The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) welcomes more than 250,000 visitors every year for a unique experience jam-packed with a variety of cultural attractions.

The Spillman Carousel within GRPM has been running in the Cook Carousel Pavilion for more than 24 years, and has been provided millions of museum visitors with fun rides and a breathtaking view of the Grand River and Grand Rapids skyline.

The Spillman Carousel’s roots date back to 1928, so let’s take a journey through time to get better acquainted with one of Grand Rapids’ most authentic experiences:

Fact: The Spillman Carousel is one of three special park carousels to have been produced by the Spillman Engineering Co.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids

1.) It was made in New York

The Spillman Carousel was manufactured by the Spillman Engineering Company in North Tonawanda, New York, in 1928, and it is incredibly rare.

The carousel is one of three special park carousels to have been produced by the Spillman Engineering Co.

The carousel operated in Lakewood Park in Barnesville, Pennsylvania, from 1928 until 1981 when it was purchased for the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

The Spillman Carousel is sure to provide family-friendly entertainment for riders of all ages.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids

2.) It wasn’t the first choice

In the late 1970’s, Grand Rapids city officials began planning for the construction of a new museum which would include an operational carousel.

The carousel search committee, formed in 1979, first selected the carousel in Ramona Park in East Grand Rapids. But, the committee eventually learned that it had been dismantled and sold off when the park closed in 1954.

Then, the Spillman Carousel was discovered through a nationwide search in the spring of 1981. Museum officials traveled to Pennsylvania to visit with Frank Guinan, the carousel’s owner at the time, and agreed that it was the perfect fit for Grand Rapids.

3.) A community campaign brought it to Grand Rapids

In 1981, the museum’s president W.D. Frankforter, announced that the museum would be buying the carousel, and a community-wide campaign was started to raise funds for the purchase.

The goal: raise $175,000 by 1982.

Late Grand Rapids philanthropists Peter and Pat Cook led the efforts, and also funded the creation of the glass and cast stone pavilion where the carousel currently resides.

The carousel debuted in 1994, more than a decade after it was purchased, when the museum opened to the public under the name: Van Andel Museum Center.

Fact: The Spillman Carousel consists of 44 hand-carved wooden horses.

Photo Credit: Mod Bettie

4.) There are 44 horses to ride, plus a whale…sometimes

The Spillman Carousel consists of 44 hand-carved wooden horses elaborately decorated with jewels.

Carousel restorers John and Linda Layton of New Castle, Pennsylvania, spent approximately 300 hours on each animal to restore them all to their original color and design using enameled acrylic paints for durability and longevity.

Uniquely, horses are not the only animals that can be ridden on the carousel. Guests can also ride on one of the seven menagerie animals, which include a giraffe, deer, goat, tiger, camel, and, occasionally, a whale. The whale was created by GRPM staff to mimic the giant whale skeleton that hangs from the ceiling of the museum.

“The idea was that by having an extra animal, we could swap out a horse in need of repair with the whale so there wouldn’t be an empty spot,” says Alex Forist, GRPM Collections Curator.

5.) The carousel’s music is played by a 1928 Wurlitzer band organ

The music of a 1928 Wurlitzer band organ offers an authentic touch while rider’s smiles grow and legs dangle from carousel horses.

The 3,000-pound organ consists of two large spools lined with heavy paper punched with holes that tell the organ which notes to play. As one spool of music finishes and begins to rewind, the second spool begins rotating to create a continuous loop of music during each ride.

6.) 1,200 light bulbs light up the carousel canopy

Guests will never have trouble seeing their surroundings while enjoying a ride on the Spillman Carousel. The carousel currently includes 1,200 individual light bulbs to light the way for the magical horses and other creatures.

All of the lights on the carousel were replaced in 2017 with energy efficient LED bulbs.

“That’s one of the things that the museum has done to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious, but also to considerably lower the operating cost of the carousel,” says Forist.

The Spillman Carousel offers affordable family fun all year round.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids

7.) It costs only $1 to ride, open all-year round

Not to mention, riding the Spillman Carousel is one of the most wallet-friendly attractions in downtown Grand Rapids. Rides on the carousel only cost $1 after purchasing a general admission ticket, and the carousel can be ridden all year long.

Fun fact: the $1 tickets are taken by a GRPM staff member using the original ticket booth that came with the carousel.

The carousel can also be ridden for free when the museum is rented for private events, such as weddings.

Conveniently, a general admission ticket to the museum is included in Experience Grand Rapids’ Culture Pass GR. After taking a ride on the Spillman Carousel, be sure to check out the more than 15 attractions that are included with the purchase of a Culture Pass GR.

Have you ridden the Spillman Carousel? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below!

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