Monday, May 27, 2013

The Carousel of Happiness

Location: 20 Lakeview Drive, Roosevelt National Forest, Nederland, CO 80466, USA
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Carousel of Happiness is open 7 days a week. During the fall and winter months, the Carousel has a limited schedule Thursday through Monday. Check here for times.

I took the opportunity to visit the Carousel of Happiness on National Carousel Day July 25, 2013. Of the estimated 4,000 carousels in the United States in the early 1900s, fewer than 200 remain.

Scott Harrison and Mayor Gierlach in front of
the Carousel of Happiness on Memorial Day 2013
Built entirely by volunteers, the building that houses the carousel is quite unique in its own right. The measures that have been taken to ensure the building's sustainability, show a deep commitment for the environment.

There are PV Solar panels on the roof, and plenty of recycled and reused parts. The base floor is made of recycled whisky barrels. The Wurlitzer Theater Organ, the old cash register. The original carousel frame was recycled and had over 2,500 incandescent light bulb sockets. They had a fundraiser where people could buy an LED light bulb, and put your name on it. My name is above the dolphin.

The building's interior woodwork was made from beautiful beetle kill, blue stained pine. The blue stained fungus that streaks through the wood grain is an indicator that the tree was reclaimed from the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic.

When the building was empty before it opened, my daughter and I had volunteered to paint the black metal rods that hold up the carousel. I remember that the building felt unusually peaceful. We ended up staying a few hours later than we had planned. Nothing more than hand-painting metal rods and letting them dry while we painted the back side of other rods. For a young child, it took a fair amount of concentration and patience. The Town of Nederland itself, is a place where people come to get away from the stress of societal pressures, or away from survival-mode in the concrete jungle down below.

The Carousel of Happiness building. Photo by James DeWalt
My daughter was five years-old then, and I got her a Golden Ticket for the second ride on opening day, Memorial Day 2010. The first ride was a silent memorial run. Scott Harrison has run the carousel empty and silently for veterans who have fallen, each year on Memorial Day since then. I make the effort to visit the Carousel on Memorial Day. Veterans who came to the ceremony, would stop by and thank Scott. One of them said Semper Fi as they shook hands. Afterwards, he mentioned to me that being in a war is indescribable.

The Wurlitzer Theater Organ
As a young Marine in Vietnam, Scott had received a tiny music box that he held to his ear to distract him from the horror of the war going on around him. The music, Chopin's "Tristesse", brought him a peaceful image of a carousel in a mountain meadow. After rescuing the abandoned Looff Carousel in Utah he spent the next 26 years hand-carving animals to bring it back to life.

The Carousel is an incredible work of art, and a lifetime achievement. The original carousel horses were sold-off to collectors long before Scott obtained the frame, so he decided to hand-carve a variety of whimsical animals, and there is a story behind each one. There is no doubt that Scott is a true visionary, but I sensed that there was something even deeper. In today's world of instant gratification, what motivates a person to persevere on a mission and vision for 26 years?

Riding the Dolphin
My first thought was a quote from Stephen Covey:
"There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase; to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution."
While I love the Covey quote, it seems a little too egoistical to fit Scott's personality, and working on a project for 26 years would take something more than just the human need to leave a legacy.
[Related Story: Here is an article written by Joshua Berman for the Denver Post Travel Section: Nederland's Carousel of Happiness: Still happy, still only a buck]
Hidden Faeries, Antique Clown Shoes, and
the Blue-Stained Pine Beetle Wood
As we stood there watching children riding the carousel, Scott mentioned that he would carve the wooden animals after his children went to bed each night. He worked for Amnesty International which was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize for its campaign against torture. For his job, Scott had to read papers with detailed accounts about torture. He suggested that he did the wood carving to balance out the horrific images in his head from reading about torture.

Whimsical, but Not a Whim:

It's the attention to every detail, that makes the whole experience magical. You'll find little faeries in all sorts of places. Piece by piece, every part of the carousel had to be first visualized in Scott's mind, then created in Scott's shop over a long period of time.

The process of creating the Carousel of Happiness had to be rewarding in its own form. Scott's 26 years carving whimsical animals aligns with the 31 years he was working for Amnesty International. I imagine that the texture, density and smell of working with wood has such a soothing quality on the human spirit. The concentration and visualizing in three dimensions is enough to occupy the mind, and wash away the day's stresses. 

The Carousel of Happiness, Photo by James DeWalt
The Carousel of Happiness is not just a ride. (It doesn't go very fast, nor is it that thrilling.) The Carousel is an experience that transcends more than a century of craftsmanship. 

The Carousel is the result (perhaps even a byproduct) of Scott Harrison's approach to dealing with unspeakable tragic, human actions. Because it was created as the antidote to torture stories, it is made from pure love. Once you step through the door, you won't be able to explain it, but it feels comforting to just be in the same building. It's the ride of a lifetime.

[Here is a Video Valediction] One of my daughter's favorite songs, this is Welsh singer/songwriter, Jem (Jemma Griffiths) with her music video, Just a Ride. [What is a Video Valediction?]
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