The Greenway Carousel

Boston, Massachusetts

by Dawn Woolcott

Squirrel and Rabbit, photo by Lorianne DiSabato on Flickr

Carousels have long been a treasured childhood memory for many. Carefully choosing which horse to ride, hopping on its back, and waiting in anticipation for those first sounds of music and the initial jolt as the carousel begins to move, slowly increasing in speed, and you laughing and waving at friends and family as you whirl past. The traditional carousel ride has thrilled children for over a hundred years, no doubt inspiring many young children to grow up wanting to own their own horse. 

Boston updated the carousel for the next generation – creating a carousel that extolls the wonders of the natural world as well as the imaginations of any child lucky enough to take a ride.  At the Greenway Park Carousel, children can choose to ride a lobster, a barn owl, a skunk, or a whale. How did such an unusual collection of animals make it onto a carousel?  The answer is Amalie Kass. 

Amalie is a former teacher, and the primary donor who made the new carousel possible. The carousel’s story starts when the city of Boston began a downtown renovation project known as “The Big Dig” in 1991.  The decades-long project involved removing an existing elevated freeway, moving the cars underground into tunnels, and reconnecting the downtown with green space. The new space above the tunnels became the Greenway Park, a contemporary community-centered park filled with public art, paths, and a slew of regular events. Amalie Kass wanted to be involved in the planning of the new park somehow, and after seeing a rented carousel in use at the park, decided she’d like her focus to be a new permanent carousel. While she could have just written a check and walked away, Amalie ended up being a guiding light and creative inspiration. Once connected with the team involved in the project, they set to work on the design.

Boston carousel
Whale - Photo by Robert Gray via Flickr
Peregrine Falcon, Photo by Elizabethe via Flickr

The concept chosen was to use animals native to the New England area and especially Boston Harbor. Amalie was partial to the turtle at the New England Aquarium – a 90 year old sea turtle named Myrtle.  She also loved adding a nod to Boston’s history with the grasshopper – the beloved creature that has been atop Faneuil Hall’s weather vane  in downtown Boston since it was first installed in 1742. 

Her guiding mission was that the design should be focused on the children. What would the children love? How best to find out than ask them directly? She suggested the designers should consult their clients – the children who would eventually be using the carousel. They challenged the children of Boston to draw pictures of animals they would like to ride on a carousel. The submissions of course included drawings of dragons and unicorns, but also gave the planners plenty of ideas for which native creatures to include. They hired a pair of local artists who specialized in carousel building to bring the children’s ideas into reality. Artist and sculptor Jeff Briggs used a technique that begins with multiple sketches, a wood form is created and fleshed out with wire to form a skeleton which is then covered with plaster and sculpted. From there a rubber mold is created and filled with polyester-fiberglass resin. At that point, artist Bill Rogers paints the sculptures, bringing them to life.

The vision was to create animals that look realistic and not cartoonish. The whale has baleen and barnacles. The peregrine falcon is caught mid-turn in flight, and Myrtle the turtle is diving at an angle into the surf. What child wouldn’t love soaring on the back of an owl, or on the fluffy tail of a squirrel? But of course, the most iconic species to Boston has to be the lobster. Few people have had the opportunity to ride a lobster. Well, of course, unless you take a ride on the Greenway Carousel!

Ride an iconic Boston critter - the Lobster

Whether you visit the carousel and choose to ride a carrot-munching rabbit, an adorable skunk, or fly like a fairy on the back of a butterfly, you cannot help but love seeing the wide-eyed enjoyment of the children as they choose which creature they will ride. Any visit to Boston should include a visit to this amazing work of art-in-the-round. Ride a lobster. When else will you have a chance?

Watch how the artists built the animal rides

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