Memories of Summer Fun: Riding Jane’s Carousel

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Hilde Lange
Today, Hilde’s favorite merry-go-round has been restored and is known as Jane’s Carousel.

My love affair with the merry-go-round began at an early age. When I was a child in the 1930s, my parents always managed to make a trip to our local amusement park two or three times every summer. There were lots of exciting rides and things to do, but I was interested only in the merry-go-round.

I understood that I could not ride constantly, and I was content to sit on a bench between my parents and just watch. My dad, a history buff, told me I would see many merry-go-rounds in my lifetime. He also said I would never see one as special as this one in Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. He was right. The beautiful horses became real to me, and I had a favorite I always rode.

When I was in high school, we had our annual school picnic at Idora Park every spring. I always managed to fit in at least one ride on my favorite horse.

History of Jane’s Carousel

Over the years, what we called a merry-go-round became known as a carousel. In 1975, my father’s prediction proved correct when our beloved merry-go-round became the first carousel ever listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, by then, Youngstown had fallen on hard times. The once prosperous city depended on the steel industry, so when the steel mills closed, the population declined.

Idora Park had a devastating fire and was not reopened, so in 1984, the antique carousel went up for auction. At that time, real estate developer David Walentas was planning what would become Brooklyn Bridge Park, and his wife, Jane, had begun searching for a carousel for the park.

The carousel was on the verge of being sold piece by piece when the Walentas bid $385,000 to buy the entire attraction.

Having been built in 1922 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Germantown, Pennsylvania, and living outdoors in Ohio weather ever since, it was in need of major restoration.

Building for the future

Jane spent nearly 25 years with a crew of six, carefully scraping off layers of old paint to reveal the original beauty of the 48 hand-carved wooden horses on the carousel now known as Jane’s Carousel.

Following restoration, the antique carousel went unused for four years while Brooklyn Bridge Park was completed. Finally, in September 2011, the park opened to the public. The carousel is now housed in a see-through acrylic pavilion designed by architect Jean Nouvel.

At last, the Idora Park carousel has found the home it deserves in an upbeat area of New York known as DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Once a deserted manufacturing zone, it has evolved into an area of art galleries, boutiques and million-dollar condos. What a perfect setting for the organ music and glittering lights.

Distant dream

I’m 80 years old now, and I know I will probably never see the restored carousel, but I don’t need to because the memories are still so fresh in my mind. If by some miracle I were lucky enough to see Jane’s Carousel, though, I would seek out my favorite horse, put my arms around its neck and say, “Hi! Do you remember me?” Just for a minute I would feel in my heart that a wooden horse really could remember a happy little girl so thrilled to be a part of that magical ride.

Then I would return to reality, and I would say the only thing left to say: Thanks, Jane!

Axtell, Nebraska

Read more reader-submitted summer memories in Memories of Summer Fun.