What a ride: Historic Carousel at Como Park gets a party for its 100th birthday

Cafesjian’s Carousel, the historic merry-go-round with 68 hand-carved wooden horses, is turning 100, and having a birthday party.

The event, to be held Saturday at Como Park, runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the carousel, located just south of the conservatory. After a program from 3 to 3:45 p.m., there will be free rides.

Finding parking at Como can be tough; there’s a shuttle from the nearby State Fairgrounds.

The carousel, which started its run in 1914 at the Minnesota State Fair, is a preservation success story which, like its painted horses, has had its ups and downs.

After 75 years at the fair, carousel enthusiasts were surprised to learn that the owners were selling it, and, finding no willing buyers, planned to auction off the horses, one by one, in New York City, as art pieces for collectors.

That didn’t seem right to a St. Paul couple, Peter Boehm and Nancy Peterson, who started a community effort to save the ride.

Within a month, they’d arranged a loan and went to New York to buy the carousel, as a whole, before the pieces went on the block. Ten minutes before it went on the block.

Their non-profit, Our Fair Carousel, raised money — quarters, dollars, $10 at a time, sometimes more — from other carousel fans. A mystery donor, later revealed as Gerard Cafesjian, a former West Publishing executive who received a windfall when the company was purchased, gave $600,000. Because of his largesse, the carousel now carries his name.

The carousel ran one final year at the fair in 1989, then the ride, with most of the money to pay the loan raised and the city of St. Paul helping with the remainder, was taken apart, cleaned up and moved to the old indoor Town Square Park in downtown St. Paul.

By 1993, attendance was way down at the St. Paul park, so new locations were scouted, and Como Park was selected; it reopened there in 2000.

The whole affair, with drama and color and optimism, took up a fair amount of inches in my Star Tribune St. Paul column over those years.

By 2005, donations and revenue from the $2 per person ride, enabled the group to pay off all the carousel’s loans. A reserve fund is now available for operations, maintenance and future restorations.

Boehm and Peterson, still involved in the effort, deserve the community’s heartfelt thanks for all they’ve done.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Deborah Irestone on 08/08/2014 - 01:06 pm.

    Everyone should ride a real wooden carousel..

    I won’t be able to make the 100th celebration, but sometime in the next month, I am going to have to bring my grandchildren to ride a real wooden Carousel at Como Park. I encourage all other grandparents to do the same!

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