Anyone who’s loved an old-fashioned carousel as a kid understands how it can bring people together. The brightly painted animals, the fuzzy Wurlitzer organ music and the dizzying ride appeal to all ages. But in the Willamette Valley’s Albany, the town carousel is bringing people together in an unusual way, considering it hasn’t even been built yet.
The nonprofit Albany Historic Carousel & Museum has been working for more than a decade to create a 19th-century style carousel with a menagerie of 52 animals and a Wurlitzer band organ. “We are building a carousel for the downtown Albany area. It’s all about downtown revitalization,” says Tyson Brown, operations manager.
To date, more than 200 volunteers have contributed about 160,000 hours to restoring the 1909 carousel mechanism — donated by the Dentzel Carousel Company, which produced beautifully carved U.S. carousels for five generations — and painting and carving the carefully detailed animal figures. “All these animals are being done by hand using chisels, mallets and knives.” Brown says.
And currently, it’s that volunteer effort that takes center stage. An average 2,000 visitors a month stop in to watch the carvers, talk to the painters and touch the animals, which include fantasy creatures like a dragon, a unicorn, a griffin and a hippocampus as well as bears, horses, elephants and the like. About 30 completed animals are on display, and the museum houses a dozen or so historic carousel pieces on permanent loan from the Dentzel family.
The museum has plans to construct a new 13,000-square-foot building onsite in the next year and half, which will house the carousel and expanded studios as well as a larger museum, gift shop and community space. The organization recently kicked off a campaign to match a $1 million anonymous donation.
Once the project reaches completion about five years from now, Brown expects it will continue to bring people together. “There are not many attractions or rides that are multi-generational. Carousels are. It hits on so many demographic areas. People like the nostalgia and kids just like the ride.” For more information and hours of operation, visit AlbanyCarousel.com