Herschell-Spillman Carousel

The Herschell-Spillman Carousel, located in Little Rock, Arkansas, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 1, 1989, with statewide significance. The nomination stated that the carousel was a rare collection of wooden sculptures carved by artisans of Allan Herschell’s company, one of the earliest carousel manufacturers in the United States.

They are rendered even more significant by their continued attachment to the largely-original sectional wooden riding platform which allows its unique motion. The Herschell-Spillman Carousel is the last remaining example of a Spillman Corporation “Jumps" model, and likely one of only five examples originally produced. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program seeks to increase the Herschell-Spillman Carousel’s level of significance from regional to national.

The Over-the-Jumps Carousel in Little Rock is one of fewer than 180 intact wooden carousels of the more than 5,000 carousels that once operated in the U.S. The Carousel in Little Rock was produced around 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Corporation of North Tonawanda, New York.

It was initially a traveling carousel and made appearances at the Arkansas State Fair as part of a circuit of amusement rides. It is the only surviving example of an undulating track carousel manufactured by Spillman Engineering Corporation. It is probable that no more than five Over-the-Jumps machines were produced.

The original 40 vertical jumping horses on the Over-the-Jumps are typical of those produced by the Spillman Engineering Corporation in the 1920s. The horses were generally more elaborate than their predecessors; jewels were added and intricate relief carvings appeared.

Identifiable features of Spillman horses include long heads; small, high-set eyes; pointed rumps; full, wavy manes; intricate ornamentation; high cantles and pommels; large nostrils; jewels; and figures in relief. The sides of the horses also were elaborately carved.

In 1942, the carousel was placed in Little Rock’s War Memorial Park under an already existing pavilion that was adapted to shelter the carousel. It would continue to operate there until 1991. The one-of-a-kind undulating track carries 40 hand-carved wooden horses and four chariots. Thirty-eight of the horses were produced by the Spillman Engineering Corporation. Two of the original 40 Spillman carousel horses were removed from the carousel in the 1960s and those horses were replaced with two Allen Herschell “Roman" or “Trojan" style horses.

In 1991, a non-profit group, Friends of the Carousel, Inc., was formed to save the carousel from an out-of-state purchase. After purchasing the carousel, the organization donated a historic easement on the carousel to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

In 1992, the group contracted with Parker Restoration and Conservation Services to examine Over-the-Jumps for evidence of original factory paint schemes. A cursory examination revealed many layers of park paint covering the horses, but very little serious structural damage.

Flaking, tenting, and crazing paint, abrasions, and paint loss were common problems on most of the horses. Despite these problems, the condition of the horses looked very promising.

A basic examination was undertaken to search for early decoration beneath the park paint. Dry scraping seemed successful in revealing the earliest coatings. Because it seemed possible to recover much of the factory paint scheme, the Board of Directors of the Friends elected to conserve all original surfaces.

Thirty-five horses and three of the four chariots have been conserved. Original paint and decorations have revealed a unified scheme for both horses and chariots, supporting the theory that the carousel was created as a unit. The track remains untreated.

Once restoration/conservation is completed, the Over-the-Jumps carousel will be returned to War Memorial Park and housed at the Little Rock Zoo.

To the knowledge of Friends of the Carousel, Inc., the cast-iron undulating track is the single remaining example of a Spillman Corporation “Jumps" model. Restoration of the track has not begun at the present time but extensive research on the restoration treatment has been conducted with engineers and conservators.

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