This season marks the 140th for the Flying Horses, the oldest operating carousel in the country, and a major attraction in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. The carousel has a special feature that has mesmerized generations of riders: a ring-dispensing arm. As riders go around, they reach out their hands in the hope of catching the legendary "brass ring" and thereby winning a free ride.
That's the game that tourists play. Locals and carousel workers play a different game. Their game, the so-called "ring-catching" game, is not about catching the one brass ring, but about grabbing as many steel rings from the ring arm in a single go – a few seconds a most. Islanders love to argue about who's the all-time champion. So I went looking for this elusive figure.
He wasn't too hard to find. His name is Jared Meader, he's 40 years old, and he's worked at the carousel on-and-off for 28 years. His mother, Robin, is the ride's long-time manager. Jared says that a quarter century ago, when he was a teenager working at the carousel, he once, and only once, snagged nine rings – a truly incredible number, since five is considered a strong score.
It's entirely possible that somebody, at some point, has caught more rings than Jared. But I couldn't find any evidence of it. That being said, in the absence of written records, it seems likely that islanders will continue to catch rings and spar over ring counts for many, many years to come.