Back in Coney Island, only one of Marcus Charles Illions' loving masterworks remained after 1964. This was Leonard McCullough's three-abreast machine, Virginia Dare vintage 1927, restored to Surf Avenue through the grace of Prudence Bonds. This operated for years between Fifteenth and Sixteenth Streets, across the street from Steeplechase. In later years, McCullough moved it to a niche just east of the sub­way terminal. It was a beautiful machine with one horse bearing Illions' signature and a king horse blan­keted with hundreds of flowers in full relief. As a rare oasis of charm in the tawdry atmosphere of modern Coney, the ride attracted more wreckers than riders. Increasing vandalism and the risk of outright de­struction of the open-air structure forced McCullough to dismantle that last mechanical monument to Coney's most creative artist following the season of 1968.

Illions died on August 11, 1949 at the age of 78. He lived on in spirit with his proud, indomitable chargers as long as they pawed their wooden turf on the island of their birth. He is gone from Coney now, but there is a part of him in each of the figures of animated timber that carries the unmistakable flourish of his creative spirit.


And what of the myth of the German carousel? How was Coney Island responsible for the "im­ported" label on so many distinguished American machines? Because Coney imported the mythical German merry-go-round:
El Dorado, the golden.

By any standard El Dorado was an extravaganza. Built by Hugo Hasse of Leipzig at a cost of $150,000, it was imported in 1910 by John Jurgens who had to pay more than $30,000 in customs charges alone. It was installed at Surf Avenue and West Fifth Street in a pavilion lighted with six thousand lamps and flooded with music from a gigantic organ. The ma­chine itself contained three platforms arranged in ascending tiers, each revolving at a different speed. Towering over all to a total height of forty-two feet was a crown-like canopy rimmed with art-nouveau grillwork and forming a ceiling painted with sylvan German scenes set off by rows of lights and carved figures.

For all the glitter of the packaging, and for all the opulence of the incidental carvings, the horses and pigs and barnyard animals that rocked along on the

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platforms of El Dorado were stereotypes of Euro­pean styling, almost indistinguishable from their many counterparts in Austria, France, Holland, and Belgium. And for all the novelty of the three-ringed mechanism, the platform-bound mounts could not compete with the soaring sensation provided by the native Coney Island jumpers. Nevertheless, the ride gained enormous publicity both when it was installed and when it was blistered almost to oblivion in the Dreamland fire a year later. The blackened wunder-kind was redeemed by George C. Tilyou and placed within the glass enclosure of Steeplechase Park where its fame continued until the demise of Steeplechase in 1966.


And so the habitual hoop-la and hyperbole of the Surf Avenue flacks led Coney Island to eclipse itself as the artistic birthplace of the American carousel. Instead of promoting the homegrown genius of the Looffs and the Mangels and the Illions who carved out an American idiom between the bays of Graves-end and Sheepshead, the nation was bedazzled by a  pastiche from abroad whose main appeal was the superlative and the spectacular.

The lore of the exotic, the extraordinary, and the expensive has been so entrenched throughout the amusement industry that few showmen have been willing to depart from the precedent of El Dorado and acknowledge the proud origins of their beautiful American masterworks. But there are signs of change. The fact that new amusement parks are willing to invest up to a half million dollars to restore a classic merry-go-round should encourage new respect for the value of the old carvings. The growth of museum and private collections of carousel figures helps to under­score the artistic merit of the pioneer carvers. And finally, the timeless appeal of the merry-go-round coupled with a growing popular nostalgia for the artifacts of a more graceful age could create a new spirit of conservation dedicated to exploring and preserving the unique heritage represented by the Coney Island carousel.



Baithwaite, David. Fairground Architecture. London: Hugh Evelyn Limited, 1968.

Fried, Frederick. A Pictorial History of the Carousel. New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1964.

Hughes, Rupert. The Real New York. Drawings by Hy Mayer. New York: The Smart Set Publishing Company, 1904.

Illions, Marcus Charles. M. C. Illions and Sons Cata­logue No. 1. Coney Island, circa 1912.

Mangels, William F. The Outdoor Amusement Indus­try. New York: Vantage Press, Inc., 1952.

Catalogue No. 4, W. F. Mangels Co. Carousell Works. Coney Island: circa 1909. Reproduced Rapid City, S.D.: Royann Enterprises, 1969.

McCullough,  Edo. Good Old Coney Island. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1957.

World's Fair Midways. New York: Exposition Press, 1966.

Pilat, Oliver and Ransom, Jo. Sodom by the Sea. New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1941.

Amusement Business, Vol. 81, No. 52, December 31, 1969.

Coney Island by the Sea, souvenir booklet published circa 1912.


Congressional Record - Appendix, July 27, 1965. New York Times, January 18, 1964, July 3, 1964.


We are indebted especially to those who have given so generously   of   t heir time and offered personal anecdotes and unpublished material to help bring alive a neglected era in American entertainment. We gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of R. C. Illions as well as Frederick Fried, Bernard Illions, Edo McCullough and Leonard McCullough. Additional thanks to Edo McCullough, R. C. Illions and Ruth Illions Pease for editorial review. Rolling Hills, California, 1970 —Roland Summit



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