In last month’s Old Timer, we looked at the life of master carousel carver Daniel C. Muller and the creation of a carousel in Forest Park in 1923.
For four decades, residents of Woodhaven and other communities surrounding Forest Park have had fun the old-fashioned way in our carousel. But on December 10, 1966, tragedy struck when the Forest Park Carousel was destroyed by fire. It was reported at 8:40 p.m. and, despite a rapid and massive response from firefighters, it was not brought under control until 9:28 p.m. In those 48 minutes, much of the carousel’s rare and exquisite artistry has been lost forever.
No cause of the fire was ever determined although vandalism was suspected. The carousel was insured for $50,000, but it was estimated that it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to replace.
Over the next few years, residents and elected officials asked the city to replace the carousel, but the news was all bad and it seemed like something unique and special was lost forever.
However, in January 1972, they received the miracle they had hoped for. When it was announced that Lakeview amusement park in Dracut, Massachusetts was closing permanently, New York City acted quickly by purchasing the carousel for just $30,000.
And it wasn’t just any old carousel. Surprisingly, the carousel was a Muller. A few characters were missing, so a few other characters (two by Dentzel and one by Charles Carmel, another notable carousel artist of the same era) were purchased and added to the menagerie.
And so, the Forest Park Carousel was back, but the following years were bumpy. In 1984, the forest park carousel closed indefinitely for repairs.
Four years later, the Queens-based Fabricon Design Group, led by carousel designer Marvin Sylvor, restored the forest park carousel, repairing and repainting the figures and replacing missing parts. Once again the forest park carousel was operating and in 2004 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But after a few years, the city and the vendor chosen to maintain the carousel went their separate ways. When residents visited the park in the spring of 2009, they found the forest park carousel fenced, padlocked, and surrounded by barbed wire.
Fearing that the town would sell this priceless gem, the community (led by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association) brought their concerns to the attention of local elected officials and the press. And then another miracle happened. After a three-year wait, New York Carousel was chosen to reopen and operate the Forest Park Carousel, which it did to great fanfare in 2012.
On June 19, 2013, the Forest Park Carousel was officially designated as a New York City Landmark. The community came out to celebrate and support the carousel. Parents and grandparents (who were transported on the ride as children) took their children and grandchildren on the ride. The community took comfort in the fact that as a landmark, the forest park carousel would be protected for many generations to come.
And so, the forest park carousel was open and marked, but it was still a bumpy ride. Literally. Every time the carousel reached full speed, it tended to sway and you could hear the gears creak.
Carousel keepers knew a revamp was long overdue. At the end of the 2014 season, the Forest Park Carousel was dismantled by carousel employees and a group from Carousels & Carvings, Carousel Specialists of Marion, Ohio. Many parts that needed to be replaced were driven the 555 miles to the Carousels & Carvings head office, where they were rebuilt over the winter.
A total of 49 horses (36 jumping and 13 standing on the outer row), three menagerie figures (a tiger, a lion and a deer) and two chariots were carefully removed and stored over the winter. Everything was removed from the carousel and the center console was lifted and hung through the winter by an inside crane to allow the team to remove the center bearings. The whole process took almost three weeks.
In the spring, the team got together and began the complicated process of putting together a carousel that was over a hundred years old. This is not an everyday occurrence and the members of this team appreciated that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And when everything was put back in place, the chief of city security came out to inspect the ride and after hearing the quiet whistle as it sped along at full speed, he smiled and said, “It looks like a smooth ride.”
Although the last century was anything but a smooth ride for the forest park carousel, that certainly seems to be the case now that it has been restored, repaired and listed. As summer draws to a close, be sure to stop by the forest park carousel for another ride!