Coney Island Carousel Carver

Image courtesy of the National Carousel Association

Image courtesy of the National Carousel Association

M.C. Illions (1872 – 1949) was one of the world’s greatest carousel carvers.  His beautifully painted horses with gold-leaf manes became a signature of Coney Island Style.

Marcus Charles Illions was born in Vilnius, Lithuania and he came to Coney Island in 1888 with the British animal showman Frank C. Bostock.  He worked with famed carousel carver Charles Looff until opening his own shop in 1909: M.C. Illions and Sons Carousell Works on Ocean Parkway and Neptune Avenue in Coney Island (across the street from where Lincoln High School now stands: 2789 Ocean Parkway).

In 1988, BHS interviewed one of M.C. Illions’ sons: Bernard Joseph “Barney” Illions (1901-1988).  In this interview Barney Illions remembers when Dreamland amusement park burned down and many of Bostock’s animals perished.  He describes how his father started working with Charles Looff and the influence M.C. had on other master carvers of the time like W.F. Mangels, Carmel, Stein & Goldstein.  Barney describes in wonderful and loving detail the process of creating beautiful carousel horses.  Many of Illions’ horses are now sought after collectors items.

For more about the carousels of Coney Island check out the Flying Horses Catalog and Painted Ponies.

Listen to Barney Illions’ full interview here

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Thank you to Andy Hollenhorst for all his help researching and cataloging BHS’s Coney Island oral histories.

Mangels-Illions Carousel courtest of liangjinjiang on Flickr

Mangels-Illions Carousel courtest of liangjinjiang on Flickr

Sady Sullivan

About Sady Sullivan

Sady Sullivan is Director of Oral History at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
This entry was posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Oral History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Coney Island Carousel Carver

  1. Sady Sullivan Sady says:

    Thank you, Nancy. I’m so glad you enjoyed hearing this oral history interview with your relative – that is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. It’s a pleasure to digitize interviews (from cassette tape) and share info about them online so that more people can discover these great oral oral history collections.

    Sady
    BHS Director of Oral History

  2. I am an Illions, & while attending an event that had many artists featuring their art, in a deed discussion on various types of art, I shared my passions & appreciation for art & artists & in my family, I have a relative who’s known as one of the world famous most famous carousel horse carver. I unfortunately never had the honor to meet M.C., for I hadn’t been born yet, when he passed, I get to know & spend quite a bit of time with my cousin, Barney, & the honor & privilege to even have art lessons from him. My family was able 2 spend many occasions with he & his wife, Betty. I was born & raised in Orange County, California, & Barney & Betty lived approx 20 min. away…in looking up websites to share with the artist i was talking with who was a sculpturer himself, I came across this fabulous website!
    & wanted to thank all who helped put this together!!!
    Thanks!!!
    Nancy Illions

  3. I am an Illions, & while attending an event that had many artists featuring their art, in a deed discussion on various types of art, I shared my passions & appreciation for art & artists & in my family, I have a relative who’s known as one of the world famous most famous carousel horse carver. I unfortunately never had the honor to meet M.C., for I hadn’t been born yet, when he passed, I get to know & spend quite a bit of time with my cousin, Barney, & the honor & privilege to even have art lessons from him. My family spent many occasions with he & his wife, Betty. I was born & raised in Orange County, California, & Barney & Betty lived approx 20 min. away

  4. Cheryl says:

    My friends family are the Illions. Her mother is an Illion. They are from Brooklyn now in Florida.

  5. robert cataldo says:

    Thanks for posting the interview. I am doing research on carousel makers and would love to see the children’s book you are talking about Jessica. email: robert.cataldo@gmail.com
    thanks!

  6. Hi Sady, does your blog ever do book reviews? We have a new children’s book about the Coney Island carousel makers. Would you like a review copy? Please email me your contact info.
    Thanks! Great looking blog.

  7. Judy says:

    I have been buying and selling Coney Island Postcards for awhile. Interesting blog. Do not have any of a merry go round.
    Judy

  8. Sady Sullivan Sady says:

    Please do send a photo. Out of curiosity, where do you keep your horse?

  9. Kay Becnel says:

    I have just had my carousel appraised by Ken Weaver and he said my horse looks to be a Illions’. It is a second row jumper with real horse hair tail. If you would like a picture sent to you for your history keeping, I would be happy to do so.

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