A Guide to the Jersey Shore’s Carousels

Craving some seaside nostalgia? Saddle up and take a ride!

Young girl on carousel at Steel Pier in Atlantic City.
The carousel at Steel Pier in Atlantic City. Photo: R.C. Staab

Each summer at the Jersey Shore, the circle of life returns. Angry roosters chase wild horses. A panda bear strides alongside a zebra. And people take turns sitting on a frog, who survives to leap up and down again every year.

For more than 100 years, the Shore has embraced and cherished carousels—wooden, steel and fiberglass. The legacy of these early amusement park favorites is being carried on today, with old favorites getting upgrades and new structures making their way onto boardwalks.

One of the latest additions to the scene is the $3.5 million wooden Long Branch Carousel at Pier Village. Up until the 1930s, wooden carousels were the popular choice of amusement park owners. For cost reasons, most of the carousels since then have been made of fiberglass. A new, “old-fashioned” wooden carousel—one of only a handful constructed this century in America—is a rare attraction these days, even in a tourist destination like the Jersey Shore.

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“For four minutes, you are bringing smiles out for people,” says Jim Walsh, who became the majority owner of the carousel in 2021, two years after it opened to a slow start due to the pandemic. He works daily to maintain the ride in partnership with his daughter, Lydia, a graduate of Moore College of Art and Design, and the artisan who regularly touches up the paint on the figures and panels.

Beyond the joy and the gentle galloping of the horses, a closer study of the figures reveals whimsical touches unique to Long Branch, such as a horse with seashells ornamenting its bridle and a goose with ears of Jersey corn as part of the saddle. Most popular of all is a small green frog wearing a jeweled crown.

If the temperature is above 40 degrees inside the carousel, it opens at noon. In the summer, the carousel runs well into the evening, until the crowds stop. Walsh says there is no charge for riders who are active military, veterans, and those with physical or mental disabilities.

Carousel in Seaside Heights

The newly restored carousel in Seaside Heights. Photo: R.C.Staab

In Seaside Heights, the carousel, a Shore favorite, is finally reopening this summer after  a restoration project that began in 2019. The Dr. Floyd L. Moreland Dentzel-Looff Carousel, located in the new Seaside Heights Carousel Pavilion on the town’s boardwalk, came with a cost of $1.1 million; the entire pavilion project cost $3.6 million.

One of the more ingenious touches  is a chariot that has been fitted to allow a wheelchair to be slipped inside almost unseen. “The person in the wheelchair will have the experience of riding the carousel in a pure-organic way,” says Seaside Heights borough administrator Christopher Vaz, who oversees carousel operations.

The carousel has survived near disasters. Thanks to the leadership of Moreland and others in the 1980s, it was saved from being sold and stayed put at Casino Pier, where it had been since 1932. It was again in danger of being sold in 2014 by privately owned Casino Pier, but the Borough of Seaside Heights stepped in to raise funds to stop the sale and engineer a land swap that included moving the carousel.

After dismantling it in 2019, the borough sent the horses to Ohio for restoration. To house the Moreland carousel, a pavilion was built farther north on the boardwalk that included a new deck, new motor and a new center pole. The cleverly decorated pavilion features artwork based on vintage Seaside Heights postcards, benches from the Whistle Stop Restaurant, and a collection of miniature carousel horses.

With figures that are four abreast, the ride features the handsomest collection of carousel horses and figures on the Shore racing to the music of the restored Wurlitzer organ while operators ring the bell from its former home.

Another classic carousel of note is located at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City. The wooden carousel, built in 1926 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, features an all-white herd of horses. Pick a horse on the outer rim to grab a brass ring for a chance to win a free ride. Or take a carousel ride at the Keansburg Amusement Park, at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, or at Fantasy Island Amusement Park in Beach Haven, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Farther south, ride the double-decker carousel at the Steel Pier, with a panoramic view of the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Morey’s Piers in Wildwood offers not one, but two double-decker carousels, and the Cape May Zoo’s carousel features the wildest of wild figures, with a dolphin, a zebra, a gorilla and a giant hummingbird.

What makes carousels endure while other ride concepts come and go? Todd Goings, owner and president of Carousels and Carvings, who has been working on carousels for almost 35 years, including the restoration in Seaside Heights, says there are elements of fantasy and romance, noting that older generations enjoy sharing a memory with younger ones. “People can still crawl up on a piece of commercial art and ride it and engage it,” Goings says.

R.C. Staab is a travel writer, book author, and wildlife and Shore enthusiast.

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