Flying Horses Fly Again

The Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs opens its doors for its 137th season tomorrow, Saturday, April 7, at 11 a.m.

With a flick of a few switches, the building will come out of winter hibernation, animated by neon lights and horses and chariots spinning round and round to the tunes of the 1923 Wurlitzer Band Organ.

Built in 1876 by amusement park manufacturer and hobby horse carver, Charles Dare, the Flying Horses is one of only two Dare carousels left in existence. Carved in the “country fair style,” Mr. Dare’s horses came to Oak Bluffs from Coney Island in 1884. The other remaining Dare carousel is located in Watch Hill, Rhode Island and goes by the same name. There’s even a bit of a rivalry between the two towns as to who has the oldest carousel. The Flying Horses can claim the unique distinction of being the oldest “platform” carousel left in existence, whereas the Watch Hill carousel’s horses are on chains, which gives them motion and the feel of actually flying.

The Preservation Trust bought the Flying Horses in 1986.

“In the evolution of the Preservation Trust, acquiring the Flying Horses was a major watershed moment,” said Preservation Trust executive director Chris Scott. The purchase also expanded the Trust’s mission to properties outside of Edgartown. Soon after the Trust took over the Flying Horses, it acquired Alley’s General Store, the Grange Hall, and Union Chapel. In 1987, the carousel was designated a national landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“The Flying Horses are beloved by everybody on the Island it’s a great traditional act that spans and connects Vineyard generations,” Mr. Scott said.

In the spirit of spanning generations, Mr. Scott said that not long ago he found a steel ring stuck in a crevice of the original piano that dates back to about 1904. He can date it that far back because of a liberty nickel he also found there; rides were five cents at the time. Today the rings are made at the Genalco, Inc. steel manufacturing company in Needham, Mass. The Trust ordered 10,000 rings for the upcoming season; in the summer, the carousel is open 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

“That’s a lot of rides,” Mr. Scott said.

— Alison L. Mead