For Scott Harrison, $2,000 bought him a carousel frame, motor and gears. For the past 24 years, Harrison has been restoring and creating what he now calls the Carousel of Happiness, from the original electric motor to the custom carved and painted animals to the newly constructed building the carousel rests in. Due to open Memorial Day weekend at its home in Nederland, the carousel is receiving a few finishing touches from Harrison and his volunteer construction crew.
The carousel is dedicated to deceased family members and friends — and two U.S. Marines who died in a Vietnam battle that Harrison survived. Harrison met with Boulder Weekly last week to talk about the carousel and what it means to him.
Harrison, now retired, says that seeing the finished carousel is magical for him.
“I am exhilarated by the fact that all of the animals are out of storage and paraded in a circular manner on the carousel,”he says.
The Carousel of Happiness is a symphony of detail, from the vibrantly painted whimsical animals to the series of paintings that adorn the carousel frame and ceiling.
Woodn’t you know
Inspired by National Geographic photos, spiritual and children’s literature and folktales, Harrison created one animal at a time, for a total of 58 assorted creatures that include a majestic peacock, a towering giraffe, a dynamically colored zebra, a giant gorilla with space for a wheelchair and a diving dolphin. He says he spent three to six months creating each figure, and they are all his own designs.
“My shop is my garage, and I was always thinking about the next animal while I was carving,” Harrison says.
Each animal symbolizes different cultures around the world and significant strengths, virtues or legends. Harrison says he didn’t want to just have horse figures because he envisioned variety — the only horse on his carousel is an Indian pony. The “twirling girl” at the very top of the carousel is a muse conducting the music and parade of the animals and their future riders.
“The twirling girl expresses exuberance that reflects the joy that children and adults will have when they ride the carousel,” Harrison says.
Harrison created the “twirling girl” from a photograph of a little girl caught in the joy of dance that had been sitting on his office desk for many years. The animals parade to the music of a restored 1913 Wurlitzer Band Organ.
The building, which incorporates solar power, recycled materials and other green technology, smells of rich wood and fresh paint. Harrison chose basswood, a common Linden tree in North America, to create the carousel animals. He says basswood has been used for carousel figures for more than a century. As a member of the National Carousel Association, Harrison attended annual technical shows to increase his knowledge of carousel art and history and create his own carousel design.
The wooden gift counter in the visitor entrance is Cuban mahogany, a rare wood that was donated by Chris McCormick, the president of Broad Reach Engineering in Golden. The gift shop will feature many items made especially for the carousel and a puppet theater available for performances by area puppeteers.
Harrison served in Vietnam as a machine gunner from 1966 to 1968. While there, he received a music box from his sister. He listened to its sweet music — a composition by Chopin — whenever he had idle time, turning to it as an outlet to daydream, calm his nerves and escape the stress of war. The music also inspired a vision of a carousel — something happy to think about in the midst of violence.
And that violence eventually hit home. Harrison lost two friends, both U.S. Marines, in a battle where the casualties were so extreme that his company was disbanded afterward.
Decades later, the music from that music box filled Harrison with sorrow — but it also brought back the vision of the carousel.
He created the Carousel of Happiness to recognize and appreciate that deceased loved ones are still alive in our hearts. He says he wants the carousel to translate into happiness and joy for its riders.
“I have an empathy and sympathy for people who want to remember loved ones,” he says.
Harrison says a ride on the carousel can be a time to sit quietly and recall friends and family who have passed away.
“The first turn of the carousel will be the start of a new life for the animals and the carousel,” he says. “I’m happy to be a small part of the joy the carousel will bring to its riders.”
The carousel’s first rotation on opening day will be riderless, in remembrance of Harrison’s U.S. Marine friends and of the family and friends in whose names donations were made for the carousel. People and riders can adopt carousel animals and fairies by donating.
“So many people have already given money in the name of ones they have lost,” Harrison says. Individuals and businesses can also be Green System, building or painting sponsors and will receive a colorful cloth patch for their contributions, no matter what amount it is.
Right after its first riderless rotation on opening day, May 29 at 10 a.m., Harrison says the carousel will turn all day long to begin its mission of bringing happiness to carousel visitors and riders. Rides are $1, and Italian sausages and hot dogs will be served as long as they last on Memorial Day weekend. Face painters and caricature artists will be at the inauguration, and Nederland’s Wild Okapi Marimba Band will provide pleasant melodies for the riders and audience.
Designed to be accessible for people with disabilities, the Carousel of Happiness includes animals — like the gorilla, swan and bear — that can accommodate disabled or wheelchair riders. The three animals symbolize power, light and personal health, respectively, Harrison says.
“I would like this carousel to be a welcoming place for everybody — an inclusive, inviting destination to visit,” he says.
All proceeds beyond expenses will go to charities that benefit people with special needs. He says there haven’t been any donations to charities yet because the carousel hasn’t opened to the public.
Nederland, a town of about 1,500 people, will undoubtedly benefit from the economic and social impacts of the Carousel of Happiness. Located in the Caribou Shopping Center in the center of Nederland, Harrison says a lot of thought went into the carousel’s location. The Guercio family and Caribou Companies are leasing the location to the carousel for $1 a month for 30 years, which is essentially a donation. Sitting along the Peak to Peak Highway, Harrison says he foresees visitors stopping unexpectedly and discovering a pleasant surprise.
“I am happy that the carousel will provide an economic stimulus for Nederland,” Harrison says. “All the traffic that drives through and never stops will now have a reason to pull over and enjoy the carousel and explore the town.”
“SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY GIVEN MONEY IN THE NAME OF ONES THEY HAVE LOST,” HARRISON SAYS.”
He says it’s important for visitors from different cultures and backgrounds to have this pleasant memory.
The Carousel of Happiness is available for private parties and events. Harrison says there is a small waiting list of people who have reserved the carousel for special occasions.
“We are trying to design a good series of opportunities for birthday parties, wedding receptions and other special events where the community can rent the carousel out for a day or weekend,” he says.
The construction and grand opening of the Carousel of Happiness have been made possible by dozens of volunteers who helped with the construction of the building or who contributed to its funding. Doug Cosper, a journalism instructor and construction volunteer, said that nearly $700,000 has been raised, almost entirely from the Nederland community.
“There have been a dozen core people who have dedicated themselves to making Scott’s carousel vision come alive,” Cosper says.
Nederland resident Gen Hansen says that after watching dedicated people build the carousel over the years, he feels as though it’s representative of Nederland and the town’s residents.
“The people of Nederland all seem to age slower, and maybe being young at heart is the key to longevity. With that being said, you’ll see me riding the pony there every chance I get,” Hansen says.
Harrison says that creating the building and carousel has been all-encompassing for him.
“I’ve been involved in so many different aspects of the building that I’m ready for a break,” he says.
Harrison says he will continue to carve animals for the carousel because he loves to create animals for the riders’ enjoyment.
“My next animal will be a skunk that will rest on the supporting rafters. A raccoon will be offering her flowers,” Harrison says with a smile. “I love to build animals for people’s enjoyment.”