2009-06-12 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

One Of The Great Carousels In The Amusement Section of Rockaway - 1901
From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

During the old days, in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the Rockaways were enjoying the status of a first class amusement center and seashore resort. Tents, bungalows, rooms, apartments and houses could be rented for a day, a week or a season at reasonable rates. Special rates were also available for groups, brown bag excursionists, families, and children's organization.

Of all the amusement rides available, the carousel or merry-go-round was as popular as the scenic railway or roller coaster.

The first carousel was brought to the seaside amusement section in the 1880s by Frederick Schildt, and originated in the black forest area of Germany. Second came the Meissner carousel, also imported from Germany. Both were on Seaside Avenue (Beach 130 Street) with Schildt's north of the boulevard and Meissner's south of the boulevard. Schildt's was lost in the great fire of 1892, Meissner's was built after the fire, as was the new Schildt carousel near the beachfront.

In 1897 Oliver J. Mousette, a Canadian, built a giant carousel on the northeast corner of Seaside Avenue and the boulevard, and advertised it as the largest in the world. Four years later (1901) William S. Smith built the Hurdler's carousel, with jumping horses (shown today) at the northwest corner of Seaside Avenue and the Seaside Amusement Midway called Ocean Avenue.

Mousette's carousel was lost in the 1902 Seaside fire. Meissner's merrygo round lasted into the 1920s when track of same was lost, and the Hurdler's succumbed to fire in 1911.

The Hurdler's Pavilion served all types of non-alcoholic refreshments, which included the famous "Moxie," which tasted like a bitter root beer. For the real McCoy, however, the Lion's Brewery Restaurant was next door (to the left and not shown.) As you will notice, this section of Seaside Avenue was the taxi stand which featured goat carts for those tired of walking.

Meissner's carousel is at right center on the southwest corner of the boulevard, and Healy's large hotel and restaurant and concessions are in between. On the east side of the avenue (right) are the huge Wainwright and Smith Bathhouse and several more hotels towards the boulevard.

The site of the Hurdler's remained an empty lot until the year 1914, when William S. Nunley's giant carousel - which featured an outside row of jumping horses and a ring catcher stand. When rising up to the extended arm, which held the rings in a self-feeding slot, the rider could prepare to reach out and grab the ring, then go around again and again, attempting to get more rings. If a rider got the brass ring, he or she was rewarded with a free ride. When the basket bell was sounded, a basket was put out in place of the arm for the riders to throw his or her rings into, so the ring arm could be refilled. Nunley's giant wheel was enclosed in a special carousel pavilion which contained other amusements and refreshment stands.

When in the late late 1930s Robert Moses saw fit to demolish the whole of the Seaside amusement section to build his road from nowhere to nowhere (Shorefront Parkway) Nunley's moved into Playland for a few years, and then to the most unforgettable last site on the southwest corner of Beach 98 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Here a kiddie park was added. All went well until the death of William Nunley in 1950, which caused the place to close and the rides auctioned off. The carousel was taken out to another Nunley park on Long Island for storage. It was later sold to a broker and sold off piece-by-piece … whereabouts unknown.

Rides from old Rockaways' Playland have been observed in the Carolinas and Texas. Has anyone inside information on the Nunley wheel and great steeds that once thrilled young and old … on the horsies that went up and down … in the Rockaways! Hi-yo Silver! Away!

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