aka: Over the Jumps Carousel
The Herschell-Spillman Carousel, also known as the Over the Jumps Carousel, features an undulating track with forty carved wooden horses and four chariots, most created around 1924. The carousel was the object of a sixteen-year, $1 million acquisition and restoration project that ended with it being placed in the Little Rock Zoo in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 2007. The Herschell-Spillman Carousel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 1, 1989.
Allen Herschell was born at Arbreath, Forfarshire, Scotland on April 27, 1851, and he immigrated to the United States in 1870. He entered into a partnership with James Armitage in 1873, establishing the Tonawanda Engine and Machine Company in North Tonawanda, New York, which created its first steam-powered carousel in 1883. The firm reorganized as the Armitage-Herschell Company in 1890 and became the Herschell-Spillman Company in 1903 when Herschell and the family of his wife, Ida Spillman Herschell, bought out Armitage. The firm would become the largest maker of carousels in the country.
Herschell left this partnership in 1915 to establish the Allen Herschell Company, and in 1920 the Herschell-Spillman Company reorganized as the Spillman Engineering Corporation. It was this latter firm that on August 15, 1924, presented its “Over the Jumps” model at the Aurora Exposition and Fair in Aurora, Illinois. This carousel was designed to travel to carnivals and fairs around the country and featured an undulating track that emulated a ride over hilly terrain.
The Over the Jumps Carousel has a forty-foot diameter and twenty-four sweep arms attached to a wheel that follows the rolling track. There are forty horses on the carousel, and each group of ten is separated by one of the four chariots included in the ride. The National Register nomination noted that “the faces of all the horses on the carousel are artistically carved with emotionally charged expressions to maximize visual tension and urgency—to add excitement to the brief relationship of each rider to his/her steed.…Heads are cocked, with stretched and tensed muscle structures emphasized in the jaws and neck of each horse.”
The carousel worked a circuit that visited numerous state fairs, including the Arkansas State Fair, until Tom and Belle Fuzzell purchased it in the early 1940s and installed it in Fuzzell’s Fair Park Amusements Rides in what is now War Memorial Park in Little Rock. In 1973, they sold the carousel to Doyle “Doc” O’Kelley and Lloyd “Mokie” Choate, who took over the amusement park operation. At that point, two of the forty horses created by the Spillman Engineering Corporation were replaced by two so-called Trojan horses produced by the Allen Herschell Company in the 1930s, which are distinguished by their cropped manes and tails.
The War Memorial Amusement Park was closed in 1991 to be replaced by a parking lot for a new pool and fitness complex, and the Over the Jumps Carousel was in danger of being sold piecemeal to collectors. A Friends of the Carousel non-profit formed, and Choate agreed to sell the intact carousel to them for $250,000. That led to a sixteen-year effort to purchase the carousel and restore the horses to their original condition. A $75,000 contribution from the City of Little Rock and a $50,000 donation from the Little Rock Civitan Club in 2007 closed out the $1 million project. The restored carousel was unveiled in its new home at the Little Rock Zoo, where it remains in the twenty-first century.
Only five Over the Jumps carousels were ever manufactured, and the Herschell-Spillman Carousel is the only one that survives.
For additional information:
Anderson, Mary Ann, and Kenneth Story. “Herschell-Spillman Carousel.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at https://www.arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-historic-preservation-program (accessed September 27, 2022).
Friedman, Samantha. “LR Carousel Starts 2nd Go-Round; 16-Year Restoration Job Ends.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 23, 2007, p. 1B.
Silva, Rachel. “Herschell-Spillman Carousel.” Sandwiching in History Tour Script, December 3, 2010.
Van Laningham, Scott. “Group Working to Keep Historic Carousel in LR.” Arkansas Gazette, May 24, 1991, pp. 1A, 8A.
Williams, Callie. “The Over the Jumps Carousel—A Ride through History.” Pulaski County Historical Review 70 (Fall 2022): 74–81.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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