Floyd Moreland Dentzel/Looff Carousel

Today, I’m going to take you on a journey. I’m going to tell you the story of a carousel. Along the way, we’ll talk about trolley parks, amusement piers, hurricanes, roller coasters in oceans, and the incredible luck of a carousel, more than a century old. 

Audio credits: Podcast cover background photo is by 4045 on freepik.com. Carousel cover photo is by James Loesch, Flickr, CCBY2.0. Theme music is from “Aerobatics in Slow Motion” by TeknoAXE. Incidental music is from “Olde Timey” by Kevin Macleod / incompetech.com

Coney Island

Our story today begins almost 200 years ago.

In 1829, Coney Island, a peninsula with sandy beaches, was linked to NYC by road. The first resorts there opened up as a result. Along with the resorts came something that we ironically rarely talk about: a carousel. 

“Balmer’s Carousel” at Coney Island opened in 1875, featuring hand-carved wooden animals and powered by a steam engine. This carousel was designed by a man named Charles Looff. 

Looff was German, with the birth name  Carl Jürgen Detlev Looff .He immigrated to the US at the age of 18, in 1870. At Ellis Island, he Americanized his name from Carl to Charles. 

He moved to Brooklyn. There, he reportedly worked as a furniture carver during the day, but took wood scraps home with him and in his leisure hours began carving animals. After a few years, he had sufficient carousel animals carved that he set them up on a platform. Attached to a motor, the platform went around in a circle: et voila, a carousel. Looff set them up at Vanderveer’s bathing pavilions on Coney Island. It was Coney Island’s first carousel and according to some, its first amusement ride.

History of the Carousel

Now, the carousel as a ride has its origins in many cultures, centuries and centuries back. I won’t go too in-depth into the nitty-gritty details, but we might as well have a bit of history.

In brief, you can find carousel-like concepts in many cultures, as far back as 500 AD. 

The name carousel itself has its roots in the Spanish word “carosella”, meaning little battle. This word has it roots in the Italian word for chariot, which in turn ties back into the proto-Indo-European “carrus”, meaning “to run”. In Europe, between 1500 and 1800, the meaning of a carousel evolved from jousting practice to showy horseman dressage to carved wooden animals on display on the carnival circuit.

In the 1800s, the steam engine was invented, refining the carousel into what we know it today. Carousels in the 1800s and most of the 1900s were incredibly popular rides on the fair circuit. A contemporaneous writer from the mid-1860s described the ride as such: it “whirled around with such impetuousity, that the wonder is the daring riders are not shot off like cannon- ball, and driven half into the middle of next month.”

And in the United States moving into the 1900s, the carousel industry was booming, led by immigrants like Gustav Dentzel and our friend Charles Looff, both from Germany. The turn of the century was the golden age of the carousel. 

In the golden age of carousels, each horse and animal were hand-carved; several different dominant styles arose. Country Fair style was the hallmark of popular amusement names Allan Herschell and Edward Spillman, characterized by simpler horses often without saddles. These Country Fair style carousels were often easy to move.

Philadelphia style was the next major style, the hallmark of names like Gustav Dentzel and the Philedelphia Toboggan Company. These carousels were often menagerie carousels (horses as well as non-horse animals) and had realistic saddles and detailed carvings.

Finally, Coney Island style, characterized by flamboyance, mirrors, lights, elaborate saddles, and jewel-bedecked animals. Looff was the biggest name in this style, and taught many others, such as Illions.

At the height of the carousel’s popularity, over 5,000 carousels are said to have simultaneously operated in the US. 

In general, it seems as though every amusement park, even nowadays, has a carousel – it could be one of the most popular rides at a theme park. 

Looff’s 18th Carousel

As noted, Looff not only built the first carousel and first amusement park attraction for Coney Island, but went on to build many carousels, a theme park, oh, and the Santa Monica Pier (the Newcomb Pier side). 

I already mentioned this, but it is worth emphasizing his renown for being the premiere carver in the Coney Island style, where carousels were decorated flamboyantly and elaborately, from the carousel structure all the way down to the saddles on the horses.

Looff’s 18th carousel was built around 1910, in conjunction with Gustav Dentzel. Different sources place one or the other of the carvers as the true designer. For the purposes of this story right now, I’ll refer to it as Looff’s carousel. 

Around the same time, the Manhasset Realty Company was formed for the purposes of purchasing the Seaside Heights beachfront property in New Jersey. 

The 18th carousel didn’t go directly to the newly-formed Seaside Heights, however. Instead, it went to a small park on an island in the Delaware River, near Philadelphia. It was called Burlington Island.

Burlington Island

The island had originally been named Mantinicunk Island by the original inhabitants, the Lenape people, Mantinicunk meaning Island of Pines. It changed hands many times after the first European settlement there in the 1600s, as well as names: High Island and Verhulsten Island were names prior to the modern Burlington Island.

