An old spin in a new shop — carousel animals

August 20, 2018

One of the new businesses in Santa Fe features a sleek white horse that first dazzled riders in 1906.

It just sold for $12,000. That’s a lot of hay.

Such is the power of Americana.

It’s helping in the rebirth of a quiet city block, where Mary Kirst and Jeff Thibodeaux have turned a vacant building into an antique store called Flea Circus.

Kirst has filled much of their shop at 513 Camino de los Marquez with animals that used to be part of the musical merry-go-rounds that long captivated children.

She has a seahorse to go along with regal equines. A rabbit from France, a stag from Germany and a menacing alligator also are members of the menagerie now on the market.

A lion is the oldest of Kirst’s lot, having been created in the late 1800s. She is more guarded about other details. For instance, Kirst won’t reveal the most she’s ever paid for a carousel animal.

As for the 112-year-old horse that just sold, it once glided inside the Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas, Nev. Its beginnings, though, were in the East.

Workers at the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. handcrafted the horse from wood. Philadelphia Toboggan is known best as a maker of trains for roller coasters. In another era, its staff produced wooden animals for some of the 2,000 carousels that operated across the country.

Then came the Great Depression. Makers of parts for merry-go-rounds faded.

As the years rolled by, diversions increased and tastes changed. All of this caused many carousels to shutter or fall into disrepair.

Matched sets of animals splintered. Some actually became splinters, too rickety or weather-beaten to be saved. Solid specimens were sold, many never to ride again.

For a time, acquiring these relics was beyond the reach of individual collectors, Kirst said. Prices dropped when corporate acquisitions of carousel parts waned about 30 years ago.

This enabled Kirst to buy a few dozen of the antique animals. Now they are a calling card for the store that she and Thibodeaux officially opened Friday.

Any emotional attachments to the beasts are behind her.

“It’s time to go,” Kirst said of the collection. “I don’t want so much stuff.”

Kirst, whose formal education is in illustration, was drawn to animals from carousels for a number of reasons. One is their stylishness.

The ability to turn wood into a fine product was part of her family history.

“My dad built Model A Woody Wagons,” she said.

Distinctive because of their wooden doors and side panels, these vehicles were produced by the Ford Motor Co. in the 1920s and ’30s.

The business that Kirst and Thibodeaux started is part of a new look for the neighborhood. They took over an empty building that once housed a gym.

Café Mimosa, which opened last spring, is just around the corner. Other antique stores are in the vicinity. Coronado Center, on heavily trafficked Cordova Road, is a couple of blocks away.

Location could provide an edge for the store. The human condition is another plus. Something old and interesting still has the possibility of getting us to put down the smartphone so we can reach for a credit card.

Flea Circus has a wide inventory of other antiques. One notable item is an oversized barber’s pole from the 1930s.

Besides animals from carousels, rocking horses abound. There’s also a coin-operated horse, the kind you might have seen in a supermarket 50 years ago.

This horse has something to commend it besides nostalgia.

“It works,” Kirst said.

By definition, antique stores are a window to history. This one is a reminder that times were never easy, but the world didn’t always spin so fast.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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