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Former Barnesville carousel survives

  • For 54 years, a dramatic carousel was located at Lakewood Park.
    SHIRLEY MILLER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS For 54 years, a dramatic carousel was located at Lakewood Park, seven miles from Tamaqua before being moved to Michigan.
Published August 03. 2012 05:01PM

One of Pennsylvania's most thrilling carousels was located just seven miles from Tamaqua and still exists, but is now located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Lakewood Park carousel is a rare work of art, one of only three built and a creation of Spillman Engineering.

It incorporates six horses made by Charles Looff, a competitor of Spillman, and two more by another builder, either Muller or Carmel, nobody is certain.

The reason for the special hybrid configuration is that Spillman wanted the carousel to feature many jumping horses. To do it, the company cut off the legs of 'stander' horses and added jumper legs to provide a dramatic illusion of leaping.

Fifty-feet in diameter, the Barnesville carousel features two regal chariots and three rows of animals, including 44 horses and six menagerie animals that accommodate at least 50 riders.

The colorful, jeweled figures circle mirrored central panels adorned by 1,200 lights. The historic carousel features a nickelodeon-type 1908 Wurlitzer 157 Band Organ weighing 3,000 pounds.

At Lakewood Park, all of this was housed in a round building along the park midway where it operated from 1928 until 1982.

But the years took a toll. By 1980, the carousel was in need of major repairs.

Representatives from Grand Rapids visited Lakewood in October, 1981, and offered owner Frank Guinan $175,000 for the masterpiece. The Guinan family reportedly agreed to the sale because they liked the idea of the carousel being restored and returned to service.

Folks in Grand Rapids started a fundraising drive and, before long, three tractor trailers carted Lakewood's precious menagerie some 640 miles to Michigan. There, it underwent years of restoration.

Tom Layton of Sandusky, Ohio, took on the high-profile project and, as a result, became well known in the carousel restoration field. After a dozen years of silence and a half century of decay, the magnificent carousel was restored to perfection right down to its original ticket booth.

At fifty cents a ride, it was unveiled on November 19, 1994, inside Cook Pavilion, a glass and granite rotunda in the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Former President Gerald Ford and wife, Betty, were among hordes who enjoyed the nine-revolution, four-minute experience. Over 7,000 turned out to marvel at art-in-motion, a relic of Americana from Schuylkill County.

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