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The Arkansas Carousel, An American Treasure

The Little Rock Zoo is the proud home of the Arkansas Carousel, Over-the-Jumps, a one-of-a-kind antique carousel that is the only fully operational carousel of its kind in the world.

The Over-the-Jumps Carousel was constructed as a traveling carousel by the Spillman Engineering Company of North Tonawanda, New York, during the heyday of carousels in the United States (1887-1935).  It first appeared in Arkansas at the 1924 Arkansas State Fair held at State Fair Park, now known as War Memorial Park.

It is the last known “over the jumps” carousel known to exist with an undulating track, one of only four built in the world.  The undulating track moves up and down with the horses attached to the track.  Standard carousels feature horses attached to poles that move up and down to create motion.

Little Rock resident, Tom Fuzzell, purchased the carousel in 1942, saving it from destruction and allowing several more generations of Arkansans to enjoy it at War Memorial Amusement Park.

The carousel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.  Owners Mokey Choate and Doc O’Kelley decided to sell the carousel in 1991, putting its future in Arkansas in peril.  Under the leadership of then State Senator Mike Kinard, Governor Bill Clinton, and other visionary leaders, Friends of the Carousel was formed to raise the funds necessary to purchase and fully restore the beloved carousel.

After 16 years of hard work, the Friends of the Carousel donated the Over-the-Jumps carousel to the Little Rock Zoo in October of 2007 making the Zoo the permanent home of the carousel.

The Zoo engaged expert historic restorer, Becky Witsell, to help restore the carousel. On some horses and chariots, more than 30 layers of paint were removed , layer-by-layer, to reveal the original color coat of paint on each piece.  Wood pieces were pieced back together and hand- crafted to bring the carousel back to its original glory. Apprentices of Becky’s still work today to maintain the carousel horses and chariots.

In 2020 the National Carousel Association awarded The Arkansas Carousel with the prestigious Historic Award – a national award recognizing a carousel for its historic significance. Thanks to the hard work of the Friends of the Carousel, the generosity of the community and dozens of contributors, the carousel spins again.

Fundraising efforts for the carousel continue, as the carousel requires regular upkeep and maintenance to maintain its beautiful splendor.  You can help preserve this historic treasure by making a donation to the Arkansas Zoological Foundation toward the Over-the-Jumps Carousel. Or Celebrate someone special with a memorial brick, bench, or tree. Support the Carousel

For more information, visit Over-the-Jumps Carousel Centennial Celebration | Little Rock Zoo

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