I’m going to call my slightly adjusted diagram (taken from an illustration in the book from 1789) – ‘If the horse knew what was coming’. I mean, if you knew you were destined for a life of constant circles and heavy riders I’m sure you’d bolt from the nuts and bolts fastening you to the centre.
Below are three shots from the book. The earliest picture of a carousel is found in a Byzantine relief made 1500 years ago (pictured below). The carousel has a surprisingly interesting history and seems to have independently developed in several countries.
In certain tribes mexicans would ceremoniously suspend themselves by ropes and dangerously, they would spin around from the top of an 80 foot pole. In Europe, the word ‘carousel’ comes from the ancient Italian and Spanish words ‘garosello’ or ‘carosella’ meaning ‘little war’. This referred to a serious game of horsemanship played in twelfth century Turkey which the Italians and Spanish crusaders ‘stole’ and brought home. It didn’t at that point involve spinning round in circles. In France, around 1680, horsemanship skills were developed as horses and chariots were suspended by chains to help young horsemen spear rings with lances. From magical ritual to training tool, the carousel only started to entertain towards the end of the 1600s. In 1729 the term ‘merry-go-round’ appeared for the first time and the rest is history.
Looking at the wonderful illustrations in the book, from the photographs of horses (and the bizarre array of other creatures that riders would sit on including ostriches, frogs and ‘the whale’ pictured in the last picture) to the music machines, you can’t help but admire the spectacle of the carousel. It’s also odd to imagine the pleasure of going around in circles, all these cultures spinning themselves into a frenzy at great speed – almost like flying for the first time. The moral of the story is that it’s always worth rummaging around charity shop book shelves for these little merry, mind-dizzying gems.