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Merry-Go-Round celebrates 20 years

Date: 4/25/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — Marianne Holden, the operations manager of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, said that seeing families of three generations gather in front the of the carousel is not uncommon — grandparents and parents who rode the carved wooden horses at Mountain Park and children who are experiencing that pleasure for the first time at the ride's home at Heritage State Park.

The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round is celebrating its 20th year of operation since it was purchased from the former owners of the long-time amusement park in 1990. Holden explained the carousel welcomed its first guest in its custom-built building on Sept. 19, 1993.

All year long the Merry-Go-Round will be noting the anniversary, culminating with a gala at the Log Cabin on Sept. 19.

Although some people might have questioned if the ride, which was installed at Mountain Park in 1929, would still be of interest in the age of video games and the Internet, Holden noted the average attendance is between 65,000 and 75,000 people a year. In March, 6,600 people took a ride, she noted.

"It's amazing how many people come here," she said. The Merry-Go-Round generally attracts visitors as far south as Hartford, Conn. and as east as Sturbridge, Holden said, although the reach is even greater on the Saint Patrick Day's Parade weekend.

The Merry-Go-Round is a popular location for private functions, such as birthday parties and anniversaries, she said.

For fans of vintage carousels, the Merry-Go-Round is a must-stop. From 1890 to 1925 there were more than 4,000 carousels in the United States, according to historical information Holden provided. Of these there are fewer than 150 still in operation.

Built in 1927 and installed in 1929, the carousel was constructed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, which also constructed a roller coaster at Mountain Park.

The Merry-Go-Round has hand-carved wooden 48 horses and two chariots. A 1929 Artizan band organ that uses paper rolls like player piano rolls proves the music.

A campaign led by John Hickey and Angela Wright raised the nearly $2 million needed to buy the amusement ride and build its new home.

Despite the economic challenges since 2008, Holden said, "Financially we're in one of the best shapes we've been in."

Holden explained that increasing the cost of a ride from $1 to $2 was "a tough decision" as it had been $1 for 17 years. The increase in the fare has assisted in the financially stability.

On-going maintenance of the ride is important and Holden said that each year one or two of the horses is sent to the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Conn. for restoration. The horses are stripped down to the wood and any blemishes are sanded and puttied. Then they are repainted. The cost is $6,000 per horse and the horses are absent for three to six months, she added.

As part of their anniversary, the Merry-Go-Round is offering one person the chance to name one of the horses. For a $5 donation, a person will receive his or her choice of a limited edition reusable shopping bag or a reusable water bottle as well as an entry form. On Dec. 7, one winner will be drawn from all entries and that person will have his or her name and the name of the horse engraved on a plaque that will be placed on the carousel's platform, right under the horse. The fund raised will be used to restore more of the horses.

The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round is currently open Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit the Merry-Go-Round's website, or call 538-9838.