When I was growing up in New Jersey the carousel was my favorite ride when the family went to the boardwalk at the shore, a local carnival or an old-fashioned amusement park. With its calliope of sounds, riding on a carousel horse was pure and absolute joy and happiness.
A merry-go-round of wonderful memories came back to me when I read about the closing of the Toshimaen Amusement Park in Tokyo that had a celebrated carousel called the El Dorado, a 113 year-old carousel. I had visited the park and experienced this carousel many years ago.
After nearly a half-century entertaining visitors, the El Dorado now sits in storage as Toshimaen closed in August to make way for a new Harry Potter theme park.
The El Dorado was designed in 1907 by Hugo Haase, a German mechanical engineer It could seat 154 riders on its hand-carved horses and ornate wood chariots and featured 4,200 mirrored pieces and paintings of goddesses and Cupids on the underside of the canopy.
The carousel arrived in Tokyo in 1969 from the United States, where it was imported in 1911 from Germany. It was a popular ride at the Steeplechase Amusement Park in Coney Island New York until 1964.
In serious disrepair, the carousel underwent two years of detailed mechanical and decorative refurbishment in Tokyo and entertained thousands of park visitors over the years.
Sadly, the Toshimaen park increasingly became more of a nostalgic relic as other more attractive modern amusement parks like Disneyland Tokyo, Hello Kitty World and Universal Studios Japan opened.
The Japanese greatly value the country’s many centuries-old monuments of cultural heritage. However, by historic preservation standards, 113 years is not “old” and although the El Dorado is one of just a dozen such carousels in the world, it is uncertain if the carousel will be saved from deterioration and destruction.
Uchida’s fervent hope, he said, was to see the carousel — which he estimated had been ridden by 56 million people over its years in Tokyo — operate again in a fourth location.