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Vintage carousel feted with free rides

The carousel that is the centerpiece of the vintage kiddie park at Olcott Beach celebrated its 83rd birthday on Sunday by giving everybody a free ride.

Among the most enthusiastic riders were a couple of "regulars" at the park -- identical twins Madison and Ellery, who will celebrate their own ninth birthdays on Sept. 10. Their grandparents, John and Beth Salmeri of Gasport, take them to the park several times every summer.

But Sunday's visit was different.

Not only were the children celebrating their forthcoming birthdays, they were joining more than 750 other people in observing the anniversary of the Herschell-Spillman Carousel, which was built in 1928.

Many children call the restored ride a merry-go-round because the word "carousel" is a bit difficult for them. By whatever name it is called, is it their favorite ride?

"I don't have a favorite. I like all of them," Ellery said. Her sister Madison likes everything in the park so much that she couldn't even give an answer.

Their grandmother spoke for them. "It's just a joyful place," Beth Salmeri said. "It's a celebration. This is where I came as a child. It's in my heart and in my soul. It's just joyful. It's a celebration."

The park also has several other rides, most of them intended for children 52 inches tall or shorter, and the regular price is 25 cents for each ride. Parking and admission to the park at 5979 Main St. are free. Swimming and picnicking at nearby Krull Park and summer band concerts sponsored by the Town of Newfane also are free.

"The kids have so much fun, this could just as well be Darien Lake or Fantasy Island for them," Beth Salmeri said. "And it's only 25 cents. Hey, that's great!"

The park was privately operated until the 1980s, when it fell into disrepair along with much of the rest of Main Street, according to Rosemary Sansone, president of the nonprofit Olcott Beach Carousel Park Inc. Gary Cammarata, treasurer of the nonprofit corporation, said the reborn park now is in its ninth season of operation.

The 1928 carousel has been at other parks, including its last home at Buck Lake Ranch in Angola, Tenn., until that park was closed and the ride was acquired by a man in Culver, Ind., whose hobby was refurbishing such antiques. It was moved from Indiana to Olcott Beach in pieces and was reassembled here.

Other vintage rides in the park include an Allan Herschell Sky Fighter from the 1940s, a Herschell kiddie auto and fire truck ride and a boat ride from that same era, a 1950s rocket swing ride and a kiddie Ferris wheel.

The park will be open from noon to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Sunday and from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Labor Day, and then from noon to 6 p.m. on Labor Day and on Saturdays and Sundays through the first weekend in October. It is operated entirely by volunteer labor.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com