Flying Horses trotting toward restoration

The historic carousel will continue entertaining guests with an old look. 


The Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, the nation’s oldest platform carousel, is receiving restoration work to prepare for the next cavalry of summer riders it serves.

According to the Vineyard Preservation Trust, which owns the Flying Horses, the carousel was constructed by Charles Dare of New York Carousel Manufacturing in 1876, and originally operated on Coney Island in New York. The Flying Horses galloped over to Oak Bluffs in 1884, and the ride has entertained Vineyarders and tourists alike every summer season, although it did close to the public in 2020 because of COVID. The Flying Horses entered the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 1979 under the ownership of Robert and Mary Lucas. The trust acquired the carousel in 1986 “to prevent it from being dismantled and sold piecemeal to collectors of antique carved horses,” and restored it to “its original appearance.” One year later, the historic carousel was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, another program run by the National Park Service. 

The trust held a fundraising campaign over the summer to fund the restoration and repairs to the carousel, and its building’s exterior and interior. They also received funding from the Oak Bluffs Community Preservation committee to fund the project. 

“When we put it back together, it’s going to be pretty spectacular,” Nevette Previd, executive director of the trust, said. “It’s a project we’ve been wanting to do for a while.”

A team of Islanders was hired by the trust to undertake the restoration, led by John Anderson of John C. Anderson Painters and Restorers. When The Times met with some of the crew in Oak Bluffs, Mary Ellen Casey from MV Color and Finish and Maria Pferreira from Anderson Painters and Restorers were preparing the wooden horses to be restored. Casey said although the horses receive an annual “touchup,” two were chosen to be restored to their former glory: Moshup and King Coronet. 

“These guys are going to be our main projects,” Casey said. “The kids would love it, just bright colors all over again.” 

Anderson has worked with the trust since 1980, painting its various historic buildings, including Old Whaling Church and Vincent House. He got involved with the Flying Horses when the trust acquired the carousel. “They were gonna be sold off for individual pieces, and the preservation of Island history sort of became very prevalent, to save the horses so they would stay here,” Anderson said. 

The horses were sent to a North Carolina conservator for restoration after the acquisition. The team is using photographs from this process to restore the horses. 

“This is only the second time since the 1800s the horses have been moved from the carousel platform,” he said. 

“During the summer, there’s a huge number of people riding this carousel, like 200,000 people, and they don’t understand what they’re sitting on,” Anderson said. “A carousel is meant to have enjoyment and fun for children and adults for all ages, and again, the people that come to ride the horses don’t understand … it’s a functioning museum.”

The heavy ridership led to annual repairs of varying severity, particularly the legs. The horses also get worn from sunlight and salty wind. 

“They’re very fragile, so I’ve become a sort of wooden veterinarian over all these years of repairing these horses,” Anderson said. However, serious damage needs to be looked at by Myles Thurlow, owner of Thurlow Rigging. 

Thurlow has worked with Anderson for six years now, and this year saw more damage to the horses than usual, including broken-off legs and a snapped ear. 

“It’s a delicate process of peeling it back, because you don’t want to take more back than you have to. We’re trying to preserve as much of the original horse as possible,” Thurlow said, pointing to how shipwright Andy Lyon was repairing Teena’s wooden hind leg. 

“[I’m] making horses shipshape,” Lyon said. “I’m the triage, and Myles is the surgeon.” 

While the horses will be restored, Thurlow said, the platform will need to be rebuilt with the same material, method, and style as it when it was originally constructed because of the toll it has taken. Lyon said the platform was made with white pine, and the horses were made with bast wood. 

Working on the 146-year-old Flying Horses brings a sense of pride and nostalgia for those involved in the process. Casey felt “completely honored” to take part in the restoration. 

“Preserving this history is amazing, because it is such a cherished memory for so many people, so I want to do it justice,” Casey said. 

Anderson said he plans to work on the carousel for as long as he can, which “could be forever.” 

“It’s been very interesting, working here all these years,” Anderson said. “Learning and working on history has been very rewarding.”

People who have ridden the Flying Horses hold “incredible memories,” such as grabbing the brass rings while riding the carousel. 

“What I love so much about the Flying Horses is that people are deeply connected to it. We’re talking about people of all ages,” Previd said. “It’s a really important property to us, but it’s an important property to the Island.”


  1. What a wonderful fascinating article, and nicely written. The whole ship care and carousel restoration connection is wonderful. Would love to read more about that.

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