Fête Paradiso

An early 20th century French carnival is recreated on Governors Island

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Just in time for Bastille Day, Fête Paradiso—the world’s first festival of vintage carousels and carnival rides—has landed in New York City for its US debut, offering visitors to Governors Island a time-traveling glimpse at the history of Parisian carnival culture. The archival display features six revolutionary rides from the turn of 20th century Europe, which is considered the “Golden Age of carousel art” due to the significant transition from using humans and animals to power the rides to ornately decorated, steam-powered operations that offered thrilling new speeds.


Fête Paradiso is made possible by two collectors, Regis Masclet and Francis Staub (the cookware designer)—the latter who had recently purchased the majority of the renowned Fabienne and François Marchal collection. Eschewing a museum exhibition showcasing the rides as artifacts, Masclet and Staub chose instead to organize a traveling festival to recreate the carnival experience. But these rare amusements aren’t just outdoor eye-candy—each attraction was meticulously reconstructed by a family of artisans from Rennes, France who specialize in high-quality carousel reparation.


One attraction particularly exemplary of this exciting time period is the bicycle carousel. Tristan Duval, the producer of Paris-based cultural events company Community, humorously notes, “This is the first CitiBike of New York.” Created in 1889 when horses were no longer allowed in the city of Paris, the bike carousel was an actual learning tool for teaching common people how to cycle (the wealthy had personal tutors) as a mode of transportation. This was the same year as the World’s Fair in Paris, as well as the same year they built the Eiffel Tower, which this bicycle carousel was stationed under during that time. “There are only two pieces like this in the world: one is at Musée des Arts Forains and now one is on Governors Island for your enjoyment,” Duval explains, adding, “Two in the world left, and this one is one that functions on a regular basis.”


To further reinforce the experience of a historical Parisian street fair, there will be sideshow performances and live period music, as well as games like the early 20th century Music Hall Ball Guzzler. Simply throw the ball into mouth of the life-size caricature of Charlie Chaplin, and other celebrities from that era, and win a free drink from Le Gamin—a familiar New York favorite and official Fête Paradiso food and drink vendor. French-born chef Christophe Breat will be serving classic French carnival fare near a bumper-car pavilion from 1900, which has been transformed into a beer and wine pavilion.


Experience how Parisians in the late 19th century entertained themselves. Admission to Fête Paradiso is free and the festival is open every weekend at Governors Island, from 13 July through 29 September 2013. Visit the website for more.

See more images of Fête Paradiso in the slideshow.

Images by Greg Stefano; additional reporting by Karen Day