Eventually, it was granted to the city of Burlington for primarily farming use. The residents reportedly often campaigned for a bridge to be built between the island and the city of Burlington on the mainland, which never did happen. 

In 1900, the first family picnic resort opened on the lower half of the island. (And here, I’ll pause to say that if you remember back to the Rose Island episode (theabandonedcarousel.com/10) you’ll see many parallels to the story of Burlington Island, as they are contemporaries.)

The developer put in picnic tables and a bath house, built a pier, and had sand deposited in order to form a beach. There was also an ice cream stand. All told, this was a huge draw at the turn of the century. Reportedly, 4,000 people visited the island in just a single day at the peak of the 1902 season. An early contemporaneous description of the park was “An ideal temperance picnic resort”.

Around 1907, with things going so well, the park owners reportedly talked to the owner of another park – Rancocas Lake Park, in Mount Laurel, NJ. That park was a trolley park. 

A Brief Sidebar on Trolley Parks

We haven’t really discussed the concept yet here on TAC, but trolley parks are an important park of amusement park history. In the latter part of the 1800s, working hours were reduced, disposable income was on the rise, and rapid industrialization was occuring. Trolley or streetcar lines sat idle on the weekends, much to the dismay of their operating companies. In an effort to increase weekend ridership and therefore profits, the companies began building “trolley parks” at the end of the lines. These were were small amusement and resort areas, often near lakes or beaches, with picnic grounds, carousels, and other small mechanical amusement attractions. 

Trolley parks, then, are the precursors to the modern amusement park, and in some cases some are still operational (you might know about Lakemont Park in Altoona PA or Kennywood in Pittsburgh PA. Most famously, you might know Lake Compounce in Bristol CT, built in 1846 and considered the oldest continuously operating amusement park in the US).

Development and Downfall of Burlington Island Beach Park

Back to Rancocas Lake Park, as we were talking about, was located about 12 miles south of Burlington Island. It was opened by a man named George Potts in the early 1900s. Rancocas Park was a classic trolley park. There were picnic groves, a dance pavilion, a midway, and a carousel and other amusement rides. 

This is an episode about a carousel, so let’s enjoy ourselves, and briefly talk about that carousel, there at Rancocas Lake Park. It was described as a “classic Philadelphia carousel”, housed in its own building to keep off the elements. It reportedly had beautifully carved horses and was quite popular with the visitors to Rancocas Lake Park. 

The owners of Burlington Island came to a deal with Potts around 1907. In a move to generate additional revenue, Potts relocated several of his amusement rides to Burlington Island for several years. These rides joined a set of large swing cages already present on the island.

After an unknown time, Burlington Island management purchased updated versions of the rides they had onsite, and Potts’ rides were moved back to Rancocas Park in Mount Laurel. 

It was somewhere in this timeframe that the 18th Looff carousel was built, between 1908 and 1910, and subsequently delivered to Burlington Island. The carousel featured chariots and animals that were carved by Looff, as well as by other big names in the carousel world: Dentzel, Morris, Carmel, and Illions. This carousel is reportedly considered unique in that it was worked on by so many of the master carvers. There were 35 jumping horses, 18 standing horses, a lion, tiger, mule, two camels, and two chariots. Some of its animals are even reported dated to the 1890s. 

(Click this link to see images of the carousel at Burlington Island.)

The carousel was reportedly quite popular, as was Burlington Island. Visitors came in droves from both sides of the river: from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

New Ownership at Burlington Island

In 1917, the island was sold, and the new owners, George Bassler and Robert Merkel, began up the amusement park, giving it the longer name of Burlington Island Beach Park. The newly updated park was described by one source as “elaborate”. A 1921 Bristol Daily Courier article described the owners’ goals for the park were to become “one of the biggest and most popular pleasure resorts in the East”.

(The same 1921 article devotes more than one paragraph to the food served at the meeting between Burlington Island management and the local communities. Roast pig was served, garnished with an oyster dressing. On the side, roasted sweet and white potatoes, hamburg steak, corn, celery, bread, pickles, coffee, pie, and cheese. Hungry?)

New attractions were set to be opened May 15, 1922, including “a roller-coaster, a merry-go-round, whip, airships and Venetian swings,” according to the newspaper article. Other sources mention a Ferris wheel, a boat swing, an “ocean wave”, a Tunnel of Love, Steeplechase, Tumblebug, Dodge-em cars, bumper scooters, caterpillar, a fun house, a rifle range, and a pony ride.

The centerpiece of the updated park was a delightful wooden coaster called “The Greyhound”, which had already begun construction in fall 1921. This was a lovely out-and-back coaster. From the article, described by a representative of Baker & Miller Company: “It is to have a 4000 feet run, with a height of 55 feet and eight dips. […]   There will be a 400 feet tunnel at the beginning of the ride. This will be dark and suitable for lovesick couples. The coaster will be the very latest thing of its kind.” 

