It’s no wonder why Kings Island holds a special place in the lives of so many – it has a heart.
In 1926, Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel #79 made its debut at Cincinnati’s Coney Island. Standing 80 feet wide and featuring 48 horses (including 28 “jumpers”) and two chariots, the carousel is adorned with 37 oil paintings (depicting scenes from all over the world), 20,000 sheets of 23-karat gold leaf, 1,000 sheets of sterling silver, over 700 lights and hundreds of mirror accents. Understandably, all that glory didn’t come cheap, and it cost over $200,000 to build (that’s nearly $3,000,000 today!).
The carousel operated successfully at Coney Island for 45 years while surviving routine Ohio River flooding. Most famously, during the devastating 1937 flood, some of the horses floated away and were later retrieved nearly 500 miles downstream.
After years of use, the owners of Coney Island initiated a massive $50,000 overhaul to the carousel in 1969. All of the mechanical operations were re-conditioned, its oil paintings were painstakingly re-painted and the horses and chariots were stripped of over 40 years of paint. This was done in preparation for its new home.
When Coney Island was dismantled, the carousel made its way to Kings Island for its grand opening in 1972. It found life in the Coney Island-themed section inside a new Victorian-themed carousel house featuring over 500 additional exterior lights. A replacement 1926 Wurlitzer Duplex Orchestral Organ (#157) was purchased by Kings Island for the carousel. The organ had originally operated in Ocean Grove, New Jersey and later traveled to fairs across the country. The organ has a history all its own, and even had two professionally recorded albums released featuring its 21 songs.
Soon after the 1972 opening of Kings Island, the carousel was featured in the Partridge Family episode “I left my Heart in Cincinnati” filmed at the park. The cast is shown riding the carousel during a montage set to the song “Together We’re Better.” However, a year later, when the Brady Bunch filmed at the park, the carousel was not seen, rather heard. During the opening credits of the Brady episode “The Cincinnati Kids”, the recorded version of “Ben Hur’s Chariot Race” is played from the carousel’s band organ.
To this day, the carousel undergoes a painstaking process of upkeep every few years. In addition, horses are cycled off for a season so they can be restored, while “back-up” horses take their place. If you pay extra special attention to the outside stationary horses, you may catch a glimpse of one of the three signature horses – these figures include the letters PTC (Philadelphia Toboggan Company) cleverly carved into their saddles. You may also notice that some horses have initials painted into the front of their bridles. It is a great honor to have your initials added and it is reserved to those very dear to the park.
During Kings Island’s 45th anniversary season, the Carousel will be celebrating its 91st birthday. Next time you visit, be sure to take another spin on this beautiful piece of history. You’ll be amazed at how strongly a nearly century-old heart can beat.