Friday, September 12, 2008

Bull on the beach

After reading about a unique strength testing machine that once graced the midway at Erie Beach Amusement Park, took a trip yesterday to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.

There it was, standing out amid the fanciful, colorful horses, ostriches and frogs that bounced along merry-go-rounds at one point in their lives. A wooden bull. With a plug in its forehead.

This peculiar beast was designed by a Herschell carver in his spare time, a break from the usual painted ponies. As an amusement, it was a variant of the "ring the bell" type of game, where men would prove their strength by swinging a mallet over their head and strike the pivot hard enough to send an indicator up the pole and ring the bell atop it.

In this variant of the striking machine, men would swing a mallet (or fist?) at the plug. Hit it hard enough and the beast would buckle at the knees, similar to the way a cow would fall in a slaughterhouse.

It was acquired by the museum about 15 years ago from the employee's daughter.

"We have been told there is, or was, another one," said Chuck Proefrock, a volunteer at the museum. But they haven't been able to locate it yet.

There will be more about the bull in the Erie Beach book/DVD I am currently preparing.

The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is located at 180 Thompson St. in North Tonawanda, N.Y., about 10 minutes from any Canada-U.S. border crossing on the Niagara River. Well worth checking out if you have an interest in old amusement parks, especially good, old-fashioned merry-go-rounds. But the bull alone is worth the $5 admission price, plus you get a ride on the restored 1916 #1 Special carousel.