Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cafesjian's Carousel at Como Park

When you live in one city for a few decades, it's easy to forget the great things about it. Today I was reminded of one of our local public treasures, and found out more about how it was saved. It was a reminder of what can happen when a few people work hard to make a difference.

Some relatives with younger children were visiting this weekend, so we decided to visit the Como Zoo. By chance, we picked the carousel as our rendezvous point, and just had to go for a ride on it.

Carousel horse with a gold leaf alligator on its side
I've vaguely known about the carousel for decades, but had let that knowledge leak out of my head. Here's the short version:

It was commissioned and built in 1914 by a local man for use at the Minnesota State Fair. For 74 years it was privately owned and run, until 1988 when its owner announced that it was going to be sold at auction in New York.

Carousel horse with a sword and shield on its side
A local couple, Nancy Peterson and Peter Boehm, heard this news and immediately began organizing a nonprofit organization, Our Fair Carousel, to buy the carousel. With a loan from the city of St. Paul and a lot of work, their purchase offer was accepted by the owner at the last minute (or even after the last minute -- the auction had already started and the first horse was being moved out onto the auction floor).

Carousel horse with an Indian chief's head with headress on the side
They spent the next several years raising money to pay back the loan. One major donor was Gerald Cafesjian, who gave more than half the $1.1 million needed. Our Fair Carousel honored Cafesjian by naming the carousel after him.

Carousel horse with a face in bas relief off the end of its saddle
The carousel was first moved to downtown St. Paul, then later to a new, custom-made building at Como Park and Zoo.

The Our Fair Carousel website provides a detailed history and many photos of the carousel, including its rescue from a 1939 fire and restoration in the 1990s. All of the work has been done by volunteers.

There are so many things in our world that need people power to make them work. It's inspiring to be reminded of a time when the actions of just a few people became the lever that moved many more people to act for the good of us all.

As the oddities of life would have it, Nancy Peterson is also known as Blissed-Out Grandma, author of one of my daily blog destinations.

Past carousel posts: Lark Toys


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Wow! Imagine my delight at finding your lovely post. It really has been a lesson in what regular folks can do if enough of them come together. Oh--and we always need more volunteers!

Ms Sparrow said...

Nancy's hard work has produced a treasure for many generations to come. Last summer, I took my three great-grandaughters on the carousel at Como Zoo. The day may come when they'll take their grandkids on it.