Celebrate Memorial Day with these fun facts about the history of Broome County Carousels

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BROOME COUNTY – It’s Memorial Day, and that means the unofficial start of summer.

Around the area, we see pools opening, and, of course, carousels.

Locals know there are 6 carousels in the county: C. Fred Johnson Park, George W. Johnson Park, West Endicott Park, Recreation Park, Ross Park and Highland park.

NewsChannel 34 sat down with former Broome County historian Gerry Smith for some little-known fun facts on this historic ride.

A Little History:

5 of the carousels were gifted to the city by George F. Johnson, and the 6th was gifted by Lillian Johnson.

In 2021, there are 6 of under 100 original wooden carousels in the country, out of 10,000.

It all began in 1919, when the merry-go-round at Rec Park was damaged over a long winter and needed repairs.

Johnson ended up donating a brand new carousel to the park with one stipulation: it had to be forever free.

Forever Free:

Upon donating the carousels, Johnson said that the rides must remain forever free or else returned to the Johnson family.

This is due to the fact he was too poor to pay the nickel it cost to ride the carousel in Massachusetts, where he grew up.

Now, you may see signs that it cost one piece of trash to ride the carousel, but that wasn’t part of the original deal.

That came about in the 1960s as a way to stop the littering.

Members of the Johnson family decided George F. would be fine with that.

While Johnson was alive, he did as much as he could to keep things low-cost or free for the community: the golf course he owned only had a 25 cent green fee (as opposed to the IBM course which was 50 cents) and public pools only cost a dime to swim in.

He also covered all medical bills for those who worked for him.

Care and Restoration:

In the early 1990’s, it became apparent that the carousels needed to undergo some repairs.

Rec Park was the first one to get restored in 1991.

Of course, the horses have all been repainted numerous times by this point – the original carousel horses were red with white polka dots.

All the rides used to have a band organ, and some have been restored, but not all of them.

The organ is the hardest and most expensive part of the carousel to restore.

Carousel Capitol and the Carousel Circuit:

Now, Binghamton is called the Carousel Capitol of the World, however, that idea didn’t come about until the mid to late 1990s, when it started to become clear that no one had as many carousels as Binghamton did, mixed with all the “carousel conventions” that would pass through town.

The Carousel Circuit was also born in the mid 1990s.

It can take as little as 3 hours to ride the entire circuit if you start in Endicott and end in Rec Park, though you don’t have to do it all in one day.

Carousel Trivia:

All Binghamton carousel horses are “jumper horses.” Jumper horses move up and down the entire duration of the ride – most carousels have jumper horses on the other ring and the rest just sit still.

This was because George F Johnson saw the jumpers as “experience horses” and wanted everyone to have that experience.

All of Binghamton’s carousels are different sizes. The smallest one is in Highland Park, which is also the only one to be moved from its original location (in the old En-Joie park) and has 33 animals.

The largest carousel is in C. Fred Johnson Park and that one has 72.

Highland and George F. W both have a dog and a boar to ride.

All of the carousels were made by Hershel Spellman.

So next time you find yourself riding one of these historic rides, take a moment to appreciate the history that comes with it!

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