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Carousel in tip-top shape for its 100th birthday at Herschell Carrousel Museum

NORTH TONAWANDA – It’s been going around in circles for a century.

The centerpiece of the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum – the 1916 No. 1 Special – will celebrate its 100th birthday Saturday and Sunday at the museum, 180 Thompson St.

But the carousel almost missed its big day.

Two major cracks in the merry-go-round’s main hub were discovered last winter, forcing the museum to bring in a specialist and make repairs – work that shut down the carousel for six weeks.

“The real story, basically, is that the carousel broke down the same month it turned 100,” Rae Proefrock said at the June reopening. “Now, six weeks later it’s probably good for another 100 years.”

Proefrock is executive director of the museum, and she credits the community for coming to the rescue, with more than 240 donors raising more than $40,000 for the repairs to the carousel and its 36 hand-carved horses. The 1916 No. 1 Special officially reopened the beginning of June.

Proefrock and her husband Chuck, a museum trustee, were among those who helped reassemble the venerable carousel in 1983 – after it was purchased for $55,000. It opened just in time for the first Canal Fest.

The carousel is 40 feet in diameter and features more than 580 updated LED lights. The “new and improved” horses on the outer perimeter are of the 1916 Allan Herschell style, while the inner circles of horses are an older style dating from the late 1890s. Master woodcarvers and volunteers are responsible for a number of restorations over the years. A 1929 Wurlitzer military band organ plays the whimsical music that gives the ride its final touch.

The 1916 No. 1 Special was one of the first rides the company shipped out when it opened the Thompson Street museum in 1915. It does about 6.5 revolutions per minute, which at its inception was considered a thrill ride for adults. The Children’s Gallery also features a smaller 1940s aluminum “kiddie carousel.” Other vintage kiddie rides made by the Herschell Carrousel Co. are also located on the grounds of the museum.

The 1916 No. 1 Special’s 100th birthday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, also coincides with Canal Fest, which begins on Sunday, along the Erie Canal in the Tonawandas. Admission is $1, and the Children’s Gallery of the museum will be transformed into a carnival midway, with games for the whole family, along with 50-cent rides. There also will be a basket auction.

Food will be provided by the Ted’s Hot Dogs Food Truck on Saturday and by North Tonawanda’s Knight Slider on Sunday. Entertainment will be provided by Balloon Sculptures by Joe and Squiggly Art Face Painting.