The West Haven Carousel Committee is gearing up its efforts to get an old-time Merry-Go-Round back to the city and has invited a former city resident and her husband to aid in the effort. Jim and Jackie Shulman, retired healthcare professionals living in Ohio, are the co-chairmen of The National Carousel Association’s (NCA’s) 46th annual convention, and will be in the former courtroom at City Hall on Thursday, April 19.
Michael Mercuriano, chairman of the local committee, has been working for more than a decade to get a carousel and pavilion at the Savin Rock Conference Center as an attraction to the city’s shorefront, but also to celebrate the city’s history as a get-away spot when the Savin Rock Amusement Park was in its heyday.
In order to drum up interest in the project and in the convention, Mercuriano and his committee invited the Shulmans to West Haven to discuss how they aided a similar project in Pittsfield, MA.
“This is a big event,” Mercuriano said recently. “They did a wonderful thing in Pittsfield, and can show us how to get things really going here.”
The 2018 convention will be held in New England this coming September and headquartered in Windsor. NCA has more than 500 members throughout North America who are dedicated to the preservation and restoration of classical wooden carousels. During the convention an estimated 200 members will visit 15 carousels and three museums.
Jackie Shulman grew up in West Haven on Savin Avenue. and loved riding the carousel at Savin Rock. Jim grew up in Western Massachusetts in the Berkshires and wanted to do a community project as a gift to his home area.
Twelve years ago on a visit to the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Jackie came up with the idea to engage community volunteers in building a carousel. The couple really knew very little about the history, art, design and mechanics of carousels. They spent a year doing research and visiting carousels throughout the country before embarking on a ten-year project that involved 400 volunteers. The end result is the Berkshire Carousel located in Pittsfield.
“Jim will present an overview of the artistry involved in the creation of carousels and the craftsmen responsible for them,” said Mercuriano.” The presentation will explain how carousel figures are carved and how the carousels operate.”
More than amusement rides, carousels reflect the artistic styles of master craftsmen from Europe, many of whom came to America to create the ornate interiors of churches and synagogues, Mercuriano noted.
The Golden Age of Carousels is considered to be the 50-year period between 1880 and 1930 when these craftsmen carved over 3,000 wooden carousels in the U.S. Topics will also address the national efforts to preserve these carousels, the design of the Berkshire Carousel that reflects the carving styles of all of the most famous carousel artists of the Golden Age and an overview history of West Haven’s/Savin Rock’s Carousels. Jackie will also share information about the upcoming carousel convention, a press release on the talk stated.
Mercuriano and his committee are considering another possibility for the Conference Center. He was unwilling to discuss the details, but said he has been in talks with city officials about the possibility, notably Human Resources Commissioner Beth Sabo, who has been working with him on the project.
The idea for a carousel has been on Mercuriano’s mind for almost 15 years. His committee began in 2004 and worked a deal with the City Council where space would be given for construction of a pavilion to house a carousel, but the entire project had to be financed by private donations. Estimates at the time were for $3 million.
The project has seen fits and starts with Mercuriano making contact with carousel collectors all over the country. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company was the manufacturer of the original carousel that was housed in an arcade on Beach Street. Remembered for its ornate figures and barrel organ music, the carousel was sold to Magic Mountain when the park closed in 1966.
An attempt was made to recover the original carousel, but Magic Mountain replaced the original wood horses and figures with fiberglass replicas. An original horse is now in the Savin Rock Museum in the basement of the Conference Center.
Funding has been a problem, though there have been some successes. An ad in the Voice three years ago, resulted in more than $9,000 in pledges and donations.
Mercuriano is hoping the talk by the Shulmans and the possibility the city will secure a carousel will rekindle the interest the project generated a decade ago.
The program begins at 7.