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Coney Island Carousel Carver

By Sady Sullivan

Posted on November 5, 2009

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.

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.


  • Sady

    Posted on June 3, 2013

    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

  • Nancy Illions

    Posted on June 2, 2013

    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. 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

  • Cheryl

    Posted on April 26, 2013

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

  • robert cataldo

    Posted on February 11, 2013

    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: [email protected] thanks!

  • Jessica Horwitz

    Posted on January 22, 2010

    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.

  • Sady

    Posted on January 5, 2010

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

  • Kay Becnel

    Posted on January 5, 2010

    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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