Charles Looff came to Brooklyn, New York from Denmark in 1870 at the age of eighteen. Already a talented woodcarver, he found employment in a furniture factory. Looking to further expand his horizons, he persuaded the owner of a pavilion at the popular amusement park Coney Island to install a carousel at his establishment. Working alone, Looff carved, painted and assembled his first carousel. Looff was the earliest and most successful of the Coney Island carousel builders.
Looff started in Coney Island, New York, and then moved his factory to Riverside, Rhode Island, where his showpiece carousel still operates.
In 1910, Looff moved his family and factory to Long Beach, California, where he remained until his death in 1918.
Between 1876 and 1916, he built about forty carousels; only about ten are still in operation today.
Looff Carousels are known for these decorations:
- Sparkling mirrors
- Glittering jewels
- Gold and silver highlights
- Lavishly decorated animals
- Real horse hair tails
History of Our Carousel
- 1908 – Purchased from the Looff factory located in Riverside, Rhode Island for a park in Meridian, Mississippi. It is thought that the carousel was owned and operated by the same family for three generations.
- 1950’s – Pete Sutton, owner of Gulf States Amusements in Gulf Shores, Alabama, bought the carousel.
- 1965 – Hallett Tobin saw the carousel animals advertised in the Fall, 1965 edition of Amusement News. When he went to purchase them some had already been sold to a Coney Island owner. Tobin tracked down the figures and reunited the carousel animals. Searching for the original carousel mechanism, Mr. Tobin asked Mr. Sutton only to find out that it had been stored outside where it deteriorated beyond repair. Mr. Tobin ended up buying a 12 sweep Allen Herschel/Chance mechanism that was smaller than the original 16 sweep machine.
- 1968 – Josiah K. Lilly III purchased the carousel through the Bourne Auction Company.
- 1972 – It was reassembled at Heritage Museums & Gardens when the rotunda building was constructed especially to house it. The wood-and-beam structure resembles a circus tent.
Our Carousel Figures
Although the figures on this carousel were made by the Looff factory, they were made over a period of approximately twenty years. The horses on the outside row of this carousel are the oldest, made by Looff about 1885. They were originally carved as standing figures, and then converted to jumpers when the introduction of overhead gears allowed carousel animals to move up and down.
It is likely that the Charles Looff shop was the first to carve horses wearing armor and the “lead horse” horse on this carousel is a great example. On the majority of carousels, there is one figure that stands out above the others. The carved trappings, or decorations, are usually much fancier on this “lead” horse. This helped the operator count the number of times the carousel went around during each ride.
The lead horse is ornamented with a winged breast plate and has armor on its head and neck that is decorated with carved flowers. Its saddle blanket drapes in large folds. A sword attached to the cantle is adorned with three large tassels and the horse has one, even larger, tassel hanging on its neck. There is a rolled-up blanket under the cantle.