Community gets peek at historic carousel

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  • (Photo by MARY MALONE) Monroe Curry was the first to applaud as the Carousel of Smiles was revealed during a “pre-unveiling” event Friday evening at the Bonner County Fairgrounds. Monroe is the granddaughter of Clay and Reno Hutchison, who brought the carousel to Sandpoint for the community to enjoy.

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    (Photo by MARY MALONE) Reno Hutchison, right, shows off one of the ponies that was recently refinished. The Carousel of Smiles was assembled in its unrestored state and unveiled to the public last weekend.

  • (Photo by MARY MALONE) Monroe Curry was the first to applaud as the Carousel of Smiles was revealed during a “pre-unveiling” event Friday evening at the Bonner County Fairgrounds. Monroe is the granddaughter of Clay and Reno Hutchison, who brought the carousel to Sandpoint for the community to enjoy.

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    (Photo by MARY MALONE) Reno Hutchison, right, shows off one of the ponies that was recently refinished. The Carousel of Smiles was assembled in its unrestored state and unveiled to the public last weekend.

SANDPOINT — Reno Hutchison was mesmerized by the Carousel of Smiles as it spun around in all its 1920s glory.

"It's a dream come true," she said, nearly speechless during a "pre-unveiling" event Friday evening where a group of community members got the first look at the assembled carousel.

Jan Griffitts on the other hand, Carousel of Smiles director, had several words to describe it — "Awesome," "unbelievable" and "emotional" to name a few.

"I've seen it all this time in pieces, and then to see it all together up there, even though I knew what it was going to look like it was still a surprise," Griffitts said. "A wonderful, wonderful surprise."

The Carousel of Smiles is a nonprofit organization founded by Clay and Reno Hutchison after they brought the 1920 Allan Herschell Carousel to Sandpoint last year. On Friday evening, the assembled, though unrestored, carousel was revealed to a group of community members during the "pre-unveiling" event, followed by a public unveiling on Saturday. The carousel remained assembled in the main building of the Bonner County Fairgrounds through Sunday for community members to enjoy the Golden Age machine.

Clay Hutchison said when the carousel was assembled last week, all of the pieces fit right together. A couple of local volunteers, the "gear and grease gang," lubed up the bearing and other mechanical parts, which allowed those present at the event to see it spin.

"Other than a couple modern nails to use as hinges on the interior art panels and a few minor bolts here and there, everything is exactly as it came out of the trailer," he said.

Informational boards were set up around the building for folks to learn about volunteer opportunities, as well as the carousel's history, how the Hutchisons acquired it and the journey to Sandpoint.

The carousel was packed into two cargo trailers and stored in a Kansas field when a Midwest traveling fair shut down after the 1952 season and never reopened. The Hutchisons saved the carousel from being broken up and sold at auction when they purchased it 17 years ago. The couple moved it to a storage barn in upstate New York until it was delivered to Sandpoint and revealed to the public more than a year ago.

Clay Hutchison said not only did they find the carousel in Hutchinson, Kan., it is the county seat for Reno County. This is a sentimental coincidence as it has been Reno Hutchison's dream to find and restore a Golden Age carousel for a very long time. Her passion for carousels stemmed from her first ride at the Columbia Gardens in Montana as a child. She was devastated when that carousel burned down in 1973. Adding to the coincidence, the Carousel of Smiles is the same model as the one that burned down.

The 36 horses are all hand-carved wooden animals. The paint was stripped off the ponies for restoration at one time, but only two were repainted. The carousel also includes two carved chariots, rounding boards, as well as the original artwork and ticket booth.

One of the ponies returned last week from Sandusky, Ohio, where the wood was repaired and refinished. Local woodworker Dan Mimmack did similar work on another pony as well. Both were back and on display at last weekend's event. While the two ponies are getting closer to being painted, Reno Hutchison said there is still a lot of work to do.

Nevertheless, the Carousel of Smiles is on its way to becoming a part of the Sandpoint community. And Clay Hutchison said one thing they really want is for the community to accept it as their carousel.

"We love it and we will always be part of it, but it really needs to be Sandpoint's carousel," he said. "... If we as a community love this carousel, this carousel is going to love us back."

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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