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The Carousel of Happiness lives up to its name

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Carousel of Happiness, Nederland, CO

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We had heard of the extraordinary Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, the unlikely small town at the top of Colorado’s famed Peak to Peak highway. Here, you will find an unusual multisided glass-walled building just off Highway 119 as you come into town. Someone we know did a video documentary on the whimsical and joyful carousel of individually carved animals on this fabulous gift to children and adults alike. For the entry fee of only $1, you can whirl around an ancient military organ on the colorful animal of your choice.

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Ex-U.S. Marine Scott Harrison used a music box to calm himself while fighting in Viet Nam, imagining he was in a mountain meadow watching a peaceful carousel. That vision changed his life and that of untold numbers of children and adults alike when he made his dream of creating the perfect carousel a reality. All who delight in the visit and the ride feels the 26 years of love and joy he put into these delightful creatures.

The original carousel base dates back to 1910, where it was used in an amusement park in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. It was a marvel of its time, created by the man who made the famous Coney Island Carousel. It had a unique gear driven mechanism, and resulted in the animals’ ability to move up and down while the carousel revolved. After surviving three devastating fires there, the carousel was eventually crushed by a roller coaster during a windstorm. It was rebuilt, only to be dismantled and put into storage. After several other devastating brushes with natural disasters, the animals were sold and the remains of the frame and mechanism were abandoned, eventually rotting and rusting.

It was not until 1986 that Scott Harrison told someone he met by chance of his dream to create a wondrous carousel. However, in order to accomplish that, he needed a base and mechanism. This person knew of the Utah abandoned carousel, and Scott bought what was left of the scrapped carousel for $2000.

He then made his dreams a reality by undertaking the job of a lifetime. He painstakingly repaired the carousel base, then ended up in Nederland, where he began his many years of carving and restoration. The base’s new flooring was made from a Seagram’s distillery whiskey barrel shelving. The decorative painted panels he used atop the carousel came from another 1910 carousel designed by the same man as his. Then he began 26 years of carving, designing and painting his unusual, colorful and fascinating collection of more than 50 amazing carousel animals. All of the animals are carved from a hardwood basswood from Linden trees, traditionally used for creating carousel animals for over a century. Each of Scott's unique animals, however, harbors a secret within its hollow interior. In those recesses, Mr. Harrison placed poems, newspaper articles, and stories during the carving process, in the hope that sometime in the future they will be found.

When he needed music to match the artistry he created, he found a restored, 1913 Wurlitzer Military Band Organ to stand proudly in the center of his joyous creation. It works by way of bellows and compressed air and has the ability to replicate over 100 band instruments to enhance the delightful ride. This is all done through the use of programmed punched paper in scrolls, like an old player piano.

Between the revolving carousel platform and the center island where the organ resides, is a blue space on the floor with fish painted on it to resemble a moat. These were painted by a talented 14-year-old visitor to the Carousel. Additionally, there are 18 small “stages” above and between the outside rounding boards, each of which features a differently carved small figure. Each figure seems to transform into the next as the carousel turns. Look for a small girl transforming into a swan, then into a frog, then back into the girl, as well as 3 eggs which represent each rebirth and transformation. This animation is best appreciated from the upstairs overlook.

After the carousel was restored, fitted with the organ, and all the animals designed and created, Mr. Harrison felt there was something missing. He wanted to top his masterpiece with a carved representation of the joy he hoped it would bring to children. In 1999, he was inspired by the photo of a gleeful young girl featured on the front page of a newspaper. Harrison immediately began carving his “crowning touch”, a delightful representation of an exuberantly happy girl who forever twirls atop the carousel. She tied it all together, appearing to orchestrate the running of the carousel, much like a conductor. This helped inspire his decision to call his creation the “Carousel of Happiness”.

The carousel is in a specially eco-designed multi-sided room, with energy-efficient glass on each side to provide light while blocking ultraviolet rays. Energy-efficient LED lights supplement the natural light from the windows. The green steel roof both wards off snow and is home to the solar panels. A computer monitor is visible on the wall showing the electricity produced by the solar panels. There is an upstairs overlook to appreciate and enjoy the carousel from the top perspective, as well as an activity room and puppet theater for children. The unique flooring in the building is imbedded with tubing to carry heated water from the boiler, making the most of energy efficiency and insulation.

The Carousel of Happiness opened in 2010, a full century after the creation of the original carousel and mechanism. It gives all profits to charities benefiting disabled children, and is staffed by cheerful and friendly volunteers. They also man the gift shop, where children’s books describing the carousel can be found. Even in the small distant town of Nederland, the Carousel tries to stay open all year; every day in the summer, and weekends in the winter. In good weather, 500 - 1,000 people enjoy the Carousel, proving that it is truly a Carousel of Happiness. It should be a must-see on any visitor's list, even if you don't have children.

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