Housed within a rustic red barn in the historic neighborhood of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, the Flying Horses Carousel is an Americana relic of late 19th-century entertainment. Billed as “the nation’s oldest platform carousel,” it was made in 1876 by the toymaker, rocking horse craftsman, and early American carousel manufacturer, Charles Dare.
The carousel features 20 hand-painted wooden horses with glass eyes and real horsehair for their tails and manes, as well as four exquisite chariots, all fastened to a rotating platform. In its original state, the carousel was accompanied by the whistling tones of a steam organ, also known as a calliope.
The Flying Horses Carousel was originally built for the Coney Island amusement park in Brooklyn, which boasted as many as 25 carousels in its turn-of-the-19th-century heyday. After eight years of service in New York, the Flying Horses Carousel was relocated to the Oak Bluffs neighborhood of Martha’s Vineyard in 1884, where it remains in operation as one of only two surviving carousels fabricated by Dare.
The carousel has undergone a number of restoration efforts during its time in Oak Bluffs; in the early years of the 20th century, its then-owner William Davis swapped out the steam-powered mechanics for an electrical system. In the 1970s, a series of nautical paintings executed on a ring of interior panels were conserved. The carousel became a National Historic Landmark in 1986, the same year it was acquired by local conservation organization the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The Vineyard Trust installed a large organ with an automatic soundtrack as an homage to the original calliope, and enlisted an artist by the name of Rosa Ragan to repaint the horses and chariots.
In addition to the carousel’s nostalgic charms is an old Victorian-era game: two dispensers situated next to the carousel offer small metal rings, and the lucky passenger who grabs the coveted brass ring is awarded a free ride.