8 Wonders of Kansas customs

An 8 Wonder of Kansas Customs

Riding a carousel, Abilene/Leavenworth

Address: 320 S. Esplanade, Leavenworth, KS 66048; 412 S. Campbell, Abilene, KS 67401
Phone: 913.682.1331; 785.263.2681
Website: www.firstcitymuseums.org/carousel/

One of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs

The Custom: Riding a carousel is great fun, thanks to C.W. Parker

Learn more about the Parker Carousels -- and ride -- in Leavenworth & Abilene!

C.W. Parker Carousel Museum, 320 S. Esplanade. Come here to learn about the evolution of Parker carousels and ride a 1913 Carry-Us-All! Open Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m. Closed holidays and January. 913.682.1331. Fee.

Located inside the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum, this fully restored 1913 Parker Carry-Us-All, the #118, has 24 horses, two rabbits, three ponies, a chariot, and a spinning Lovers Tub.

The two rabbits on #118 are unique. They are the only "stretch" style ones in existence and were not put on Parker Carousels until after the year 1914. The stretch look means long bodies and legs extending both forward and back.

Original rolls of carousel music play from an Artizan band organ while you ride #118. The Artizan was often purchased by Parker, along with Wurlitzer Band Organs to provide the music for his machines. With air driven pipes, horns, drums and cymbals, the old band organs provide a special sound that always makes you think carousel!

The #118 carries a total of about 35 people if fully loaded.

The C.W. Parker Carousel Museum opened on April 30, 2005. It is run entirely by volunteers that love what they are doing. Click here, to see photos of the figurines that were restored in Leavenworth. 

ABILENE: Ride a 1901 Parker Carousel at the Dickinson County Historical Society (Heritage Center), 412 S. Campbell. 785.263.2681. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-5 pm.; Sun. 1-5 p.m. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.  Fee.

Originally built in 1901 by Parker, this ride is believed to be the oldest operating Parker carousel in existence and is believed to be the third Parker carousel built. It was named a national landmark in 1995. It is now on the grounds of the Dickinson County Museum where you can ride it. This is about 100 yards from the location of the factory where it was originally built.

It was totally hand-carved and features 24 horses and 4 chariots. It has been completely restored. A Wurlitzer 125 band organ plays tunes while the carry-us-all turns.

C.W. Parker called his machines "Carry-Us-Alls" as he felt that the plain term "Merry-Go-Round" was too tame for such a flashy contrivance. It carried all ages and sizes and thus to him was a "Carry-Us-All".

The C. W. Parker carousel tells another part of Abilene's history. Charles Wallace Parker's family moved to Abilene, Kansas when Parker was 5 years old. C. W. Parker bought a used carousel in 1892. He soon began doing repairs on other carousels. In a few years, he began the C.W. Parker factory. By 1905 C. W. Parker Amusement Company had four full sized carnivals on tour and sold equipment to other amusement operators.

Parker's carousels began to evolve through several style changes. He went from the track machines to the jumping carousels, from steam to electric. The carving on the horses began to get more fanciful. By 1905 Parker had four full sized carnivals on tour throughout the country. He also sold equipment to other amusement operators. The Parker factories in Abilene, were a series of relatively small buildings that became more and more crowded. He built more. Eventually some of them began blocking areas that the city planners had surveyed to be streets. A rift began to grow between the Parker operations and the Abilene town leaders. Parker made the decision to move to new quarters in Leavenworth in 1911.

Parker began moving into a new factory he was building in Leavenworth in 1911. The new building was a large two story brick building located on 4th Street. The factory had ten railroad sidings to hold all of the Parker carnival equipment and all of the shipments of amusement devices he sent all over the world.

The old Parker Carousel Factory building, built in 1910 is still standing on Fourth Street, in South Leavenworth. It operated as a carousel factory from 1910 - 1955, and it had been a battery factory after building carousels for many years, - - and now is used for tire storage.

The Parker "Carry-Us-Alls" (his play on words for carousel) continued to be the most important part of the amusement business. He built hundreds of small traveling carousels that were used by carnivals worldwide. He also built five large extravagant "park" machines, designed to be permanently installed in large amusement parks. Only one of those five is still left and it is in storage in Portland, Oregon, waiting for a new home. It used to be known as the Jantzen Beach Carousel but was taken down after 90+ years of operation on Jantzen Beach.

Parker Carousels evolved from using steam boilers, to gasoline powered engines, to electric motors. They had to provide their own power, because there normally was none available along the railroad siding where the carnivals set up.

In addition to C.W. and Paul Parker, a third manufacturer named Carl Theel produced Parker-style carousels in Leavenworth until 1990. At one time he worked for Paul Parker and when Paul retired Carl Theel started his own factory at another location in Leavenworth. He produced about 200 carousels in his time.

The city of Leavenworth, has produced more carousels than any other city in the world!

About 1914, C.W. Parker began to introduce the new stretched leg and long bodied shape to the horses on his carousels that became his best known figures. By 1917 most of the older designs had been phased out. Most carousels from then on had a horse called "Lillie Belle" on every machine produced. Lillie Belle had a bowed head and wild mane with three tendrils of mane pulled across the neck on the larger machines. It also had a bunch of grapes on the hip, and originally a lily and a bell behind the saddle.

C.W. Parker carvings behind the cantle are some of the more interesting carvings found on carousel horses. His standard carvings were hound's heads, roses, tobacco leaves, bull horns, fish, shields, and ears of corn (from his Kansas heritage). He some times carved strange creatures with gnome like features, and large feet, and he went through a stage about 1906, where he carved dragons, fish, birds, and exotic women. But the ear of corn behind the saddle became his best known carving. His horses were the only ones known that had this carving.

By 1925 the C.W. Parker factory began phasing out the wooden carved horses, and began creating the aluminum cast figures. Although they continued to refurbish old machines with the wooden horses, by 1930 they were casting all aluminum horses on the carousels.

In 1931, C.W. Parker became ill, and his son Paul began to take over the operations of the Parker empire. Of course the world wide depression of the 1930s caused a major pullback of those operations.

C.W. Parker died in 1932 and was buried in the family plot in Abilene, Kansas.

Source for information:  Jerry Reinhardt, C.W. Parker Carousel Museum