This coaster was designed by John A. Miller, the “Miller” in Baker & Miller Company, and built by Harry C. Baker, the “Baker” in Baker & Miller Company. (Miller and Baker were a dynamic duo, responsible for many popular coasters of the era. Miller is considered by some to be the father of the modern high-speed coaster due to his design for the underfriction wheel, patented in 1919 and used on nearly every coaster in the world today.) 

(a great view of the coaster here and here

Of course, there was a miniature train, too, this one called the Reading RR. 

The carousel too got an upgrade. A Wurlington military band organ, model 146A, was shipped to Wissahicken Station in May 1924, to entertain the guests with delightful music as they whirled on their horses.

Reportedly, the Burlington Island Beach Park became the hit of the river under new ownership. 1927 ad copy described the park, saying: “Nature’s beauty and modern amusement devices combine to make Burlington Island one of tho most popular pleasure parks. ” Thousands took river excursions up and down the Delaware, leading to 6 or 7 steamers idling at the pier at a time. Some would come by train and take the ferry. The ferryboat was called the William E. Doron, and shuttled people back and forth from Bristol to the island. There was a promenade and a midway, lighted walking paths, and multiple rides. As the industrial age came into full swing, this was the place to be.

Two Stories of Fire at Burlington Island

Now, there are two semi-conflicting stories about the flaming end of Burlington Island. The common point between both is the method. The end came with fire, the nemesis of many early parks; at quibble is the dates.

The first is the most common, and is repeated almost everywhere, including the Historic American Buildings Survey, number HABS NJ-1141, through the Library of Congress. It tells of two fires, the first and most destructive in 1928. It goes like this:

In 1928, a fire is said to have begun at 2 am. As the park was on an island, the firefighters and firefighting equipment had to be ferried across. As such, nearly all of the rides and amusements had burned to the ground by the time the firefighters were able to begin fighting the fire.

The fire more or less destroyed the amusement park, and a second fire in 1934 sealed the fate of the park. 

The other story is newer but reputable, making it worth describing here, and comes from historian Paul W. Schopp, to the Riverton NJ Historical Society. At the link, you can see the original rectangular carousel building as well as the newer round building. 

Schopp maintains that no fire occurred at Burlington Island in the 1920s, and especially not in 1928. He points out the timing (the Great Depression) and the closure of Delaware River steamboat traffic as factors that lead to the closure of the rides and concessions at the amusement park by the end of the 1920s. 

Schopp describes the conflagration similarly to the previous story, and references the date April 24, 1932. 

There is a freely-accessible OCR text available for the Daily News in New York for this day, describing multiple fires that broke out in the area the night previous; however, this describes only a small fire on Burlington Island (“Two small houses and several barns were -destroyed in a blaze that covered a wide area on Burlington Island in the Delaware River.”) and otherwise describes a fire destroying the scenic railway and concessions at Bayonne Pleasure Park, a different lost NJ theme park.

However, an alternate article from the Asbury Press from the same day provides a clearer view. The paper describes how the fire swept through the entire island, causing a loss of over $100,000, including summer homes and most of the amusement park buildings. 

Schopp then gives the dates of January 28, 1934 for the second fire, which can be backed up by an article from the Bristol Daily Courier. The paper describes how the firefighters from Bristol and Burlington were ferried to the island to put out the blaze, reportedly accidentally caused by two young boys. “One of the amusement concessions, the scenic railway, partially wrecked by the flames, can be seen on the right. In the foreground are firemen battling the blaze with buckets of water and chemicals.” The image being referenced does show the half-burnt scenic railway coaster Greyhound, visible even in the free public-access view. Another article from “The Mercury” charmingly describes the firefighters rowing themselves across the Delaware in rowboats with buckets to attempt to fight the fire.

Mystery of the 1928 Fire

So based on newspaper reports – primary sources – we know there was a fire in 1932, and another fire that sealed the deal in 1934. What about 1928? Well, a 1972 retrospective in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the history of the island gives the date of 1928 for a first, damaging fire. And as mentioned earlier, nearly every single secondary source discussing the carousel’s history mentions a 1928 fire. However, I’ve been unable to find any newspaper reference to a 1928 fire at Burlington Island.

Whenever exactly the first fire occurred, the hero of today’s story, Looff’s 18th carousel, miraculously escaped the blaze nearly unscathed, and was only partially damaged by fire. 

Burlington Island, however, was done for. Merkel, without the interest or funds to rebuild, sold the land (this to the VanSciver Sand Company) and began selling off any salvageable amusement rides. In the 50s, the sand company began mining sand and gravel from their half of the island, where the former amusement park used to be. This created the large lake that can now be seen in aerial views of the island. Currently, the city of Burlington now owns this half of the island. The other half is owned by a Board of Island Managers, a trust that actually predates the formation of the US, back to 1682. Their charter states that any development on their portion of the land must be “educational, conservational, historical, or recreational ”.

