112-year-old carousel receives restoration before 150-person visit
By TIFFANY RONEY
It spins, it plays music and it’s 112 years old. The CW Parker Carousel, which seats 40 people on its 24 horses and 4 sleighs, is getting spruced up before it receives a visit from 150 members of the National Carousel Association.
Jeff Sheets, director of the Dickinson County Historical Society, said more than 7,000 people, including locals and tourists, ride the carousel each year.
“I always tell people that it’s our pride and joy here at the museum,” Sheets said. “You can go to almost any museum in Kansas and learn about pioneers and settlers. This is one of only a couple places you can go and ride a carousel.”
Brian Lady, member of the society, said the carousel is one of the more popular items at the Dickinson County Heritage Center.
“When (the carousel) looks good, it’s going to have more of an appeal to people to come,” Lady said. “When things like that are well-kept, why, word gets around.”
Word also “gets around” via a billboard on Interstate-70 that alerts travelers to the carousel’s existence at 412 South Campbell.
Visit from national association
The association, founded in 1973 in Sandwich, Mass., boasts more than 500 admirers of wooden, hand-carved carousels, according to the association’s website. Its annual meeting for 2013 will be held at the CW Parker Museum in Leavenworth. The association plans to send two busloads of carousel enthusiasts to Abilene on Sept. 26.
In preparation for the visit, the society contracted Harvey Lantz, local remodeler, to update the siding on the building that houses the carousel, repaint the wooden horses and place new tails on some of the horses. Lantz invited his brother, Roy Lantz, nephew, Mark Lantz and friend Don Hunt to participate in the restoration project. All of the workers were born and raised in the Abilene area.
Sheets said the restoration of the carousel is not only in preparation for the association’s visit. It is also a precaution to ensure the landmark is protected for years to come.
“There are gong to be articles written about their trip that will promote our carousel to people in their carousel association, so it’s a way to promote the carousel, which in turn promotes the city of Abilene,” Sheets said. “It gets people into our community and then they’ll go to the other attractions and of course they’ll spend their money, hopefully, in our restaurants and go shopping downtown in our stores. It’s just good for the economy and overall.”
‘Back in the day’
CW Parker’s family moved to Abilene when Parker was 5 years old. Though Lady said the primary enjoyers of the carousel are children, Parker became fascinated with carousels as an adult. He first encountered a carousel while on a walk with his then-young daughter.
Parker bought his daughter a ride, and she was so thrilled with the experience that she wanted to ride again and again. After watching her ride the carousel, Parker decided to venture into the amusement business. Parker manufactured the local carousel in 1901.
The carousel is one of 12 National Historic Carousels in the U.S., and it is registered as a National Historic Landmark, according to the society’s website. Kansas Sampler Foundation lists the carousel as one of the Top 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs.
Sheets said the restoration is made possible by donations from history supporters throughout Dickinson County. The society offers a program, “Adopt a Horse,” for community members to participate in the carousel’s maintenance. Program members “adopt” one of the wooden horses and name it. Membership is $100, which supports upkeep of the carousel.
“Our carousel has always been a community project,” Sheets said. “The community – and when I say ‘community,’ I’m talking the whole county-wide – helped raise money for the restoration of the carousel and the building of the building. This was a community project that the whole county can be proud of, that we have this carousel and have preserved this carousel. We want to continue to preserve it.”
The carousel operates 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays. Carousel rides are $2 per person. For rates for groups of 8 or more, call the society at 785-263-2681.