Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum Photography Guide

“Horses, zebras, giraffes and more come to life at this hidden gem.”

 Photo by Shawn M. Kent

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In tall white letters, an otherwise nondescript red building proclaims itself the Allen Herschell Carrousel Factory, and it is terrific. This turn of the century building is now home of the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum. A beautiful relic of a forgotten time that sits nestled in a residential portion of Tonawanda, NY. A small town along the banks of the Niagara River and about 10 miles south of the famous falls. It is the sort of place you would drive right by without a second thought were it not for the museum. When you tire of the neon and noise of Niagara Falls, give this wholesome and richly historic collection of merry-go-round antiquities a try. It is the perfect antidote to the Niagara Falls commercial tourism run amuck.

Prancing Carrousel Horse - Photo by Shawn M. Kent
Prancing Carrousel Horse - Photo by Shawn M. Kent

The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum

Pulling into the parking lot, the musical strains of a 1900s organ punctuated by a kick drum and cymbal crash greet you. Nostalgic recollections of county fairs overwhelm your senses, and for a moment, you can almost taste the sweet sugary syrup of cotton candy melting in your mouth.

A museum since 1893, the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is a delight for visitors young and old. After paying a small admission fee, you will enter a world of unbelievable detail and craftsmanship. The museum stands as a protest against the unrelenting march of time. A testament to when children’s fantasies could be brought to life through sweat, effort and ingenuity.

Herschell Carrousel Museum Workshop - Photo by Shawn M. Kent
Herschell Carrousel Museum Workshop - Photo by Shawn M. Kent

The Workshop

In the workshop, half-carved horses emerge from the workbenches, each more detailed than the next. Their eyes wild, hair blowing in the imagined breeze. The rich details of sinewy muscle and veins gradually emerging from wooden block to mythical creatures. Each frozen in furious flights of fancy — ready for their next rider to climb aboard.

Automated band machines are also on display, appearing as if an art piece of mashed together musical instruments. Upon closer inspection, however, the mishmash of drums, horns and pipes are intricately woven into an ingenious arrangement. Simple rolls of paper perforated in orderly rows direct the instruments that seem played by unseen spirits of the past.

Carousel Horse in Motion - Photo by Shawn M. Kent
Carousel Horse in Motion - Photo by Shawn M. Kent

The Merry Go Round

At the merry-go-round young visitors gleefully giggle atop the prancing horses, riding through the almost deafening cacophony of an automated Wurlitzer band organ. At the controls stands a volunteer. He is an older man, casually flipping a wooden ride token between his expert fingers. His eyes sparkle with the same hint of whimsy as his young rider. Time falls away, and for this moment, they are the same. Sharing the pure joy wrought by a sensory overload of light and sound as the wooden horses, zebras, and giraffes, bound aimlessly around and around.

This Carousel is called the “1916 #1 Special” and is in immaculate condition. You can easily find yourself lost in the ordered chaos that is the careful arrangement of rods, trusses and wheels that bring it to life. The historic carousel has 36 hand-carved horses and over 580 lights carefully arranged. It is ancient, it is genius, and it is lovely.

Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum Display Pieces - Photo by Shawn M. Kent
Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum Display - Photo by Shawn M. Kent

An Investment in the Future

The kindly volunteers sneak children extra wooden tokens when their parents aren’t watching, so they may take just one more ride on the merry-go-round. Each token buying just a few more minutes on the carousel and rooting deeper a precious memory in a young mind. For the museum and its staff, these tokens invest in the future, ensuring the protection and preservation of a remarkable piece of history.

Old Amusement Ride, Herschell Carousel Factory Museum - Photo by Dottie Mae
Old Amusement Ride, Herschell Carousel Factory Museum - Photo by Dottie Mae

Photographing the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum

Getting There

  • The museum is about half an hour south of Niagara Falls on the US side.
  • The route to the museum follows the Niagara River and is a pleasant drive.
  • Once you arrive, there is parking outside the museum.
  • Admission is $7.00 for adults and $3.50 for children.

Photographing the Museum

  • Cameras are allowed at the museum.
  • We recommend the offseason, around November. You will share the museum with few other guests.
  • Light can be challenging, but avoid using a flash. Rather be prepared to shoot at higher ISO or bring a tripod.
  • Lights illuminate the displays with a challenging combination of tungsten, fluorescents and window light. If you have a grey card, you should probably bring it to take a few test shots and get your colour balance right.
  • The volunteers are used to being photographed, but it is always polite to ask before snapping away.
  • There are other people’s children here. Some parents take exception to their kids being photographed. To avoid a dramatic incident, it’s probably a good idea to bring your own if you want kids in your pictures.
Herschell Carrousel Museum Horse Carving Closeup - Photo by Shawn M. Kent
Herschell Carrousel Museum Horse Carving Closeup - Photo by Shawn M. Kent

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