Currently in 2019, Burlington Island is undeveloped.

Seaside Heights: the early years

Now, let’s pause for a moment and head 60 miles due east from Burlington Island, to Seaside Heights, NJ, going back in time. When I last mentioned Seaside Heights a few minutes ago, it was the early 1900s, and a development company had just purchased the property with the intent to build. This was exciting, because the land is and was a barrier island, not useful for farming or producing any food). The general opinion at the time was reportedly that oceanfront property was unattractive, though developers were trying to change this. Excursion trains (trolleys) began running to the area on the weekends to the newly built resorts. By 1915, the land was changing hands at a public auction. At the same time, the first carousel opened at Seaside Heights – a steam-driven Dentzel carousel located on pilings only a few hundred feet from the shoreline.

The land took its first steps towards becoming a tourism and amusement mecca. A man named Joseph Vanderslice and the Senate Amusement Company built a gasoline-powered carousel, among other amusements. This failed within a year, lasting from 1915 through 1916.

The next summer, 1917, local builder Frank Freeman installed an electric Dentzel carousel in a building right on the water’s edge, reportedly with figures carved by Daniel Muller. The National Carousel Association describes Muller, saying that he “is generally recognized as the greatest carver of carousel animals, carving very realistic and artistic animals.” Reportedly, his only remaining carousels are at Forest Park (in Queens, NY) and at Cedar Point (in Ohio).

Freeman not only added a carousel, but other amusements as well: an indoor dance hall, an arcade, a skating rink, and a pier for fishing. It was named the Freeman Amusement Center, and became a successful trolley park.

The Carousel at the Heart of Casino Pier

This brings us back to the timeframe of Burlington Island and its 1928 fire, which had more or less destroyed the park. 

There was a man. A man named Robert Merkel. He had gotten involved with the development of Seaside Heights. The name might sound familiar, as he’d been the previous owner of Burlington Island. 

Merkel facilitated the sale of the Looff carousel to a Princeton contractor, Linus Gilbert. Gilbert wanted to bring some competition to the popular Freeman’s Amusement Center in Seaside Heights.

Some of the horses on the Looff carousel from Burlington Island were missing or damaged, but overall the carousel was in reasonable condition. Gilbert, of the L. R. Gilbert Construction Company, purchased the carousel and moved it to Seaside Heights. The carousel was restored, and the missing and overly damaged horses replaced with horses from other carousels.

The Wurlitzer band organ moved with the carousel, as well. With serial number 3673, the band organ is a style 146A.

In 1932, the carousel was officially opened at Seaside Heights. Gilbert had brought the original cupola building from Burlington Island, as well. The 10-sided unenclosed building did little to keep the weather off, and made the neighbors complain due to the noise of the Wurlitzer organ. Additionally, the Looff carousel was smaller and less elaborate than the neighboring Freeman carousel at the other end of the boardwalk. It was also completely detached from the other established amusements in the area. At the north end of the boardwalk, there was only the Looff carousel and a fishing pier, nothing else. The first few years were tight.

Not only locally, but nationally. It was the Great Depression. The economy of hand-carved carousels was collapsing – it was too expensive. Starting from the 1930s onward, fiberglass, aluminium, and plastic molds were the regular order of the day.  

Within five years, however, Gilbert built a larger surrounding complex around the carousel, including an Olympic-sized chlorine swimming pool. This was called the Seaside Heights Pool, and was reportedly a really “big deal” in the community, according to a later owner of Casino Pier. This drew thousand of people and gave reason to build more attractions along the pier. A fishing pier was built oceanwards with a few more modest attractions.

The Early Days of Casino Pier

In 1948, a man named John Fitzgerald and his business partner John Christopher purchased Casino Pier from Linus Gilbert. Carousels were beginning to fall out of favor. The younger generation was seeking thrills, and the older generation couldn’t make up the gap. The audience for slow-moving carousels began to dwindle. Oftentimes, the most efficient way to dispose of a carousel at a theme park looking for space was to literally set it on fire. Can you even imagine.

The town of Seaside Heights began to expand after the war, with veterans coming back for the good jobs and pleasant inexpensive oceanside housing, and this meant expansion for Seaside Heights amusements, as well. Kenneth Wynne Jr had married Fitzgerald’s daughter. Wynne was a lawyer and a lobbyist, and later worked for a TV station. 

