The Magic of the Kit Carson County Carousel
October 30th, 2020
By Hollie Perry
You can say I’m a bit of a carousel connoisseur. I love them and have ridden these high-end merry-go-rounds from coast-to-coast. When I was younger I enjoyed the ride like most people and as I got older, the craftsmanship and entrancing artwork have become even more appealing. It’s fascinating to experience each one.
The “Carousel of Happiness” in Nederland, CO is named for what it simply brings riders. The one in New York’s Central Park is still considered one of the largest in the country. In Griffith Park in Los Angeles, the merry-go-round inspired Walt Disney to create the magic of Disneyland while watching his kids smile as they came into view.
Magic is the best way to describe any carousel, really. It’s not just carved animals going in circles. There’s music, art, and the ride itself is simply fun. Watching the world change on each turn, a new story, a new face… plus the animal or seat you choose to ride on usually says something about the rider themselves and your mood that day. Fun, relaxation… the list can go on. Some carousels are stationary, others feel like you’re riding a horse through a movie. Mary Poppins anyone?
All of these historic and newer merry-go-rounds each bring their own story and their own sense of enchantment but each time I get off the ride, I turn to my friend and say…
“That was fun, but the one in Burlington, CO is still the best.”
I grew up along the front range of Colorado and my grandparents lived in Wray not too far from Burlington along the Kansas border. There was one summer when I was maybe 8 years old where our family took a trip to Old Town Burlington and then went over to the fairgrounds to ride the famous carousel. The main reason “PTC No. 6” sticks out in my head is because it is fast!
When talking to Robbie Fearon, Kit Carson County Carousel association member as well as the supervisor, she stated that they put a GPS on it and that it has been clocked at between 10 to 12 mph, some even claim 14. My eight-year-old self remembers practically hanging off the edge of my horse, feeling the breeze on my face. Plus, fast is better when you’re looking for a thrill!
It is a true ride.
Not only that, observing and learning about it as an adult, I find it fascinating that most of the original paint in the restoration process is still visible, including the gold leaf. Ms. Fearon states that 90-95% of the carousel is still covered in the original oil paint. The late restorer, Will Morton, worked on both the paintings and carvings with John Pogzeba from 1977, finishing it around 1980. It was completed 18 months after “PTC No. 6” was designated a National Historic Site in 1979. The high quality of restoration that Morton and Pogzeba did is used as a model today for most restorations around the country.
PTC stands for the company that originally built the moving magic. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company. It was the 6th of 74 that were manufactured in the early 20th Century and is considered a ‘menagerie’ meaning there are more animals than just horses featured on the ride. One of the most famous being a menacing lion that covers brochures and booklets to this day.
The carousel is not original to Burlington though. It first stood at the former grounds of Elitch Gardens in Denver from 1905 to 1928. The county commissioners in Kit Carson, who purchased it that year for $1,200 were not looked upon kindly by voters as the residents of the county considered it an extravagant purchase as the country was going into the Great Depression. However, according to Ms. Fearon, with a nickel a ride, it paid itself off in 2 years anyway.
People needed joy and that’s what the carousel brought. You can even see it in some the restored paintings on the ride itself, like a couple having a playful snowball fight.
In 1930, right after it was paid off, the county had to suspend the fair because of the Great Depression and the building that held the treasure became storage for hay. The hay though, became a new home for a bunch of rodents, including mice and snakes. The damage done from their cozying into the carousel and organ required a massive restoration, which started in the 1970’s. Prior to that, the carousel was scrubbed and functioned all right but Kit Carson County took it on as their Bicentennial project to bring back the ride’s original glory. The ‘Monster’ as the organ was called used to be played by Style 155 music rolls. However, there was so much damage, the remaining instruments played smaller Style 165 rolls of 1920’s music. That was fine but the Monster’s capabilities were much more. There was literally an orchestra waiting to be heard and it took until 1996 to repair and replace parts so the original 1909 organ now plays as it once did.
Like any good old west story, however, the Kit Carson County Carousel doesn’t come without drama. One would hope that an organ and horse restoration would be where the drama ended, but a carousel can’t exist for over 90 years carefree. Luckily this story has a happy ending.
As I walked around taking photos. I noticed a metal plaque hanging above one of the horses. I couldn’t read it from the distance I was at, so I asked Ms. Fearon why some horses had it while others didn’t.
Apparently back in 1981 there was an antique crime ring making their way around the mid-west and during a storm that horse, in addition to two others and a donkey were stolen!
They were found 5 months later in a Salina, Kansas warehouse. Once home, there was a welcome parade on Halloween and a better security system installed on the ride following that heist. Here I thought the plaque was a sweet dedication… not something from a potential Ocean’s Eleven sequel.
Adding to the history is the fact that carousel was closed this year because it’s impossible to safely clean the original paint. The Christmas carolers and spicy cider will probably step out for the next holiday season, but keep an eye out next summer for ride times between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Take a tour through the museum and if you’re around for the holiday season in 2021, revel in the joy of a Victorian Christmas and spin around in the snow.
Kit Carson County Carousel
815 North 15th Street
Burlington, CO 80807
Memorial Day to Labor Day – 11:00am to 6:00pm
Museum Admission – $1.00
Carousel Rides – 25 cents
Carousel Christmas – 1st weekend in December potentially starting again in 2021
www.Discover Rural.com lists events and activities in rural areas. Facebook pages include Discover Northeast Colorado; Discover Southeast Colorado; Discover Southwest Colorado; Discover Northwest Colorado; Discover Southeast Wyoming and Discover the Nebraska Panhandle. Contact: [email protected]