
With 68 hand-carved wooden horses and chariots, the Carowinds Carousel has had many names over the years while operating in its original location: Carrousel, Antique Carousel, Carousel, Nick-O-Round, and Character Carousel. In 2018, it was announced that Carowinds would move to a new location near Vortex, and receive a new name: The Grand Carousel. A new structure was built to house the Carousel, and the area around Vortex was renamed Carousel Park, bringing new life and a new energy to that area of the park.
As part of the move and renaming, each offseason for the near future, several of the 68 horses and chariots are being restored and repainted once again so that another generation of Carowinds guests can continue to enjoy them for years to come.
Congratulations on 40 years, Grand Carousel. Here’s to 40 more!
Additional photos from the Willard Library. Additional historical information from Carowinds: The Early Years.