Kids love things that go; so do adults who remember what it's like to be a kid; and there are few experiences of motion that are quite so fundamental as a ride on a merry-go-round. Sure, we all like to think we've outgrown them, having long ago moved on to Crack the Whip, the Wall of Death, upside-down roller coasters, and rush hour traffic, but if we had to be completely honest, we'd have to admit there's still something inside us that is drawn to the hurdy gurdy sound of the humble carousel.
The Crescent Park Carousel is the largest and most elaborate in Rhode Island. It's also the last vestige of Crescent Park Amusement Park, an East Providence fixture from 1895 to 1979. The park grew around the carousel, which was built by Charles I.D. Looff as a sort of sales showcase for his work. Each of the sixty-six hand-carved figures is different, with fifty-six jumpers (horses that move up and down on poles), five standers (stationary horses), one menagerie (a camel), and four chariots (two double- and two single-seaters), plus an elaborately carved band organ and utilitarian brass ring machine. Each horse is hand-painted and the tails are made from real horse hair.
The carousel was saved from being sold, along with the rest of the park's rides, by a determined group of East Providence residents. It took several years, but by 1984 the ride was back in operation. Rigorous restoration and regular maintenance assures the carousel will delight visitors for generations to come.
As historic and lovingly maintained as it is, the carousel is not just something pretty to look at—this is a museum you can ride. Eleven-and-a-half miles an hour may not seem very fast, but it's faster than most merry-go-rounds. It doesn't take long to get the hang of capturing the brass rings, though, and riders who manage to grab a gold ring get a free ride.
There are few concessions to modernity. The ride now runs on electricity instead of steam, a clown face replaced a black sambo figure on the painted backdrop back around World War II, and of course the prices are higher, but otherwise it might as well be 1895 under the onion-dome-topped pavillion.
Kids may be more sophisticated these days, but the younger ones still smile and laugh and squeal with delight as they bob up and down on their steeds. Adults are more reserved, but they smile their own secret smiles, perhaps reliving their own childhoods.
So even if you think you're too old or too cool, we suggest that you try a ride on the Crescent Park Carousel, because until someone invents a time machine, this is the next best thing.
The Crescent Park Carousel is on the National Register of Historic Places (1976), was proclaimed Rhode Island's State Symbol of Folk Art (1985), and is a registered National Historic Landmark (1987).
For an in-depth look at the Crescent Park Carousel's history, please see A Living Museum by Michael Bell.
You may work up an appetite while visiting the carousel. Check out the nearby Blount Clam Shack and fulfill all your clam shack desires.
Here are someone's home-movies of Crescent Park in the 1950s:
- Best Renovation, Rhode Island Monthly's Best of Rhode Island, 2004.
Cost: As of 2020: $2 a ride; or 20 rides for $30.
Directions: From Route 195 take exit 4 to Veterans Memorial Parkway. Continue straight for a little less than five miles as Vets Memorial becomes Pawtucket Avenue, then Bullocks Point Avenue. The carousel is located on your left at the corner of Crescent View Avenue and Bullocks Point Avenue.
Hours: Open Easter to June 21, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 8pm; June 25 to September 6, Thursday through Sunday, noon to 8pm; September 12 to October 11, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6pm. Open Labor Day and Memorial Day noon to 8pm, Columbus Day noon to 6pm.
Time required: If you're a kid, you'll never want to leave; if you're an adult, one three-minute ride will likely provide your nostalgia fix.