The weather forecast called for heavy rain during my visit to the Battery’s new SeaGlass carousel. If this had been a conventional carousel, I’d have rescheduled my outing.
But SeaGlass features not horses but fish—30 luminescent angelfish, lionfish, Siamese fighting fish and a wrasse or two; some more than 9 feet wide and 13 feet high.
I would think a little rain, even a downpour, would contribute to the atmosphere. These creatures of the deep would be totally within their element. I was going no matter what. And as it turned out, the sky was only overcast.
Also, I had a secondary agenda. I was hoping to persuade the conservancy’s president and founder, Warrie Price, that the Battery should start selling miniature models of the carousel, with its distinctive nautilus shell design.
If the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty rate tiny cast-iron models, why not the already popular SeaGlass? Just a week before my visit, the Battery Conservancy had rung the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate nearly 60,000 visitors in the carousel’s first month. It opened Aug. 20.
‘We’re in an underwater world… You actually feel like a fish.’
A miniature would certainly occupy pride of place on my mantelpiece alongside my World Trade Center, Eiffel Tower and Roman Coliseum.
But obviously, none of that would matter if the ride wasn’t up to expectations. SeaGlass, conceived by WXY Architecture + Urban Design, is a major architectural and creative accomplishment. A decade in the making, it’s intended as a destination reminiscent of the first New York Aquarium on the Battery, closed in 1941 by Parks CommissionerRobert Moses.
“When Moses tore down the aquarium he tore the heart and soul out of the Battery,” Ms. Price contended. “In that act he basically affected our history almost to today. We were passed-through parkland, not a destination.”
Ms. Price and her partners have more than rectified Mr. Moses’ mistake. The Battery Conservancy’s master plan is now 90% complete and includes world-class perennial gardens.
But just because something is beautiful—and I’m willing to stipulate that SeaGlass, with fish designed by George Tsypin Opera Factory, may be one of the most beautiful carousels around—doesn’t necessarily mean it provides the centrifugal thrills of a traditional carousel.
You know—the kind you break away from your parents to claim the biggest, best, most brightly colored steed on the outside of the circle before some other little kid does.
“We’re in an underwater world,” several children who had just taken the ride told me. “It’s much better. It’s very relaxing. You actually feel like a fish. We want free tickets.”
Tickets cost $5.
However, I would remain unconvinced until I got the fish of my choice and buckled up. “Relaxing” isn’t a word I typically equate with the carousel experience, nor would I want to.
Besides, why no brass ring? “How would you do that?” Ms. Price asked gently. “There’s so much motion.”
Rather than a typical carousel’s one turntable, SeaGlass has four turntables, rotating from 120 degrees to 360 degrees. Of the 30 fiberglass fish, 18 move up and down.
Then add SeaGlass’s classical music soundtrack, rather than the typical calliope. “We were never doing that,” Ms. Price stated flatly of a calliope. “Through the music you have a sense of descent, exploration at the bottom of the ocean, and ascent.”
Finally, there’s the light show, with the fish changing colors before your eyes. The experience is immersive, more akin to snorkeling or, better yet, scuba diving than galloping across the Old West a la the Lone Ranger.
(Hint to those who want the best of SeaGlass and an old-time carousel: The smaller fish have the greatest up-and-down motion, with the wrasse on the outside offering the best visibility.)
But about those tiny models? “We’ve got to do it!” Ms. Price said, hardly sounding as if she were humoring me. “I want it in fiberglass.”
I suppose that makes more sense than cast iron. Indeed, Ms. Price was wearing a beautiful translucent angelfish pendant, with a porthole in the middle, just like the ones on the carousel.
It could double as the perfect Christmas tree ornament.
“We’re going to do that, too,” Ms. Price promised.