After standing in line in high anticipation, it’s finally your turn. You run to your favorite animal and clamber up onto the smooth, wood saddle, clutching the metal pole attached to the ceiling. The operator hooks your seat belt then the music starts up. You start to move around and around, up and down, and with wind hitting your face you wave at your family on every pass. Most of us have a memory of riding a carousel. Luckily this isn’t a thing of the past, because the town of Albany, Oregon is opening a masterpiece of a carousel this summer!
The Albany community has been working since 2002 on creating a hand-carved carousel as a town centerpiece. Wendy Kirbey, board president, sparked the dream after visiting a carousel in Montana. On August 15th at 10am, that dream will come to fruition. That’s the date of the Grand Opening ceremony of the Albany Brass Ring Carousel. After fifteen years of hard work, non-stop fundraising and thousands of volunteer hours, the 22,000 square foot building housing one of the largest carousels in the country will open for young and old alike to enjoy.
The menagerie of animals were hand carved and painted by volunteers, each a masterpiece in themselves. Each has it’s own name and a page on their website describing it in detail. They have had over 200 active volunteers and their entire volunteer base has donated over 150,000 recorded hours over the past ten years to this project.
“We are making magic here,” said one of the carvers on a visit in April.
The actual mechanism that turns the carousel, one of the last built by the famous Gustav Dentzel, was made in 1909 and ran in Point Pleasant, New Jersey until 1953. It was donated to the town by the Dentzel family and the National Carousel Association. It took ten years to restore, but it is now so precise, that when they tested it out, it could be turned on the pivot with just two fingers of pressure.
There will be 52 animals on the carousel, the inner two rings going up and down (“jumpers”), the outer ring staying still (“standers”). They will be able to switch out some animals for holidays and a few will be bolted to the ground outside for kids not quite ready to brave the real thing. Another feature is a ramp and two benches that fold up so the carousel can be accessible by wheelchairs.
People sponsored each animal, getting to choose what animal they wanted and some of the details carved into it. They were then designed by one of the two artists who worked on the project; Terryl Witlatch, who has worked with Disney and George Lucas, and Kurt Christensen, who has illustrated for PBS. They have a whimsical style with tons of great little details- magical, just how a carousel should be.
An entire building was designed and built to house the carousel on 1st Avenue West. It’s 22,000 square feet and includes rooms to rent out for parties and meetings, a gift shop, a museum, snack bar and rooms to continue carving and painting animals.
Dr. Gary Goby gave a tour of the building site in April. He has worked on the carousel project for ten years and had actually requested part of the street from the city, to be able to fit the building in and surprisingly, the city gave it to them. In April, they had yet to set the center pole, the mechanism, or anything else. The room for the carousel was cavernous, with beautiful exposed wood and large windows bathing everyone in light.
Every detail has been considered. There are handmade “sound clouds” and baffling on the rental room ceilings to cut down on noise. The door handles have all been carved by Raymond Hunter, an artist from Philomath, Oregon. They are ADA sized, and charming animals like a frog in a top hat making a kissy-face, or a giraffe looking over his
shoulder with a mischievous grin. The bathrooms have hand-painted tiles of the most popular carousel animals. A 50 year time capsule full of notes and things from kids has been installed in the party room wall.
The project’s simple vision is to “enchant young and old alike with the finest carousel in the world, promote the artistry of carousel building by sharing our skills and talents, and build community spirit by opening our venue to events and activities”.
On August 15th, when we see the faces lit up, with the wind in their hair and waves to their families, the vision will have been realized.