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Carousel with local link will add magic to Canalside

The gleam and luster of the vintage carousel animals faded long ago.

But now, after some 61 years in storage, the improbable is about to occur.

The 1924 menagerie carousel made in North Tonawanda will be restored to its full glory and then transported and reassembled in Buffalo, thanks to $600,000 state grant provided by Assemblyman Sean Ryan.

An official announcement is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday in Canalside. Ryan will be accompanied by “A Mule Named Sal” – a mule carousel figure that was recently purchased and is being restored.

“The cultural master plan laid out a vision for Canalside that included both the children’s museum and a carousel, and with this funding we will be able to bring the restored carousel to Canalside,” said Ryan, D-Buffalo.

Ryan will tap into Assembly funds designated for projects like this.

“The carousel fits exactly with what we are looking for at Canalside,” Ryan said. “It’s year-round. It complements the children’s museum. It’s perfect for all ages, and it tells the story of the Erie Canal and the story of Buffalo.”

The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation met a July 1 deadline by providing Buffalo Heritage Carousel Inc., a local not-for-profit, with a $25,000, nonrefundable deposit toward buying the rare, three-row carousel from a Massachusetts family. The full $250,000 grant to buy the carousel was contingent on the group obtaining the money needed for restoration.

Irene Ayad, a Buffalo Heritage Carousel member, expressed the group’s gratitude.

“This is a milestone effort for making our project a reality,” Ayad said. “It is really a joy, and heartwarming to see so much community support.”

The carousel will be solar powered as a nod to the region’s history of using renewable energy from as far back as energy demonstrations at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo and the use of hydropower in Niagara Falls.

Both the Wendt Foundation and Ryan have stipulated the carousel must be located at Canalside.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. officials have said they would welcome the carousel but have not yet identified a location for it.

Officials for the waterfront agency and the City of Buffalo, which owns several acres, will meet Thursday with the carousel group to discuss locations.

The wooden carousel – 31 animals in all, including horses in standing and jumping positions, a lion, tiger, giraffe, ostrich and deer – are in storage at Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, where they will be restored along with painted scenery panels and rounding boards.

Ryan had one other requirement, one shared by the group: Keep the cost of riding the carousel to $1.

“That will really help make it accessible to all the families of Western New York,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the carousel fits perfectly with the “lighter, cheaper, quicker” model of waterfront development and as a year-round attraction.

“‘Lighter, cheaper, quicker’ says you need to do several things in a small area to keep people’s interest,” Ryan said. “So now in the summer, you can take a ferry, go to the museum and take a ride on the carousel. In the winter, you can go ice skating, get a hot chocolate and then go for a ride on the carousel.”

European immigrants delicately carved the carousel at Spillman Engineering Co., one of three companies that grew out of Herschell-Spillman Co. in North Tonawanda. The companies – which shipped their carousels on rail along the Erie Canal to far-off clients – made about 3,000 carousels. Fewer than 20 were the fancier park-style machines. This would be the tenth to operate in the United States.

Ryan predicted the carousel will become an “iconic” symbol of Canalside.

“People young and old find carousels appealing,” Ryan said. “This amenity will really help Canalside become a more family-friendly experience.”

The carousel has been kept in storage for six decades – the last 27 years at the plant in northeastern Ohio. The company had restored carousels in much worse shape, said Dan Jones, co-owner of Carousel Works. He said the restoration department would reglue, repair and repaint the carousel back to a polished appearance in a process that takes about 18 months from start to finish.