This ferocious creature was one of a trio of rearing lions that originally pulled a chariot atop the entrance pavilion to the giant El Dorado Carousel at Coney Island. Germany’s leading amusement-ride manufacturer, Hugo Haase of Leipzig, built the spectacular carousel in 1902 for Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany and king of Prussia. In 1910 it was imported by Coney Island empresario George Tilyou and installed near the Dreamland amusement park, at West Fifth Street and Surf Avenue. Though only one of several independent carousels at Coney Island, the El Dorado was, according to carousel expert Frederick Fried, “the most ornate, most publicized, and one of the largest” in America.
The elaborate entrance was decorated with life-size statues, all made of formed sheet zinc and painted in bright colors; women in diaphanous gowns played musical instruments or danced through the clouds while St. George slew his dragon atop the end niches. The chariot, the largest and most elaborate figural group, surmounted the central entrance. Research has determined that the Museum’s lion may have originally been painted a gold color with bronze metallic paint. Only its head and front paws have survived through the years.
The carousel and its entrance pavilion were relocated several times and eventually separated. The latter was dismantled in 1964. The carousel is still in use at the Toshimaen Amusement Park in Tokyo.