Restored Arkansas Carousel Reopens to Public
"The historic 1924 Arkansas Carousel is set to spin again following a 16-year restoration and fundraising project that saved the Little Rock landmark from the auction block back in 1991.
The re-constructed and restored carousel, with its one-of-a-kind undulating track, was unveiled at a gala ceremony at its new home, the Little Rock Zoo, on a rainy evening, Monday, October 22nd. The event honored the Pony Parents, whose "adoption" of horses helped finance the major restoration project. Honorary co-chairmen of the event, Governor Mike Beebe and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, dedicated and accepted the fully restored Arkansas Carousel as a gift to the people of Arkansas.
"This is the end of a momentous project that was and is near and dear to the hearts of the many Arkansans whose generous donations kept the carousel in Little Rock," Mike Kinard, Founding Co-Chairman of the Friends of the Carousel (FOC), said. "It’s been a long road, and we could never have accomplished this intensive restoration project without the help of our dedicated board, Pony Parents, the Zoo, the Civitan Club, Questers of Arkansas, brick buyers and so many others including all of the in-kind donors. This celebration is to honor them."
The carousel made its debut at the 1924 Arkansas State Fair as part of a traveling circuit of amusement rides. Built during the heyday of carousels in the United States (1887-1935), it was constructed as a traveling carousel by the Herschell-Spillman Engineering Corporation of North Tonawanda, New York. Of the approximately 8,000 carousels produced during this time, fewer than 150 survived with even fewer having been restored. The Arkansas Carousel is even more rare in that it is the very last carousel known to exist with an undulating "over-the-jumps" track.
All of the 40 horses from the carousel, a ride that was a well-known and loved attraction at Little Rock's War Memorial Park for 50 years, have been restored, as have all of the chariots and the 24 large wooden wheels. About 30 layers of "park paint" were removed, one layer at a time, from each of the ponies to reveal their original, circa-1924 colors.
Little Rock resident Tom Fuzzell purchased it in 1942, saving it from destruction and allowing several more generations of Arkansans to enjoy it at War Memorial Amusement Park. The carousel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 as being of State significance and was recently designated as having national importance. Owners Mokey Choate and Doc O'Kelley decided to sell the carousel in 1991, putting its future in Arkansas in peril.
Under the leadership of then-State Senator Mike Kinard of Magnolia, Friends of the Carousel was formed to raise the funds necessary to purchase and fully restore the beloved icon. The ensuing 16 years saw more than $500,000 spent to restore the ride, with funds being raised with the help of the Pony Parents who “adopted” and named a pony, and numerous other fundraisers and generous individual donations.
"Our vision for the carousel to be an historic landmark in Little Rock is now a reality," David Martinous, Chairman of FOC, added. "And the ultimate payoff is going to be the priceless memories made there by even more generations of children."
For more information on the Arkansas Carousel, visit www.ArkansasCarousel.org.