When I was a kid, I was afraid of the horses on the merry-go-round. You remember me. I was that nervous, nerdy kid who went round and round while seated alone in a chariot instead of a saddle. Fast forward to adulthood, and I’m proud to say that I’ve gone for a ride—on an actual horse—on the 116-year-old Congress Park Carousel in Downtown Saratoga Springs. Want to give it a try yourself? Don’t be scared; no matter your age, it’s really just old-fashioned fun.
Locals of a certain age fondly remember when the carousel was in its previous location in Kaydeross Park on Saratoga Lake. When the amusement park closed in 1987, the city bought the carousel and put it in storage. After years of controversy over whether Congress Park was a suitable site for a merry-go-round, a community campaign that raised funds to restore the carousel won out. The carousel’s pavilion was built with labor and materials donated by area businesses and a state grant.
Here’s what you need to know:
*Master carver Marcus Illions created the carousel around the turn of the century. He was also the man behind merry-go-rounds in Brooklyn and Coney Island, and The New York Times dubbed him “the Michelangelo of carousel carvers.”
*Each carved wooden horse is unique, with a different colored body or saddle; some have gold, flowing manes, while others sport neatly trimmed ones.
*Yes, it’s true; the carousel horse’s super-long tails are made from real horsehair.
*Want to rent the entire carousel for a wedding, family photo shoot or birthday party? It’s $50 for 15 minutes, with the carousel hosting private events about 35 times per year.
*28 horses, all hand-carved from wood, line the Congress Park carousel.
*Keeping those handsome horses in shape is an ongoing job for the City of Saratoga Springs: This past winter, six were removed and restored, costing the city $3,600 per pony.
*Saratoga’s is one of just 175 vintage carousels still operating, according to the National Carousel Association.
*850,000 children and adults have taken a spin since it re-opened in 2002 in its new home in Congress Park.
*Visitors can grab a mount from May through October (expect opening delays this year because of COVID-19); it costs only $1, and kids under the age of 4 ride for free.