Binghamton’s gray days usually leave color up to the imagination, but as the “carousel capital of the world,” this city has its own distinct spin.
There are fewer than 170 antique carousels in the United States and Canada, and the Binghamton area has six, making it home to the biggest collection in the world.
The carousels make the city unique, according to Judi Hess, tourism and special events manager for Greater Binghamton.
“To have a collection of six in one area, the largest collection in the world, is really exciting,” Hess said.
The six carousels are located in parks in Johnson City, Binghamton, Endicott and Endwell. They’re open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The carousels were a gift from George F. Johnson, a shoe manufacturer and benefactor, who donated them between 1919 and 1934 so anyone could ride for free.
“They’re historic and treasured by everyone here,” Hess said. “There are so many dimensions to them as part of our life.”
Rod Serling, the creator of “Twilight Zone” who grew up in Binghamton, drew inspiration from Recreation Park for one of his scripts.
The episode, called “Walking Distance,” is about a gentleman who returns to his childhood hometown as an adult, according to Hess.
“They recreated the park setting on a Hollywood lot,” she said. “Last year when they redid the carousel they included pictures of the episode all around it.”
The redone carousel in Recreation Park includes images from other episodes, as well as a tribute to Serling.
The largest of the six carousels is located in Johnson City’s C. Fred Johnson Park and contains 72 original figures. With mirrors and painted scenic panels, this carousel is a decadent attraction.
The oldest carousel resides with the animals at the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park, and boasts some creatures of its own. With 60 jumping horses, two chariots and monkeys, this one turns to the tune of its original 51-key Wurlitzer Military Band Organ.
The municipality where carousels are located are responsible for their upkeep, and additional funding is sometimes provided by grants and donations to help with the cost of refurbishing, according to Hess.
They are all now currently in enclosed areas to keep them from being exposed to the elements, to save on maintenance later.
Still free, some of the parks ask for a piece of litter in exchange for an admission ticket as a way to have the community help keep the community spaces clean.
Now in their eighth decade, the carousels have become a part of many memories, young and old.
Aaron Wolff, a senior majoring in economics, grew up in Binghamton and remembers riding the carousels when he was young. He’s been to three of the six and plans to visit more throughout his life.
“It’s good because something like the carousels gives Binghamton a larger appeal to draw people to the area,” Wolff said.
His favorite is in Binghamton’s Recreation Park. He still continues to visit the park during the summer with some of his hometown friends. Like Serling, it brought back many childhood memories, and he recommends others check them out too.