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    Office Of The Mayor

    Celebrating 100 Years of the Carousel at Lighthouse Point Park

    (4/25/2012) Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Carousel at Lighthouse Park, and the New Haven Department of Parks, Recreation, and Trees and Friends of Lighthouse Point Park are planning a fun-filled celebration weekend May 12-13 to celebrate the milestone.

    The celebration weekend features free and low cost family fun, in addition to a gala fundraiser. As the gala requires advance tickets, advance assistance publicizing this historic event is greatly appreciated.

    Media tours of the carousel can be arranged by responding to this press release.

    The celebration includes 50 cent carousel rides and $1 ferris wheel rides from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 12. Children’s face painting, nature tours, lighthouse tours, carousel rides, ferris wheel rides, horse-drawn carriage rides, and food will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 13.

    The fundraiser gala will take place from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, May 13, offering a lobster dinner, drinks, music, dancing, carousel and ferris wheel rides, and fireworks. Tickets are $100 per person. Guests are required to RSVP by May 5 to carousel@newhavenct.net.

    “The Carousel is a wonderful piece of New Haven history. After 100 years, it is great to see it still enjoyed. This celebration and fundraiser will help make sure the Carousel will be preserved for the next century,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said.

    The Lighthouse Park Carousel is a rare and important example of late nineteenth and early twentieth century American Folk Art and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The carousel was built in 1911 by Murphy Brothers. The wooden animals were carved by Charles I.D. Looff and Charles Carmel. Looff also carved the decorative figures and panels featured on the famous carousel at Coney Island.

    Lighthouse Point Park was part of the boom age of amusement parks in the early 20th century, offering trolley and ferry access to the park’s attractive boardwalk. The park soon became a perfect spot for old and young alike to dress in their “Sunday best,” climb aboard a favorite steed or just sit and listen to the lively Wurlitzer music while enjoying the mix of breezes generated by the Carousel and the harbor.

    That old spirit is still very much alive at the Carousel today, where the original 72 figures are still mounted in 20 ranks on a 60-foot hard wood platform. Jumping horses are set in rows of four alternating with standing horses three abreast. Of the four operating antique carousels in Connecticut, New Haven’s carousel is the only one with characters four rows abreast. On the opposite sides of the platform are two exotic dragon chariots. Chariots allowed women to ride the carousel without “damage to their dignity” by sitting astride a traditional “flying horse.” Adding to the attraction of the splendidly carved figures are paintings of New Haven Harbor, steamboats, sailing ships, barges, lighthouses, and mermaids.

    The carousel was nearly permanently destroyed in a massive hurricane in 1938. The hurricane inflicted significant damage to the entire park and the Carousel and its pavilion were allowed to deteriorate. In 1957 all the buildings in the park were demolished except for the caretaker’s cottage, the Carousel and its Pavilion. The Carousel was eventually closed to the public, and the building was boarded up in 1977. All of the figures were removed for storage to await rescue and restoration at some uncertain future time.

    In the 1980's, Mayor Biagio DiLeito appointed a small group of citizens to investigate ways to restore the Carousel with private funding and the Friends of the Lighthouse Carousel was born. After three years of stripping paint, sweeping floors, securing sponsors and selling merchandise, the first small group of twelve horses was professionally restored. An “Adopt-A-Horse” program for individual and corporate donors was established, which was able to pay for the initial restoration of the remaining 60 horses. In 1983, the same year the Carousel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the City was able to allocate funds to begin to rehabilitate the desperately neglected building. While the Carousel itself began to shine anew, the costs to restore and rehabilitate its historic wooden Pavilion in accordance with established preservation guidelines continued to be a challenge.

    In October 2000, Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. and the Board of Alderman approved the establishment of a Carousel Enterprise Fund. This fund entitles the fees charged for special private events held at the Carousel to be retained by the Carousel for an approved use. The creation of the fund proved to make all the difference in providing a revenue stream to make the necessary repairs and renovations to keep the historic Carousel at Lighthouse Point Park operating, we hope for the next 100 years. The Carousel now hosts approximately 80 private events each year, including weddings, family reunions, fundraisers, and birthday parties.

    Contact Name: Elizabeth Benton

    Contact Email: ebenton@newhavenct.net

    Contact Phone: 203-946-7660

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