Meanwhile, down the beach, catastrophe visited the Freeman’s carousel, that glorious Muller carousel with its beautiful details. Yes, another fire. The wooden carousel burned to the ground, completely destroyed. Floyd Moreland references a “phantom carousel” in a letter to the site Carousel Corner, saying it “operated only half of the summer of 1955 with the Carmel and Borelli animals on it”. An Illions carousel, formerly the Chafatino Carrousel from Coney Island, replaced it in 1957. This was a truly spectacular carousel – check out this image for some details. With the new carousel came a new pier and name – Funtown Pier.

In the late 50s, Fitzgerald came to Wynne to take over some of the park management and operations. Christopher had passed away in 1959, and Fitzgerald inherited full ownership rights. Wynne, Fitzgerald’s son-in-law, accepted the offer to manage the park, somewhere between 1958 and 1960. ”I liked the idea of coming to the Casino Pier here because it was show biz, something with a flair to it,’ he said in a newspaper interview.

Expansions and Firsts at Casino Pier

Wynne quickly expanded the pier eastward, and began adding amusements and rides. Our hero, the Dentzel/Looff carousel, got an upgrade to its Wurlitzer organ, with the conversion from a single-roll to a double roll. A fascinating 2001 article from Carousel Organ details exactly how Wurlitzer rolls are made, including photos. Well worth reading!

Wynne met up with Zurich-born Eddy Meir, who sold amusement rides on the behalf of the manufacturers. Meir and Wynne built up a good and regular relationship. “each year he would bring another spectacular ride”, Wynne is quoted as saying.  The first true rollercoaster at the pier was a Schiff wooden Wild Mouse coaster, opened in 1958, though, a kiddie coaster is said to have been at the pier in both 1952 and 1964.

In 1963, the first Himalaya ride in the US opened, right here at Casino Pier. You might remember the Himalaya from a different episode on this podcast, the Elektrenai episode, where I went a bit more in-depth into the Caterpillar and Music Express rides (Himalaya is another name for Music Express). 

1964 saw the installation of the Skyride, taking visitors from the pool area all the way to the east end of the pier at the time. This was essentially a Skyway-type ride, offering excellent views and a mild thrill. The Skyway had been a novelty and a marvel stateside when it opened at Disneyland in 1956, if you recall back to the early episodes of TAC. Parks around the country jumped to follow in Walt’s footsteps, and the Disneyland’s imported European Skyway began a US boom within the next decade.

1965 Fire at Casino Pier

1965 saw the expansion of the pier, 320 further feet out into the ocean. Additional things were to happen, though. On June 10, 1965, a major fire whipped up by the wind on the pier destroyed many of the rides. In particular, the Wild Mouse was absolutely burnt to a crisp. Interestingly, this was all caught on film and is available on YouTube. In the video, you can see the fire burning on and around the ferris wheel, wild mouse, that two-year-old Himalaya, and a scrambler. The video continues as firefighters put out the blaze with patrons looking on. A later article describes how the fishermen were so intent on having their fishing pier back that they reportedly chipped in free labor with Casino Pier-provided materials to begin the rebuilding effort.

A second wild mouse was brought in for the remainder of the 1965 season, running at a different place on the pier. By 1966, a third wild mouse was brought in and placed on the site of the original Schiff Wild Mouse. An image of the coaster during this time can be seen here. However, this wild mouse also only lasted the year, and it wouldn’t be for another 30+ years that another wild mouse would be installed at Casino Pier.

1970s at Casino Pier: “Firsts”

A small metal Zyklon coaster operated for a few years, between 1967 and 1969. 

In 1970, a Schwarzkopf Jet Star was purchased new and installed on the pier. You might remember a sibling of the Jet Star we’ve already discussed on the podcast: the Jet Star 2, SBNO at Children’s World in Elektrenai. (Though it may not be SBNO for long; internet hearsay is that some of the rides at Elektrenai have already been demolished between the time of that recording and the time of this recording. How about THAT for a live update?) 

In 1975, the first Enterprise ride in the United States was installed, right here at Casino Pier. Remember, Wynne was notably interested in the European ride circuit. You might remember the Enterprise ride from the Abandoned Yangon Amusement Park episode here on TAC

Casino Pier, 1970s. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies, LC-MA05-9616

In 1976, the Wurlitzer organ on the carousel received a major rebuild from the BAB Organ Company. At the same time, mirrors featuring sculpted horseheads were added to the center pole of the carousel. Originally, there had been paintings in this position; however, these were destroyed in the 1950s (cause of the destruction unclear) and cartoon prints had been in place there between the 1950s through 976. The mirrors + horseheads are still in place today.

In 1979, the “Love Bugs” indoor/outdoor coaster was added – this was a ride built in 1959 for a travelling German carnival, known then as the Broadway Trip. This coaster operated at a number of different parks before arriving at Casino Pier, including Fun Forest in Seattle, Cedar Point in Ohio, and Palisades in New Jersey. This coaster was renamed to Wizard’s Cavern in 1988, and finally demolished in 2003 – a good long run for a once-travelling coaster.

