The Carousel’s Final Status

This is part of an article by Rol & Jo Summit, edited for this website.

It could be claimed that Jo and Rol Summit found the lost Monarch carousel in Edgewater in 1974. But it was found also by Maurice and Nina Fraley in conjunction with that same would-be conservationists’ convention. When they carried off the pieces in November on behalf of Larry Freels it was, once again, “lost”. Or was it ever really lost? Certainly not to thousands of Michigan riders nor to Barbara Charles, who photographed it in operation during her odyssey of discovery in the summer of 1971.

In a sense, the arguably foredoomed machine fell into rescuing hands. Many of the carvings, at least, have been returned to public view. Within six years of his Edgewater purchase, Freels would establish the nonprofit Freels Foundation with the aim of promoting the art of the American carousel with a three-fold promise: to conduct research on the history of the carousel industry; to collect, preserve, and restore significant figures; and to lend its resources and talents to production of educational exhibits, “sharing with an ever widening public, recognition of carousel carving as an Art Form”.

The restored Monarch Park carousel Cherub Horse on display July 1971 in the Library of
California State University in Fresno, CA., part of a public show generated by Larry Freel.
Image by Rol Sumnmit.

Some of the Edgewater (Monarch Park) figures were featured in the publications of Tobin Fraley. His landmark 1983 book, The Carousel Animal sold over 200,000 copies. Included were color portraits of the Archangel Michael Horse (p. 65), an ostrich (p.73), the Teddy Roosevelt Tiger (p.85), and the Acanthus Chalice Chariot (p.111), all handsomely restored by his parents, Nina and Maurice. Carousels: The Myth, the Magic, and the Memories (1991) included the Laughing Jester Lion (p.19). The Great American Carousel (1994) showed the iconic Cherub Horse (p.71) so clearly shown in the Bowen factory photo, the “Curlicue Rabbit” (p.45) and a feature presentation on the decoration of the tiger (p. 119). Carousel Animals: Artistry in Motion (2002) has a cut of Teddy Roosevelt (p.11) and a full-page illustration of a striking horse decorated with the torso of an armored warrior, painted by Nina Fraley (p.64).

In 1987 the Freels Foundation opened the American Carousel Museum in San Francisco, CA where it provided exhibitions and restoration demonstrations during its ten year tenure. In addition to the museum’s in-house displays, its figures were placed along the terminal walkways of the San Francisco airport, where thousands of travelers passed by.

The restored Monarch Park carousel Angel Horse on display July 1971 in the Library of
California State University in Fresno, CA., part of a public show generated by Larry Freel.
Rol Sumnmit collection.

The collection resurfaced in the summer of 2011 when Larry commissioned Tobin Fraley to curate an exposition at California State University in Fresno, his alma mater (see it on YouTube). The attractive and informative show entertained thousands of visitors between July 18 and August 27. Seven Edgewater/Monarch figures were featured: the Cherub Horse, the Archangel Michael Horse, the Feathered Cat, the Beribboned Ostrich, the Draped Rabbit, the Curlicue Rabbit and the Acanthus Chariot. It is Mr. Freels’ hope that the show might serve as a model for a permanent museum which could contain his entire collection as well as donations from other collectors.

Was the Monarch carousel really lost again from Edgewater in1974? Or was it lost earlier when the flood made it inoperable? Is there a rightful place for individual carvings other than on their original platforms? If the operating sum of its parts is lost forever, is there some level of redemption in the restoration and exhibition of its parts? Is there room for additional angels on the head of the pin?

The restored Monarch Park Carousel Chariot on display July 1971 in the Library of
California State University in Fresno, CA., part of a public show generated by Larry Freel.
Image by Rol Sumnmit.

There is no end to such questions and no hope for universal agreement among the answers. But there is inestimable value in knowing, as opposed to not knowing, even with an imperfect discovery. And it should be gratifying to realize that even the most elusive answers can be found in the pooling of diverse experiences and beliefs, in contrast to the frustrations of working alone.

Dave Anderton and Bill Passauer hoped to discover the fate of a carousel they remembered with some amount of nostalgia from childhood. Each was in touch with hundreds of people with potentially emotional memories that might clarify the murky history of the Monarch’s migration. No help. Together they set out to follow the ambiguous clues in archaic papers. Bill took the job of searching official, objective Michigan records and relevant websites. Finally, in 2009, he had to accept defeat:

“I spent quite a few days and hours in my investigation. … I found no evidence that (Walled Lake Park) ever had a carousel. …The bottom line here is that too many years have elapsed between 1929 and 2009 for anyone to trace what happened to the carousel.”

On January 12, 2012, in something of a last resort, Dave reached out to the NCA for help through our editor, Dan Robinson, concluding:


That one e-mail was the vital tug on the NCA grapevine through Bette Largent and Barbara Charles. The rest is history.

When the Edgewater Park machine disappeared in 1974 the infant NCA was gathering together a growing herd of previously isolated people who had a thing for wooden horses. Outside of its intended goals of conservation of whole machines, that new community served also as a marketplace for collectable carvings and its invigorated dealers. The tattered Monarch/Walled Lake/Edgewater carousel would be eligible for rebirth today, thanks in large part to nearly a half century of growth of the NCA goals. Back then it didn’t stand a chance.

More subtly apparent than its successes in whole-carousel conservation is the amazing capacity within the organization to accumulate, preserve, and share tangles of arcane data peculiar to our beloved carousel industry and its history. It took years of objective research for the Oil City investigators to approach an answer, a revelation that developed within days of their outreach to subjective merry-go-maniacs.

Pat Dentzel, Census Chairman and a Director of the National Carousel Association, says it best: “Like a puzzle, we grab each piece of carousel history that is placed before us. We examine it; turn it upside down and sideways, always trying to fit it in with our partially assembled history. You can’t force the piece to fit. Each piece finally drops into place and the carousel puzzle becomes clearer. Unfortunately the carousel puzzle is one of those jumbo 10,000 piece offerings!”

Editor’s note: Two of the Monarch Park Dentzel model 106 carousels are still in use in 2012. They are operating at Pullen Park, Raleigh, North Carolina and Ontario Beach Park, Rochester, New York. You may see color photos of what our carousel must have looked like by going to the following two web sites:

Pullen Park, Raleigh, North Carolina
Ontario Beach Park, Rochester, New York