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Holyoke's 88-year-old Merry-Go-Round: Western Mass. classic keeps retro fun in style


By Ellanje Ferguson

The historical Holyoke Merry-Go-Round dates back to 1927, when it was first constructed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and installed at Holyoke's Mountain Park. When Mountain Park closed in 1987, everything was either destroyed or sold away to other companies.

John Hickey, former manager of the Holyoke Water Power Company, and Angela Wright started a five-year campaign to save the Merry-Go-Round from Mountain Park in 1987. At the end of the campaign for "Holyoke's Happiness Machine," they had raised approximately $2 million and the carousel, with 48 horses and two chariots, was placed in Holyoke's Heritage Park.

Of the 48 original horses, there are 16 large, stationary "Stander" horses, 14 moving "Jumper" horses and 18 smaller horses for younger children. The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round also features 864 brightly colored lights and the original Artizan Factories band organ from 1929.

Horse restoration began in 2003 for the year-round, non-profit merry-go-round's 10th anniversary. This was the first time any of the horses were tended to since the 1920's.

The restoration process is not the easiest thing to do either. The horse has to be dismounted off of the carousel, transported to the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut, and the process begins. The includes removing multiple layers of paint, re-carving by a master carver, sealing the carving so that the horses can finally be sent off for painting by experts.

To date, there are 25 completely restored horses. This year, the non-profit launched a brand new website, and sent its latest horse off for restoration.

With over 45,000 visitors per year, the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round aims to be much more than just the average carousel attraction. It offers themed nights like "First Night Junior" in January.

"The popular New Years celebration brings around a 1,000 visitors or a little bit more," said Costello, as she talked about the all-ages celebration that has been going on the past 19 years.

There are many more events that happen throughout the year, to celebrate the end of the school year in June and even one for the Boston Red Sox with Wally the Green Monster and the World Series trophies for kids.

"The busiest season of the year is coming quickly and it's the most exciting. We're happy to get the word out," said Costello.

For many years, tickets to ride the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round were $1 until prices were raised, due to necessity, to a still-affordable $2 in 2003. The non-profit relies heavily on grants, donations from families and events including birthday parties and celebrations to keep stay open.

Holyoke Merry-Go-Round is located at 221 Appleton Street in Holyoke. For more information, visit holyokemerrygoround.org or call 413-538-9838.

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