On this small town county fairground in Colorado sits a fully operational antique carousel in the U.S., which still hosts its original animals and scenery paintings.
The Kit Carson County Carousel is a wooden stationary machine, which means the animals don’t move up and down, as with most modern carousels. That doesn’t deter from the excitement of riding this wonder though, as it moves along at swift 12 mph; most modern-day carousels only move around 8 mph.
The 46 animals in the menagerie are all hand-carved and hand-painted, and include a diverse selection beyond the traditional breeds. In addition to the 4 chariots and 25 horses, you’ll find three giraffes, camels, goats and zebras, two burros, a lion and a tiger, a hippocampus and a St. Bernard. All contain intricate carvings and decorations on their bodies and saddles; indeed, the saddle trappings are similar to those used by cavalry mounts in the 18th century Napoleonic Wars.
The center of the carousel hosts a Wurlitzer 155 Military Band Organ, a type nicknamed Monster, which contains 255 pipes, bass and snare drums and cymbal, played by music rolls. Leaded glass windows cover the organ and provide a method for reducing or amplifying the sound level of the organ. The instrument has been restored a few times, once for the national bicentennial, and recently in 1996 by craftsman that were able to turn the clock back and return it to is original 1909 look and sound.
Also in the interior of the carousel, at the top, are 45 separate one-of-a-kind oil paintings of various cosmopolitan scenes, some rather amusing. A monkey sits and eats from a bowl in one, a boy teases a chained dog with a cat, a goat eats a young girl’s hair wreath of flowers, a cigar-smoking dog stands at his master’s attention on the dinner table, and various others.
Built in 1905, the carousel came to be the Kit Carson County Carousel after purchase from Elitch Gardens in Denver in 1928. It spent several years in storage during the depression era, which caused surprisingly little damage. In 1981, several of the animals were stolen, but eventually recovered, and it was ultimately designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Restoration of the dodecahedron structure housing the carousel in 2001 completed last phase of the most recent and extensive 25-year restoration process.
Thanks to these ongoing restoration efforts, generation after generation has been able to enjoy this beautiful ride.
Know Before You Go
Getting to the carousel can be a little tricky. You have to weave through the little town of Burlington just a bit, so make sure you have a map handy. It is not very well marked from I-70, but is just a short mile or so from the interstate. The carousel is typically open from 11 am - 6 pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day and only costs 25 cents to ride! There is also an associated museum on site that folks can visit for additional dollar.