By Judith Rusk
BCT staff writer
SEASIDE HEIGHTS — It's one of the only attractions on the boardwalk that offers a rider more than a quick thrill. Hundreds of lights play off the glossy pastel and rustic colors that accent each wooden animal's tan, black, white or striped lithe body. Music from a genuine Wurlitzer Military Band Organ fills the air with drumbeats and piano notes easily recognized as an integral part of the spinning machine.
Moving at a gentle up-and-down pace, riders are transported on their own whirling fantasy, whether they are a gallant knight or beautiful princess, riding toward a fight or freedom. This carousel has captivated both young and old alike at Casino Pier in Seaside Heights for nearly 70 years. But it also has ties to Burlington County. hearts and dreams of those who visited a popular amusement park on Burlington Island.
Some Burlington County residents remember it, or have heard stories passed down by relatives. Katherine Lazorchak, 72, of Burlington Township recalls that her aunt, Marion Michalis, fell in love while riding it. "She met her husband," she said. "I never saw it, but my mother told us many tales about it." She remembers being told of the gold-colored ring everyone tried to grab as they rode past on a horse, donkey, tiger, camel or lion. "It was a stunt, I guess," Lazorchak said. "If you got (the ring), you got to stay on for an extra ride."
Built in 1910 by the William Dentzel Co. of Philadelphia, the carousel was taken to Burlington Island several years before the 100-acre Burlington Island Beach amusement park opened in 1917. It spun under a large canopy, the same one it operates under today here in this Ocean County seashore town. On Burlington Island, rides such as the Greyhound roller coaster and the Ocean Wave ride joined it once the amusement park opened.
Today, the carousel competes with thrill rides such as the $20-a-pop Sky Scraper, which sends riders at two ends of long support rods rushing through the air in a circle at high speed, and the Wild Mouse, a compact, winding roller coaster.
"I used to go there myself and ride the roller coaster and Ferris wheel and all the amusements," reminisced Burlington Township resident Charles Lipiec, 85.
The ride is still relatively large, with 58 wooden animals, most of them hand-carved by famous carousel- designers William Dentzel of Philadelphia and Charles Looff of Coney Island, N.Y.
In 1928, the carousel was partially damaged by a fire that ripped through the Burlington Island amusement park. It was moved to its site here in 1932, two years before another fire destroyed what remained of the island park's damaged and abandoned attractions.
Ortley Beach resident Floyd Moreland, a retired classics and Latin professor, operates and manages the carousel, or "menagerie," which is what he says a carousel is called when it offers more than just horses to ride.
Since it saved the carousel from the auction block in the late 1980s, the owner, Seaside-based Venice Amusement Corp., has named the carousel the "Floyd L. Moreland Historic Dentzel/Looff Carousel at Casino Pier."
Fred Fried, who wrote the book "A Pictorial History of the Carousel," helped Moreland trace the carousel back to its stay on Burlington Island, and the Ere that harmed it.
"The pieces are not all Dentzel," Moreland said of the wooden animals. Due to the fire damage, some animals were replaced with carvings from other craftsmen, including Charles Carmel and Marcu Illions.
Moreland said the carousel has experienced many changes since its beginnings on Burlington Island. For instance, he said the ride, which now has 2,200 incandescent lights placed close together, used to have far fewer lights, perhaps one every foot around the perimeter.
The carousel in Seaside is one of only two wooden carousels left in New Jersey. The other is in Ocean City on the Wonderland Pier, Moreland said, adding that only 130 wooden carousels remain in this country.
Copyright © 2001-
, Terry Muse
Revised: May 2, 2001
Contact: Terry Muse