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.
Listen to Barney Illions’ full interview here
Thank you to Andy Hollenhorst for all his help researching and cataloging BHS’s Coney Island oral histories.