1984: Floyd Moreland Saves the Carousel

In 1984, Wynne nearly sold the Loof/Dentzel carousel. By this time, the carousel was in need of repair, and a sale had reportedly been arranged to the tune of $275,000. Individual horses were selling for up to $100,000 at that time, as private collectors saw value in carousel horses in their living rooms and not at theme parks. Down the beach, the Illions Chafatino carrousel had been broken up and sold at auction, to be replaced by a Chance Rides fiberglass carousel.

Ultimately, Wynne decided not to sell the Looff carousel.


Enter Dean of the City University of New York, also a classics professor, Dr. Floyd Moreland. He’d ridden the carousel as a young child every summer. In his later adolescence and college years, he worked at the Casino Pier, operating the same carousel, coming back from school in California to operate the ride. “It paid my way through college. It paid my way through graduate school,” he is quoted as saying to the paper. He began campaigning to save the carousel when rumors began to spread about its demise.

Ultimately, he succeeded, and with a group of dedicated volunteers and private donors, began to refurbish the carousel in the unheated building during the pier’s off-season. Members of the community were able to donate to support the restoration, and many of the animals are inscribed with the names of particular donors.

One of the prominent people involved in the restoration was veterinarian Dr. Norma Menghetti. She assisted Dr. Moreland in patching and painting: the animals, the chariots, even the original paintings on the center pole. Menghetti operated the ride on weekends for many years. Moreland later described her as having “put her heart and soul into the renovation, upkeep, and operation of the carousel at Casino Pier”. Moreland’s partner, Elaine Egues, also was heavily involved, and Moreland and Egues ran the carousel-themed shop on the boardwalk together, as well, called the Magical Carousel Shoppe. 

The Floyd J Moreland Dentzel/Looff Carousel during its operation at Casino Pier, Seaside Heights. Image: James Loesch, Flickr, CCBY2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 https://flickr.com/photos/jal33/14829123843/in/photolist-fmFjTB-HSZVtZ-oAp8T2-6tyAXd-6turVR-2g3qKqz

1980s and 1990s at Seaside Heights

After the successful preservation of the carousel, things seemed to be going well, both for the carousel and for Seaside Heights.

Glockenspiel bells were added to the carousel’s Wurlitzer organ in 1986, a cheerful upgrade to the sound of the now 62 year old organ.

In the late 1980s, Wynne and Bennett remodeled the original Arcade building and pool area. The original structures had caused a traffic obstruction, requiring motorists to detour around the Casino Pier structures. By tearing down the arcade and remodeling it, Wynne and Bennett granted the municipality the ability to continue their road. This wasn’t just kind-heartedness. This made it easier for people to get to Casino Pier and park, creating more business. ”It is the smartest move we ever made,” Mr. Wynne said, ”because it opened up the town, made everything more accessible, and also made us the middle of the boardwalk, rather than the end.”

The “Water Works” opened on the site of the former swimming pool, with water slides and a lazy river, and the new arcade building was renamed the Palace Amusements building. The centerpiece of the Palace Amusements building remained the original Looff/Dentzel carousel. By 1988, it was said to attract 150,000 visitors per year, and was valued at $750,000. 

In 1988, Wynne sold his family’s share of the business to Robert Bennett, already a partner in the park since the early 80s. Wynne cited excessive governmental regulations and difficulty finding college-age employees as reasons for choosing to sell. It wasn’t as fun in the late 80s as it had been in the mid 60s, was his general opinion at the time as described to the papers.

An E. F. Miler mouse coaster was installed in 1999, some 30+ years after the last time a mouse coaster operated on the pier. It was demolished in 2012, but we’ll get to that in a minute. 

The other big coaster, the Jet Star closed in 2000 and was removed. The only currently operational Jet Star coaster is at Luna Park La Palmyre in France.

Restoration (Again) of the Carousel

Our good carousel friend, the Floyd Moreland Dentzel/Looff carousel, was round about 90 years old at this point, and the Wurlitzer organ was 76 years old. Unfortunately, it was showing its age. In the fall of 2000, the organ was described as “like a poor soul on life support”. That winter, then, the organ was shipped off to Carlisle PA, to the Mechanical Musical Instrument Restoration shop. There, the organ underwent a complete restoration, involving multiple skilled artisans and almost every part re-created, re-machined, or re-built. The restoration is detailed at this link. I strongly recommend reading this article, even if you don’t give a fig about the technical details of Wurlitzer organ restoration. The eight month saga of the restoration involves a sudden death, the mourning of a friendship, and the rebuilding of lives along with the rebuilding of the instrument. When the Wurlitzer organ returned to the carousel in 2001, a new plaque was also added to the carousel, memorializing the artist gone too soon.

