What is it about carousels that represent a certain innocence and joy? Is it that special oom-pah-pah music? The bright colors and mirrors? The way the horses glide up and down in perfect harmony?
I hadn’t been on a carousel since I was probably ten, but I’d been looking for an excuse to go to Jane’s Carousel at the Brooklyn Bridge Park since it opened in 2011. It’s not far from my apartment, but it feels easier to overlook things when they’re right in your backyard, so to speak. So, on the first balmy day of spring, I went to the neighborhood New Yorkers call DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass—we love our acronyms, you know.) The area is undergoing the last phase of a massive renovation to turn it from an derelict warehouse district into a multi-use municipal park. With views like this, it’s about time.
Jane’s Carousel was the vision of Jane Walentas. In 1984, the city’s decision to revitalize waterfront area was just the inspiration she needed. She found an abandoned carousel from an amusement park in Youngstown, Ohio, being sold at auction. She had to bid for each horse separately—a grand total of $385,000 for the entire carousel! Her plan was restore the horses to their former glory.
Jane began restoration at her studio in Brooklyn. First, she had to scrape away 62 years of paint by hand with an X-acto knife. This delicate work revealed the original 1922 color palette and elegant wood carvings, but unfortunately Jane wasn’t able to save the original paint. It was just too damaged. The horses were then sanded and repainted by hand, keeping to the original colors. Missing embellishments such as faceted jewels and mirrors on the bridles were replaced. Jane worked on this restoration for 22 years. It took 16 years just to remove all of the old layers of paint. Talk about a labor of love!
The painstaking restoration wasn’t limited to the horses, Jane and her crew also repainted and re-stenciled the scenery panels and carousel housing. All of the lights were replaced and rewired— there are 1,200 of them! I was there in the daytime, but I imagine it’s stunning at night under all the clear, white bulbs of the carousel with the city lights as a backdrop.
Then the entire carousel was installed inside a 26-foot high glass pavilion to protect it from the elements.
As I watched the horses go around and around, I so wanted to climb on, maybe to recapture a bit of that carefree, childlike wonder, but I was worried that I would look foolish because I wasn’t with any children. I let the ride go through three more cycles before I got up the nerve to get on. And you know what? It was f-u-n. Three minutes of in-the-moment joy.
Here is an interview with Jane Walentas from CBS Sunday Morning (first three minutes):
Read other “Tourist in My Town” posts: I See Dead People: A Walk Around Green-Wood Cemetery, the Fort Greene neighborhood and Governors Island.
When was the last time you got to be a “tourist in your town”?
Have a great weekend, everyone!