Trimper's carousel has gone around on the Ocean City boardwalk for over a century.
Ocean City’s boardwalk is a busy, boisterous place. The scent of French fries and caramel corn lingers in the air. There are street musicians, and buskers who try to entice tourists to get a caricature drawn. Music pulses from arcades and t-shirt shops.
It’s a portrait of summer leisure that was just starting to emerge in 1890, when a vacationer named Daniel Trimper arrived in Ocean City. At the time, the resort was a much quieter place.
“All there was, was one or two hotels in town. There was no electricity,” says author Monica Thrash, who just wrote a new book about Trimper and his family’s role in shaping Ocean City. “But he saw something in this town, some potential there.”
Trimper, an entrepreneur who owned a tobacco company and saloons in Baltimore, bought a hotel in Ocean City and slowly purchased property on either side of it. That property gradually emerged to become an entertainment complex centered around a carousel, an attraction that’s still in use today.
“The carousel itself has gone through a restoration after many, many years of use and is kept up piece by piece today by the same artist who [restored it],” says Thrash, a longtime employee at Trimper’s Rides. “She will take a horse or a single animal out during the season and perk it up to try to keep the whole carousel looking good all the time.”
An archival photograph of Trimper's Amusement Park. (Trimper's)
The carousel isn’t the only part of the Trimper empire that’s been restored and refurbished over the years. Thrash says Trimper and other early business owners in Ocean City saw their properties repeatedly hammered by storms that swept up the coast.
“There was next to no distance between the early boardwalk and the ocean,” she says. “Any type of storm of any size would blow down the hotels along the front, and they would have to rebuild. One of the things I found that I admired most about Mr. Trimper was the tenacity, not giving up on Ocean City at all.”
Today, visiting Trimper’s is like taking a trip back through time. Besides the carousel, there are several vintage rides for small children, including the “fairy whip” and a kiddie-sized ferris wheel. Many families have memories of these rides that go back generations.
“We don’t have the space to put some of the big exciting rides that you have at a Six Flags or Disney or something like that,” says Thrash.
“But what we do have is…that real tangible sense of nostalgia, personal nostalgia. It’s all part of American history and I think that’s something also special in a town like Ocean City. Our modern lives are getting more global, [and] it’s kind of nice to have this little slice of small-town America.”