The One with the Carousel

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.

Brooklyn_Bridge_Park

 Jane’s Carousel is there in the middle left of the photo, just near the column of the Brooklyn Bridge.

 

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's Carousel

There are 48 horses and two chariots on Jane’s Carousel.

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!

Jane's Carousel

Built in 1922, each of the 48 horses is unique.

 

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.

Jane's Carousel

 

Then the entire carousel was installed inside a 26-foot high glass pavilion to protect it from the elements.

 

Jane's Carousel

The glass pavilion was designed by architect Jean Nouvel.

 

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!

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25 comments

  1. 16 years of paint scraping! Among my top ten of horrendous childhood memories is the one where my dad made sand down a window frame. I hated every second of it.

    I wouldn’t say no to a ride, though 😉

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  2. I didn’t realize this was a theme for you. I’ve accidentally been considering “borrowing” it. 🙂
    I live in an historic town (Annapolis) and I worked in another (DC). I love exploring both.

    I’d like to check out Jane’s Carousel.

    In Oak Bluff’s (on the Vineyard), you will love the Flying Horses.

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    1. Borrow away! I’d love to see more around Annapolis. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit there and it would be fun to travel vicariously through your posts.

      Just Googled Flying Horses… oh, that is most definitely on the list. (The oldest carousel in the country?! Yes, please.)

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  3. I love photographing and riding carousels. We used to live near the one at Glen Echo Park in Maryland, which was also restored by a woman over 20 years. What amazing tenacity on their parts.
    The whole time I was watching the CBS video I kept thinking Jane Walentas reminded me of someone. Finally realized it’s Marlo Thomas.
    I’m a tourist in my town all the time and never get tired of it.

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    1. Yes, you’re so right about that — she does resemble Marlo Thomas. I imagine Jane Walentas and the woman in Maryland had a vision and were determined to see it through to the end. It’s so inspiring.

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  4. Jackie … I LOVE this. Twenty-two years on one labor of love? I guess I’ll stop grousing over the length of time it takes me to write a novel. 🙂 The carousel is BEAUTIFUL — and I find it uncanny that it came from Youngstown, Ohio (minutes from where I grew up in nearby PA). The details and the painting finesse…. so gorgeous. Thanks so much for sharing with us. I love revitalization projects. This one is just wonderful!

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    1. Of course I couldn’t help but see the similarities in how long it took Jane to complete the carousel and how long it takes me to complete a novel. 🙂 You made a great point about the details and the finesse behind the restoration. I’m so impressed by that. It makes me want to take extra care with every word in my WIP.

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    1. Absolutely. She could have done so many things with her wealth. I find this choice so admirable. And at the end of all the hard work, she donated the carousel to the city.

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  5. Totally fascinating. Who would have guessed that there are SO few carousels in the US these days. I think the video indicated around 125? WOW! That seems like SO few. What amazing work to restore this one. I really enjoyed this post, Jackie. Thank you! Hope you and Reggie have a wonderful weekend!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    1. That’s only about 2-3 carousels per state which does not seem like there are many left. Unfortunate because the day I was at Jane’s Carousel, the kids were in their glory, laughing and smiling. Half of the fun was watching them have so much joy.
      Have a lovely weekend, and say hello to Sara for me.

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  6. What a labor of love! Beautiful. I’m so glad you hopped onto the ride.

    All the treasures we walk by everyday. I feel guilty now 🙂

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  7. Being a tourist in your own town is such a great idea – you’re inspiring me! And the carousel is gorgeous. And, coincidentally, I just watched Carousel on TV last night- what fabulous music. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” always makes me cry.

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      1. It was Shirley Jones night on TCM so I watched all of Music Man and the end of Carousel before I had to drag my body to bed. Bet Oklahoma was up next. Love those musicals!

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  8. I have to love the commitment with this project, but there’s no way I’d do it. Some people have so much more patience. It looks lovely and I’d go for a spin.

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