Marysville News

Zoo's carousel has been circling for 100 years

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At the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a $1 ticket buys a trip spanning 100 years of central Ohio history.

The zoo currently is celebrating the centennial of its Mangels-Illions Grand Carousel -- an attraction that has thrilled generations of children at multiple locations since 1914.

The ride, which features 52 carved horses, two chariots and a Wurlitzer organ, originally was installed at Olentangy Park, an amusement park located just off North High Street between West Dodridge Street and West Tulane Road in Clintonville.

Mary Rodgers, president of the Clintonville Historical Society, said Olentangy Park sometimes was referred to as the biggest amusement park in the United States -- and even the world -- during its years of operation from the turn of the century to 1938.

Rodgers said Olentangy Park, along with other other attractions in the Clintonville area at the time, was largely built as a catalyst to increase streetcar traffic in the Columbus area during the weekends. Although the park was one of the world's largest, Rodgers said its clientele was mostly local.

"For the most part, they were trying to attract central Ohio residents to go to the park every weekend," she said.

Rodgers said it was not unusual, in the park's heyday, for 10,000 to 20,000 people to visit the site daily.

The three-row grand carousel was not exactly one of the star attractions. Postcards from the era are more likely to feature the park's roller coasters or shoot-the-chutes, a popular ride similar to a log flume.

Rodgers said the carousel truly was impressive at the time, even if it was overshadowed by other rides and the park's dancing pavilion and theater, both of which could house hundreds of visitors.

"At many parks, the carousel would have been the primary thing to come visit," she said.

As the park was thriving, Clintonville was making the transition from largely rural to largely residential. Olentangy Park saw that change firsthand when the site was purchased in the late 1930s and converted into an apartment complex named Olentangy Village, which still operates today.

After the amusement park land was sold, the carousel was moved to the current site of the Zoombezi Bay water park, which is managed by the nearby Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The park, located in Liberty Township just outside the city of Powell, previously was known as Wyandot Lake and Gooding Zoo Park.

Terri Kepes, senior vice president of planning and design for the zoo, wrote via email that the carousel was in rough shape by 1999 when the zoo removed it from Wyandot Lake to undergo extensive renovations.

"The carousel was in desperate need of repairs," she said. "Parts of the wooden, hand-carved horses had been replaced with cheap, metal elements; the organ was not operational; and the internal mechanics had not received the daily maintenance it needed."

The carousel's sorry state led to a $1 million project to restore the ride and move it in 2000 to its current home in an enclosed space on the zoo's west side, near the Australia region. The project was funded by the zoo and private donors.

The renovated carousel saw its 1 millionth rider since reopening by 2004. Just under 300,000 people ride it yearly on average, according to zoo records.

The zoo services the carousel daily, and officials said there's no sign the ride will need to be put out to pasture any time soon.

Rodgers praised the zoo for what she called "a great restoration project." She said Clintonville residents should not be jealous that Delaware County adopted the carousel, but proud that a key piece of local history still is providing thrills so many years after it was built.

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