6th Grade Assessment – Unit 4 – RI.6.1, RI.6.3, RI.6.4, RI.6.5, RI.6.6
Directions: Read this article. Then answer questions 1 through 6.
Ring of Horses
by Cindy Seiffert
You hand the man your ticket. The round platform rocks slightly as you step onto it. Spying
your favorite mighty steed, you rush toward it, weaving your way past the other horses. As you
scramble into the sky-blue saddle, the bouncy cadence of the organ makes you smile. You hold
on tightly to the shiny gold pole in front of you as your horse begins
5 to move up and down, round and round. The world whirls around you, the horse
galloping through it. What a wonderful ride!
You’ve probably ridden a carousel at least once, maybe many times. Did you ever wonder
who decided to make pretend horses spin in a circle with people riding them?
The origins of the carousel can be traced all the way back to games played on
10 horseback by Arabian and Turkish men in the 1100s. In one game riders played catch with clay
balls filled with scented oil or water. In another the men held a lance while riding and tried to
run it through a small ring dangling by ribbons from a tree or pole. If a rider was successful,
the ribbons would pull off the tree and stream behind the ring on his lance like a waving
15 Hundreds of years later, Italian and Spanish travelers observed these games and brought
them to Europe. The contests were called garosello by the Italians and carosella by the
Spanish. Both words mean “little war.” The English word carousel comes from those words.
The first carousel-like contraption was created in France and was designed to help
20 men practice for their “little war” games. It didn’t look as fancy as the carousels you see
today, but the structure was similar. The umbrella-like construction had a wooden pole with
spokes radiating from the top. Chains hanging from the spokes held carved wooden horses.
Men, real horses, or mules turned the center pole while riders practiced putting their lances
through a brass ring hanging to one side.
25 In the late 1700s carousels like the ones we know today began to appear throughout
Europe. Rather than being used for training, these were enjoyed for the sheer thrill of the
ride. In the beginning the carousel was ridden mostly by grownups, not children. Light and
small, these first carousels were designed to be easily spun by man or mule. Gustav Dentzel
began building the first carousels in America in the 1860s. Powered by
30 steam engines, these carousels moved faster and held more weight than the old model,
allowing for a more lavishly decorated machine. Dentzel’s company is famous for having
carved and painted a variety of animals for his carousels, including cats, lions, ostriches,
pigs, rabbits, and even a kangaroo! For those who could not or did not want to straddle a
horse or other animal, he created handsome chariots.
35 Remember the game of tilting a lance through a brass ring? The early carousel designers
had this game in mind when they hung brass rings on a wooden arm next to many of their
carousels. As the carousel turned, riders would try to grab the ring; if they succeeded, they
won a free ride. Today you’d be lucky to find a carousel with a brass ring arm—only a
handful in the United States still feature them.
40 Carousels were so popular that nearly 4,000 were built from 1860 to 1930. But when hard
times came upon America during the Great Depression in the 1930s, few people had money to
spend on extras. Many carousels stopped being used and fell into disrepair, and no one could
afford to fix them. Some were even taken apart and put into storage.
These beautiful machines had nearly disappeared when, in the 1970s, people began to
45 realize the importance of keeping the magic of the carousel alive for future generations.
Enthusiasts formed the National Carousel Association and the American Carousel Society to
raise money, restore, and preserve wooden carousels. Thanks to their efforts, today about 150
antique carousels are back in service.