On July 4, 1998, 29 horses gained their independence on Key Biscayne. No, the city didn't decide to close itself off and become a wildlife sanctuary. That was the day the Crandon Park carousel came back to life.
Built by Allan Herschell in 1949 and 1950 -- around the same time as the inception of the park -- the carousel was a popular attraction in the Fifties and Sixties as part of an entertainment complex that included the beach, a zoo, and an amusement center featuring a skating rink, snack bar, and playground. In 1978 the zoo moved south and became Metrozoo and the carousel shut down. For the next eighteen years the circular building that housed the horses was shuttered, until park manager Jim King recruited parks employee Diana Lucas to lead the restoration effort.
Lucas first photographed everything in its disheveled form and then enlisted tireless students from the New World School of the Arts. The kids helped clean, scrub, and paint the structure, poles, flooring, beams, and music box. The two chariots were spruced up. Then work began on the horses, which were made of wood, metal, or both. One horse was irreparable and was replaced by a fiberglass version. The rest were covered with two coats of marine paint and adorned with creative designs exhibiting diverse themes. One horse depicts ocean life such as octopuses, dolphins, and manatees. Another, a navy-blue one named Mercy, displays a collection of twinkling stars. The horses are named in honor of the volunteers who worked on the project: students, park personnel, strangers who wandered in from the beach and helped out, and relatives of volunteers.
While the horses were being refurbished, the carousel's engine was tuned, a new fuse box was installed, and lights were replaced. After two years of hard work (the crew had hoped the enterprise would take only one), the job was done. The carousel was reactivated. But one horse, an inside jumper, remained missing.
"Wooden carousels are a vanishing art," says Ann Marie Clyatt, who, after reading an article about the ongoing restoration efforts, volunteered her services and founded the Crandon Park Carousel Club, an association devoted to protecting and preserving the carousel and getting it listed on the census of the National Carousel Association and the Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Register. This Saturday the club promises a "galloping good time" during a celebration honoring the return of the 30th horse, a feat club president Clyatt helped engineer.
"We knew there was a missing horse," she recounts. "Once articles started running in the paper, a woman contacted us and told us she had it." The horse's identity was confirmed by matching it with pictures of the old carousel. Following a year of negotiation of a price Clyatt prefers not to disclose but says ranges in the hundreds of dollars, she and her husband bought it, using funds raised through a venture they devised: the sale of painted miniature carousel horses.
At Saturday's bash the club plans to raffle tickets for one dollar apiece, offering the winner the honor of the first ride on the new horse, which has the names of Clyatt and her husband painted on one side and the names of club officers Ben and Patty Benda on the other.
Clyatt remembers riding the Crandon Park carousel as a child. When she had her own young children, they often visited the park. She now she has three granddaughters she can introduce to the joys of merry-go-rounding. Occasionally Clyatt goes for a spin herself. "I love it," she exclaims. "I can't catch the brass ring because we don't have them any more, but it's ageless. You never grow old riding a carousel."
-- Nina Korman
The Crandon Park Carousel Club will meet for the installation of the 30th horse at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, November 21, at Crandon Park, Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne. Entrance fee to the park and the carousel will be waived. A free chili supper will be served, and beverages will be sold, but the club asks that attendees bring dessert. To RSVP call 305-665-2890.