Captain's Cabin

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Myth Monday (on Sunday) - Dentzel Cats

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Click on the image to bigify. Image information can be found here.

My Bean has long been fascinated by carousels - especially the artwork that goes into the animals that grace them. Since I am hosing The Carnival of the Cats, it seemed natural for us to pull up some of those lovely animals to use in our header.

The Carousel Cat or Merry-Go-Round Cat is actually and properly called a Dentzel Cat, after the carousel manufacturer that first featured them on his carousels.

Gustav A. Dentzel left Germany for Philadelphia in 1860 at the age of 20. In his native Germany, he had carved carousels for his father and soon began doing the same in the United States. In 1867 Gustav Dentzel changed the nameplate of his cabinet making shop to G. A. Dentzel, Steam and Horsepower Carousel Builder. Dentzel continued making carousels, and made slight changes to his traditional designs.

Italian carver Salvatore "Cherni" Cernigliaro made a large contribution to the Dentzel designs after he was hired in 1903. He was responsible for introducing the series of menagerie animals such as the cat, pig, and rabbit. He first began his carousel carving career in the shops of E. Joy Morris, another notable carousel maker of the time.

After Gustav Dentzel's death in 1909, his son William took control of the company and headed it for twenty years until his death in 1928. The company was then sold at auction to a competitor, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Unfortunately, at the time, the family was not interested in continuing the Carousel Tradition.

After more than 150 years, the Dentzel Carousel Company is still owned and operated by the Dentzel family. Fifth generation carousel maker William H. Dentzel III has continued on in his father's, grandfather's, great and great-great grandfathers' traditions.

His company makes smaller "flying horses" machines today, along with the whole variety of Dentzel menagerie animals from horses to kangaroos.

One of the few Dentzel Carousels that is still fully functional can be found in Riverside, California at the Royal Castle Amusement Park. It is one of the oldest Dentzel Carousels still intact. It is nearly 100 years old and has 52 hand-carved Dentzel animals and two sleighs that are circa 1905. The animals include cats, ostriches, reindeer, lions, tigers, bears, pigs, and of course, horses. It is valued at over 1.5 million dollars and is enclosed in a million-dollar pavilion with glass windows in order to protect it from inclement weather and other elements that might damage it. Two large majestic lion statues stand guard at the entrance. This carousel was originally built for the Hershey Chocolate Company and the Hershey Amusement Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was moved to Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, California in the mid 1950s. Park owner Bud Hurlbut, who also owns the remaining carousel at Knotts Berry Farm, moved it to its present location at Castle Amusement Park in 1985.

Dentzel animals are among the most sought after of collection pieces. The Dentzel cat is best known for carrying something - usually a fish or squid - in it's mouth, but carvers today have given their cats any number of objects to carry.

Dentzel cats are almost always "jumpers" as well. There are two basic kind of carousel animals "jumpers" and "standers". Standers are the animals on the outside perimeter of the carousel that do not move up and down and just stand on the platform of the ride. Jumpers are found in the second and 3rd rows and are the animals that move up and down while the ride is in motion.

"Prancers", the 3rd king of carousel animals, are most often seen as horses or other hooved animals, such as deer, and may be seen in any of the rows. Some travel up and down, others are mounded on the platform.

Along with the Dentzel Cats, Salvatore Cernigliaro also brought the Dentzel Lions and the Dentzel Tigers to the world of carousels, both of these animals were almost always standers. Carl Muller, another carver for the original Dentzel carousels, actually introduced the lions, and his bore a great resemblance to the Gothic statuary of the 12th centry Germany. Cernigliaro were much more ornate than Muller's original carvings.

To find out more about the Dentzel cats, and Carousels in general, here are some places to visit online:

The National Carousel Association in San Francisco
Carousel Art a Flickr collection
Dentzel Solar Menagerie Carousels
The Glen Echo Park Dentzel Carousel


The Furry Fighter said...

thank you so much for this post, i love reading the stories behind things you wouldn't normally think about.

have fun with the Carnival, it is our bedtime in the UK now.

Love, Stormie xxx

Sammawow said...

This was a terrific post about the Dentzel Cats! I have always loved it when I have seen a carousel with cats on it but didn't know any of the history.

Quasi said...

Thanks for hosting the carnival and the Dentzel cats info. I’d like to tell you that I’ve written a scathingly funny book, The World Is Your Litter Box, which will be out in May. The book is cleverly disguised as a cute cat book so humans will buy it, but is, in fact, a how-to manual FOR cats. Check it out on my website,

meemsnyc said...

We love Carousels. There is a fantastic one in Central Park, we go every summer. Thanks for hosting the Carnival. Great job!

Jimmy Joe said...

Wow, that was very interesting history, Diamond! You did a great job researching.
Your buddy, Jimmy Joe

Mickey said...

Diamond, you always do the best myth posts!!!! That was most interesting.I am going to ckeck out the links :)
Purrs Mickey

~*Connie*~ said...

carousels and cats, two of my favorite things! :) I actually met my husband on a carousel.