The Silver Beach Carousel, with its brass ring machine and 44 hand-carved, life-like horses began thrilling crowds of visitors in 1910. The three-row, Coney Island-style machine was built by Fred Dolle of North Bergen, New Jersey. It was sold to Silver Beach owners Louis Wallace and Logan Drake. It was operated at Silver Beach by a partnership of Fred Dolle and another carousel builder, M.D. Borelli.
The wonderful horses were purchased from Charles Carmel, one of the acknowledged "Master Carvers" of the Golden Age of the carousel. Charlotte Dinger in the The Art of the Carousel praises Carmel as having "created what many believe to be the most perfect carousel horse, a harmonious balance of gentleness and drama."
Silver Beach Carousel - September 1, 1971 (Photograph courtesy Barbara Fahs Charles)
In the early 1920's, the carousel was immensely popular with visitors and efforts were made to keep the technology of the machine "cutting-edge" and add to its impressive decor. In early 1920 the carousel was converted into a "jumping machine", with eight pairs of jumping horses replacing 16 inner-row standers. M.D. Borelli and his wife visited the carousel in 1924, spending several months adding their trademark bejeweled decorations to the horses.
The Silver Beach Amusement Company purchased full ownership of the carousel and band organ from Fred Dolle's widow and M.D. Borelli in November 1930. During a facelift in the early 1940's, the horses took on the well-known, all-white bejeweled appearance. During a planned repainting of the carousel, the painter died, leaving the horses in their white primer. When a replacement artist was hired, only the trappings and secondary carvings were painted. This magical look was later adopted for the Disney carousels, thinking that it sped the rider's selection process when loading the ride.
The park's founder and remaining owner, Logan Drake, passed away on September 27, 1947, leaving the park to his daughter Rebecca and her husband, St. Joseph Police Chief Harold Terrill. Although loss by fire was the fate of numerous operating carousels, the Silver Beach Carousel operated continuously until the park closed in 1971 due to declining attendance, deteriorating structures, and social issues.
Marianne Stevens of Roswell, New Mexico, a founding member of the National Carousel Association and the American Carousel Society, co-author of Painted Ponies, a renowned collector, restorer, and owner of carousels, was contacted by Harold Terrill. Marianne had run an ad in the trade publication Amusement Business, offering to purchase vintage carousels. She visited the St. Joseph area in 1972 and, in the following year, she purchased the Silver Beach Carousel.
In 1997, individuals interested in returning the original carousel to its home formed the Silver Beach Carousel Society, Inc., and began to promote the idea to the community. They were unable to secure a site and funding for the machine before it was sold in 2003 to a group of businessmen representing the Tri-Cities area of Washington state. The "Three Rivers Carousel," as the merry-go-round will be known, is currently undergoing figure restoration and a fundraising campaign is still underway to purchase the necessary machinery for the carousel's permanent installation along with a capital campaign necessary to build a structure for housing the carousel.
Despite the 2003 setback, the Silver Beach Carousel Society repurposed its mission to bring a new, hand-carved and hand-painted carousel to St. Joseph that would include six white and jeweled horses identical to the original machine, along with a variety of unique horses and animal figures designed to delight all ages. As a key attraction for the development below the bluff, incorporating both sides of Broad Street, the Silver Beach Carousel will welcome its first riders on January 2nd 2010.