More Changes to Casino Pier in the 2000s

In 2002, Bennett sold his portion of Casino Pier to the Storino family. 

You might remember I told you that a ride called the Jet Star closed in 2000. Confusingly, the Star Jet was added in 2002. This isn’t a typo or a misspeak, it’s a different coaster, coming from E & F Miler. Only two of these 52ft tall coasters were made. The other has been at three different parks, currently sitting disassembled at Fun Spot America Atlanta, waiting to be rebuilt. This one was called the Star Jet, and entertained riders for a solid decade with roller coaster thrills right at the end of Casino Pier. 

We’ll get back to the Star Jet in a moment.

In 2004, Water Works, the Casino Pier-associated waterpark, was remodeled, and renamed to its current branding, Breakwater Beach.

2010 saw the 100th anniversary of the Floyd J. Moreland Dentzel/Looff carousel. TV’s “The Cake Boss” (Carlo’s Bakery) was reportedly on hand with a cake depicting the carousel. The carousel continued to do solid business with carousel enthusiasts, though videos and photos show half-empty rides more often than not.

And then we reach 2012.

A Hurricane: 2012’s Hurricane Sandy

Here in 2012 is where I’d originally intended this story to start. Remember how I was telling you this would be a quick story? Yeah, I’m funny.

So if you do searches for abandoned amusement parks (https://www.google.com/search?q=abandoned+amusement+parks), you’ll see a few really popular images – the creepy decayed caterpillar train, the ghostly spiral of the coast at Nara Dreamland, the radioactive rides at Chernobyl’s Pripyat and this. The image of a roller coaster, sitting in the middle of the ocean. 

Star Jet in the ocean. Image: Anthony Quintano, CCBY2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

Remember the Star Jet?

The deadliest, most destructive hurricane of the 2012 season was Hurricane Sandy. Superstorm Sandy. Between October 22 and October 29, Sandy battered the Bahamas, Cuba, the eastern US, and specifically, the Jersey shoreline. She currently stands as the forth-costliest hurricane in US history, estimated at around $65 billion. 

The Jersey Shore and Seaside Heights in particular were among the worst-hit areas. “You can’t even imagine,” was said of the damage. 

The flooding and massive waves caused collapses and damage to both Funtown Pier and Casino Pier. This iconic image, the Star Jet “floating” in the ocean, all by itself from some perspectives. Day after Sandy video shows the immediate aftermath for the coaster and pier: https://youtu.be/y6Xsdx0KGfI?t=117 

Star Jet in the ocean after Hurricane Sandy, broken pier in the foreground. Image: Anthony Quintano, licence CCBY2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

All told, eighteen rides, including the Star Jet coaster, were destroyed by Sandy. 

Cleanup took quite some time, not surprisingly. The Star Jet sat in the ocean for almost 7 months before it was finally demolished in May 2013. This has led to incredible images and video of the “abandoned” coaster – search Flickr, Youtube, or Google, and you’ll find them, from incredible photographers and videographers.

This, then, is the source of that mysterious, strange image of a rollercoaster in the ocean, seemingly perfectly intact. Not so mysterious after all, but certainly sad, and iconic.

Damage to Casino Pier after Hurricane Sandy. Government photo (North Atlantic Division) in the public domain, via Wikipedia.

2013 Seaside Heights Fire

After the hurricane, business along the Jersey shore slowly began to recover. Casino Pier and Funtown Pier began cleaning up in the off-season. 

The century-old carousel was still standing, structure untouched by the ferocious winds of the hurricane.  The pier’s basement had flooded, however, leaving the ride’s mechanics in standing water for some time. There was no way to determine whether the ride had been damaged.

But when electricity to the pier was finally turned on again before Memorial Day, almost seven months after the hurricane? The carousel came to life. It was open for Memorial Day weekend that year, 2013. 

Down the beach, despite surviving the hurricane, in 2013, the fiberglass Chance Rides carousel burned down, along with more than 50 businesses nearby, in a six-alarm fire. The fire was due to a spark from compromised electrical wiring, corroded by Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters. The Freeman’s Carousel and the Futown Pier end of the boardwalk didn’t reopen. As of a 2018 article, several attractions were in the planning process but had not yet come to fruition. As of the time of this recording, based on my understanding, owners have decided not to rebuild the pier. The borough has limited the max height of rides on the pier to 100ft, plus case by case exemptions, and the owners were seeking to build 200-300 ft tall rides; they could not guarantee profits without guaranteeing their ability to build the rides they wanted, so they chose to walk away.

Recent Years at Seaside Heights

In 2014, the Moreland carousel was nearly sold, again.

As of 2014, an article described the carousel as “quietly for sale” the prior few years, and openly for sale in the last few years, meaning the late 2010s. The carousel was described as in poor shape, needing major repairs, and ridership was decreasing. At the time, the owners blamed the economy, declining ridership, and maintenance expenses for the historic carousel.

