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Holyoke Merry-Go-Round sets 20th anniversary celebration gala


Holyoke Merry-Go-Round

In my mind, there are three kinds of anniversaries. 

There are sad ones, like Dec. 7, the date in 1941 that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Sept. 11, the date in 2001 when terrorists struck our nation, and the dates which mark the deaths of family and friends. 

Second, there are practical, necessary and non-emotional anniversaries, like the dates we have for drivers’ license and auto registration renewals and mortgage payments. And, then there are joyful anniversaries. These are the day for which flags should fly, like a marriage which lasted and was fun for 50 years, the college reunions AND right here in Holyoke, where we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round. 

And, oh, what a celebration there is going to be. It is one which is so justified. 

Mountain Park amusement park closed on Sept. 27, 1987. I don’t know for certain, but I am willing to guess that was the day the late John Hickey became determined not to let the dearly treasured carousel be sold to outsiders. 

Hickey conferred with Holyoke’s mayor at the time, Marty Dunn, the state representatives Bob Rowan, Walter DiFillippi, and then-state Sen. John Burke. They all met with park owner John “Jay” Collins, and, although the initial asking price was frightening, they still felt the idea was “doable.” 

On March 6, 1988, Hickey wrote a stirring column for the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram, bearing the message, “City Should Fight for the Carousel.” Dunn and Hickey immediately created a committee, Save the Carousel for Holyoke. 

Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round was incorporated on May 14, 1988. John Hickey and Alderman Karen Cavanaugh were co-chairs of the board, and Angela Wright and Mark Parent, president of United Engineers, became co-chairs of the successful fundraising effort. 

It is interesting to note that Angie Wright continues as the volunteer executive director of the merry-go-round and for years the volunteer treasurer of the board of directors. In spite of receiving substantially higher offers for the carousel, Jay Collins offered to give it to the friends’ group for $850,000 and was willing to give the fundraising project two years to produce this amount of money. 

On June 9, 1993, architect Tim Murphy was issued the building permit, and construction started on July 26, 1993 to prepare a site for carousel’s new home. The contractor was WHJ Construction, of Springfield. 

Jim Curran disassembled the carousel and prepared it for secure storage. He meticulously archived every part so that it could be reassembled accurately, a job which he later did. Volunteers painted the wooden frames of the merry-go-round at the Wherehouse?. 

Jim Curran also brought in and operated his company’s crane equipment to place the permanent flat on top of the building. He also installed the Tiffany window which had been commissioned by Albert Steiger in 1896. 

There was nothing which Jim was asked to do that he did not do to perfection. Always available for support was the late Roger Fortin, who, for 40 years, had been the superintendent of Mountain Park. 

When Marty Dunn became state senator, he with another great Holyoke mayor, Bill Hamilton, succeeded in getting financial support from the state Department of Environmental Management for the construction of the building. Peter Webber, the commissioner of this department, facilitated the merry-go-round’s location at Heritage Park and arranged a $300,000 grant for construction of the building to hold the carousel.

I was a trustee at the PeoplesBank, and the late Warren Rhoades, bank president, had the support and enthusiasm of our entire board to secure the financial backing of Holyoke’s banks for the project. The building’s construction was supervised by Joe Wright, who continues to volunteer to help with the building’s maintenance. Joe’s best friend, the late Will Girard, often called the “chief engineer,” was available day and night whenever a problem arose. 

Donors “bought” horses to help with the project. Children collected dimes. Fundraising parties were held. Thousands of Holyokers and area residents contributed and continue to contribute to the effort to maintain this outstanding, remarkable carousel, one of the few in the country. 

The 20th anniversary has arrived, and there will be a gala to celebrate on Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Dan Kane & Friends will entertain, and there will be plenty of food, friends and fun. Tickets are $45. A table purchased for 10 will get two free tickets, making each ticket at that table only $36, so it is worth while to gather your family and friends and come celebrate 20 years of a dream come true thanks to the efforts of John Hickey and Angela Wright who got the horses running!