Entrance at State and Water Streets
New York City
My first sighting of the Seaglass Carousel was an unexpected one. My mom and I had plans to eat oysters at famed classic cocktail bar The Dead Rabbit, but we quickly changed our minds. Unable to find a spot to sit after sifting through the crowd (it was silly of us to try during happy hour, really) we continued onward to Pier A Harbor House in Battery Park.
After dinner, we decided to ride the Staten Island Ferry since it was so close. Not only was the night clear and cool, the vendors, Statue of Liberty crowds, and sightseer wranglers had clocked out hours prior. Only a few locals were out walking their dogs.
Just before my mom and I reached the slip to board the ferry, we found ourselves staring at a giant glass seashell -- the Seaglass Carousel.
According to The Battery Conservancy’s webpage, the non-profit was looking for creative ways to bring more light into the southern end of the park during nighttime hours so, “The design team came up with the idea of an aquatic carousel to conjure The Battery’s history as the first home of the New York Aquarium.”
Indeed, the carousel glowed and soothed like a nightlight. I wanted to ride it immediately but, dammit, it was closed for repairs. That was mid-November 2015.
It wasn’t until August 2016 that my mom and I once again found ourselves in Battery Park. And once again, the carousel unexpectedly caught our attention. This time we were headed to Governor’s Island, but we immediately remembered our disappointment at not being able to ride the carousel previously, so we didn’t hesitate to buy tickets.
The fact that the line for the carousel was short was a thrill in itself; it must have been a fluke, tucked as it is between infinitely busier boarding areas for the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island ferries. As I waited, I couldn’t believe how surreal this carousel was.
Four turntables accommodate 30 huge tropical fish. Think of four records spinning on a main turntable of a record player. This allows for a more complicated pattern than a traditional merry-go-round. It’s like watching fish loll around in a giant aquarium. The fiberglass fish have extravagantly large fins; their wavy shapes evoke a coursing current. At night, the water-like effect is even more pronounced with overhead lighting. Riders sit in the fish rather than straddle them like traditional carousel horses. It’s easy to recline slightly because of the curved support. At night, the fish glow with LED lights.
I sat encircled in a large, pink fish. Focus on the shape of the seats alone and you’ll see bubbles. Pierre Cardin would be at home here for a fashion photoshoot. There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, though: why exactly did this carousel feel so different than any other I had ever ridden? Sure, there were fish instead of horses, and they spun in addition to going round and round, but there was something else.
Then I noticed -- because there are no instruments and no central column needed to hide them, there is so much more room in the middle of the platform. In fact, there are no mechanics to get a peek at anywhere, not even greasy bars above passengers’ heads to crank the fish up and down. All of the machinery is underneath and out of sight except for a single pole supporting each fish. As a result, it’s easy to enjoy an unobstructed view from inside the “aquarium.”
Purists may poo-poo the lack of real instruments. Here, music plays over speakers; old jazzy standards played while I was there, but I’m not sure that’s always the case.
Riders gasped, awestruck, when the ride began. All of the fish ascended simultaneously. I hadn’t anticipated this feeling despite watching the ride while waiting in line. We began to spin and twirl to Doris Day’s rendition of Dream A Little Dream and fish flowed around me from every zig-zag direction. I had a hard time finding my mom during the ride -- it was as though each fish didn’t cross the same path twice. It’s spectacular.
Riders twirl and bob and it’s a marvel. It’s hypnotic rather than chaotic; a dreamy wonder. Were we going up higher than a typical carousel horse goes? If you let your imagination get the better of you, it just might feel like you’ve been plopped into a real tropical aquarium.
It’s too exciting to take photos during the entire ride, which seemed like a generous amount of time. The Seaglass Carousel evokes nostalgia as much as any of the old carousels.
I almost bought another ticket immediately after my ride, but the ferry to Governor’s Island was departing soon. Not only did I keep my ticket stub (it’s a pretty little thing), I’m holding on to the anticipation of riding again next time I visit the city.