Locals and carousel enthusiasts were worried. They feared a terrible carousel fate, last seen at the Whalom Park carousel in 2000: being split up, horses and animals and machinery sold away in pieces, boxed and split up. Support groups were started to “Save The Carousel”.

A deal was proposed by the mayor at the time and ultimately went forward, where the borough would take control of the carousel as well as a Casino Pier-owned parking lot, swapping oceanfront public property north of the pier with Casino Pier in return. The deal generated controversy and legal challenges, although the general public opinion of the deal was positive. 

Rebuilding of Casino Pier

The land swap actually enabled Casino Pier to rebuild and expand after their losses during Hurricane Sandy.

2016 saw a mini-golf course with 36-holes, as well as a wave pool at Breakwater Beach, the “water park” side of the park. Construction also began on the new expansion to the pier on the land traded in the carousel-land swap. By January of 2017, a new Ferris wheel and the new extreme Hydrus coaster began to be constructed on the newly-built newly-expanded pier. 

Hydrus is a so-called Euro-Fighter coaster. It features a 70+ foot vertical lift and a quote “beyond-vertical” drop, where the coaster goes past 90 degrees after the hill. The Hydrus coaster opened in May 2017, and the Ferris wheel in June of 2017.

2019: Temporary Closure of the Moreland Carousel

In April of 2019, the carousel took its last ride there at Seaside Heights, after 87 years of operation. 

I’m recording this episode on the first of October, 2019. Later this month, the Floyd Moreland carousel is slated to be disassembled by the Ohio restoration group Carousels and Carvings, with parts to be stored in a pole barn workshop owned by the city nearby. 

The borough estimated a cost of approximately $4.5 M to construct a new building for the carousel, according to the local paper. Earlier in the year, the group applied for several grants, including one specifically for historical preservation and repair of the physical structure of the carousel, including machinery, decking, and horses. 

This is obviously a lot of money for a local government to cover. In November, voters will actually help decide how easy the carousel’s restoration can be. The “Natural Lands Trust Fund Program” is on the ballot. Currently, the county’s open space tax provides a small dedicated revenue stream for the local governments to step in and acquire lands for “general conservation or farmland preservation”, but this money currently can’t be used for historical landmarks, either to save them from destruction or preserve them. The ballot issue would change that, and allow Ocean County to use taxes to do things not currently financially feasible, such as preserve things like the carousel. 

The Seaside Heights Historical Society was planned to be created years ago, after Sandy, but was delayed until its formation earlier in 2019, a non-profit, volunteer-run group that is the official fundraising group for the Moreland carousel restoration. Their website contains some information about the project, and includes a set of detail shots from the carousel, as well as blueprints for the future new building.

A few weeks ago, a new sign was put up at the location of the carousel’s future home.

The mayor of Seaside Heights is quoted as saying that he hopes the carousel will be up and running by summer 2021. 


For many years, the carousel was the symbol of Seaside Heights, decorating official insignia, flags, and police cars. The carousel, as Moreland himself once wrote, was the soul that shaped the development of this once-barren mile-long stretch of Jersey shoreline. 

Today, the carousel is a declining breed. The majority of the masterfully hand-carved wooden animals from a century ago were burned or destroyed following the Depression, and many still extant fell into disrepair. But even a modern aluminum or fiberglass carousel can be an excellent connection to the golden days. Riding one, you might close your eyes and sit back, picturing a different time, when the simple pleasure of a carousel, going round and round, was the pinnacle of the amusement scene. And maybe if you’re lucky, you are close enough to a beautifully restored wooden classic to ride one of those, too.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Abandoned Carousel, where I told you about Burlington Island and Casino Pier, and about the historic century-old Floyd Moreland Dentzel/Looff Carousel. Please check out the official historical society page: seasideheightshistory.org, or find them on Facebook: Facebook.com/seasideheightshistoricalsociety. 

I’m always interested in hearing about your experiences with the places I talk about. I also love suggestions for future episodes, and corrections for this or past episodes. Contact me through my website or across social media as The Abandoned Carousel. 

I’ll be back soon with another great episode. It’s October, so maybe the episodes will take a bit of a spookier tilt? You’ll have to come back to find out. Remember what Lucy Maud Montgomery once said: nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.


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2 comments on “Floyd Moreland Dentzel/Looff Carousel

  1. Dr. Floyd L. Moreland

    Strange to say, I just read your marvelous article today–VERY well done and researched. I’m so blessed to have lived through many of the golden years and to have played an intimate role in operating, maintaining, overseeing the restoration, and writing about the carousel and its Wurlitzer 146A. I’m still around, albeit retired from CUNY, and hope one day to see the “Moreland” carousel spinning again in all its glory.


    Dr. Floyd L. Moreland


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