I have made mention of the Carousel of Happiness in a prior post in which the theme was art as therapy. The Carousel is an amazing real life example and since it is such an incredible and inspiring story, I thought it deserved its own post!
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Just to give you a broad overview, this story starts with a 19 year old marine stationed and serving in Vietnam, named Scott Harrison. Scott received a small music box in the mail sent to him by his sister. He often held the box to his ear and let the music comfort him during the atrocities of the war going on all around him. (The song was "Tristesse" by Chopin. If you are curious, you can listen here. ) He visualized "the peaceful image of a carousel in a mountain meadow" when listening to the music and it brought him great solace. Injured during combat, he lost his personal effects, including the beloved music box but he continued, even after he arrived back home, to visualize the music and the carousel for comfort. This is the spark that started a journey lasting almost 3 decades long, using art as therapy to hand carve (with no prior carving experience, by the way) over 50 animals which he installed in a carousel he rescued and restored. With the help of countless volunteers and fundraising efforts led by Scott, himself, he made a home for his masterpiece! There is a fantastic video and article here done by 9news from which I got some of my details such as the song the music box actually played and the fact that the box was sent to Scott by his sister.
THE HISTORY OF THE RESCUED CAROUSEL: This carousel was created by a guy named Charles I.D. Looff. He was a skilled and experienced wood carver in the 19th century and produced many parks during his lifetime. In the year 1910 he delivered a carousel to a town called Saltair Park right outside of Salt Lake City. It was the terminator of carousels, surviving both fires and windstorms during it's 49 year lifetime. In 1959, the park where it was housed declared bankruptcy and the carousel was moved to a state facility for the developmentally disabled, where it operated for another 27 years. In 1986 the state facility was sold to a buyer who only wanted the hand carved wooden animals but not the empty frame. Enter, Scott Hamilton. He rescued the carousel frame and spent the next 26 years hand carving the animals and restoring the carousel, piece by piece, bringing to life something he had visualized for many years. For more details on the Carousel, you can visit here.
THE TOWN OF NEDERLAND: This adorably quirky mountain town nestled 17 miles west of Boulder has a rich and unique history. Located in a valley created by a glacier thousands of years ago, the town was first inhabited by Native Americans, then by trappers in the 1800s. In the 1870's miners arrived and so began it's rich history as a mining town. Once the mining declined the town's population significantly decreased (to about 200) and it was mostly just a summer vacation getaway. In the 1960's the population saw an influx of hippies and a bustling music scene, which is still alive today. It is a charming, artsy, and eclectic little town (population as of 2010 about 1445) and filled with local flavor and 'town characters'. Just to give you a taste of what I mean, this town is home to one of the most unique festivals around called, Frozen Dead Guy Days. If you are curious, you can read up about it here. This will surely get it's own post someday. It's simply too twisted not to! This is where Scott Hamilton called home when he discovered the wooden carousel frame that he rescued. For more detailed history on the town of Nederland you will find the town's website here, where I got my facts.
THE CAROUSEL ITSELF: With the help of tireless volunteers, Scott raised 700,000 dollars to build a house for his magnificent creation. He had to take the carousel apart and bring it back to Nederland in pieces. The frame was in bad shape from age and weather so Scott replaced the wooden framework and sandblasted some of the metal parts, trying to restore it with as many of its original parts as possible. He slowly brought it back to life! The floor was built using wood procured from a Seagram's plant which was disassembled in the 1990s (the wood was originally being used as whisky barrels and is a yellow pine which was used on many of the original carousels), according to the carousel of happiness website. The carousel opened on Memorial Day of 2010. The first ride, fittingly, was a silent memorial for veterans.
SOME REALLY COOL FACTS AND FEATURES:
The Music: In the center of the carousel is is a "fully-restored 1913 Wurlitzer Model 25 Military Band Organ". It is encased in clear plastic to protect if from dirt but also to shield the sound a little. "The band organ uses compressed air generated by several bellows to play 101 instruments, directed by holes punched in a paper roll. Each paper roll contains 10 tunes and when it is finished it automatically rewinds to start again", According to the calendar I purchased in the gift shop.
The Twirling Girl: At the top center of the carousel you will see a 'twirling girl'. The inspiration was from a newspaper photo of a young girl visiting from Switzerland and dancing with great passion at a festival on Pearl Street in Boulder.
The History: Featured on the walls and all around the interior of the carousel are words of inspiration, facts about the history/creation of the carousel, and memorials to two soldiers (friends of Scott's who died in battle). Every Memorial day, Scott honors them and all veterans with a silent ride, a flag ceremony, and stories.
The Animals: For pictures of all the animals on the carousel you can click here. Historically carousels had only horses but this one contains such an interesting variety of whimsical characters, all carved with love. There are 56 animals (35 can be ridden). Scott got inspiration from children's songs, poems, and stories or by looking at pictures of animals for his unique carvings, according to an article by cbs news here. He began carving his first animal in 1986. He started the process before acquiring the carousel framework and stored the parts and animals in a barn.
The DETAILS: The cost for a carousel ride is 1 dollar (free for 9 months and younger) The big smile and infusion of happiness you feel, absolutely priceless! The carousel is open 7 days a week all year long, weather permitting. It is a non-profit organization relying on volunteers and donations with proceeds going to people with special needs. A lot of the information I got was from a calendar I purchased in the gift shop which is chock full of pictures and interesting tidbits about the carousel. You can check out the store here in case you would like to have a calendar or one of the other delightful keepsakes they have to offer!.
I am so incredibly touched and inspired by this story. What I love is that out of tragedy, one determined man gathered his community around him and created something beautiful which, in turn, has brought joy and smiles into so many people's lives! It is such a strong testament to the power of positivity, drive, passion and healing, It is a piece of art that really speaks to those who are lucky enough to behold it. I have yet to see someone leave without a smile! What a testament the healing power of the human spirit and one that makes me feel glad to be alive and witness to such beauty! I can show you all the pictures in the world but it can not really capture the feeling you get when you are there. If you happen to be in the area sometime, it really is worth the trip!!!
Hope you found this story inspiring!