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Lagoon’s carousel is a classic

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FARMINGTON — It's not the fastest, the largest or the most popular ride at Lagoon. But the carousel is the oldest, most artistic, best restored — and perhaps the most universal — attraction at this theme park among more than three dozen rides.

This year represents the 110th anniversary of Lagoon's hand-crafted merry-go-round, a remarkable, priceless work of Victorian art. Built in 1893 by the Hershell-Spillman Co., the carousel was purchased by Lagoon in 1906. It has been around for all but the first seven of the park's 117 seasons.

Although there were as many as 3,000 of these "flying horses" built in the golden age of wooden carousels, it is estimated that fewer than 175 are still operating today, and this is the only one left in Utah.

Sherida Layton of Kaysville said she's been enjoying the attraction for decades, ever since she was a young child. "I love the handcrafting and the repainting that's been done," Layton said. "She's beautiful." Her young granddaughter, Kayra Costley of Layton, said her favorite character to ride is the kitten.

The carousel is a favorite among the youngest of children because it is non-threatening, and parents can stand right next to the kids at all times, if they wish. Even some babes-in-arms, with parental help, occasionally ride.

The carousel is one of only two Lagoon rides (the Wild Kingdom train being the other) that all ages, from the very young to senior citizens, can enjoy regularly.

Optional safety belts are also available, and some of the animals remain stationary. The signature carousel music creates a carnival atmosphere. Lagoon regulations say those from 36 inches up can ride alone; shorter riders need adult supervision.

The craftsmanship of the carousel's figures can be more thrilling than the ride, which never exceeds 10 mph.

One reason wooden carousels are so rare today is that each hand-carved animal can be sold separately for as much as $10,000-$50,000 each. As early as the 1920s, manufacturers began using aluminum parts instead of wood.

Lagoon's carousel features 47 animals carved from many pieces of wood laminated together with pegs and glue. Poplar and bass were the most common woods used, and finish work on each animal would take a carver 40 to 60 hours.

The animals on this carousel are maintained by Lori Capener, Lagoon's art director. Once a wooden animal is sold, it can be replaced with a fiberglass one, but Capener said that Lagoon has always tried to preserve its carousel, painting and repairing only as necessary over the years.

Lagoon undertook a major restoration of its merry-go-round in 1993 to celebrate the park's centennial. It also added new paint during the past year. Capener said she has spent thousands of hours during the past decade repainting the animals.

In 1953, Lagoon almost lost the attraction in a huge fire that destroyed half the park. Only a steady stream of water saved the carousel as flames came within 15 feet.

"Everyone loves the carousel," Capener said. "It's pretty unique. Even teenagers ride it. People just don't realize what they're riding on."

The carousel features quite a menagerie — there's a chicken, swan, snail, lion, tiger, a frog in short pants and a bow tie, a sea dragon, a long-horned goat, a zebra without a saddle, a sleeping baby with a bouquet of flowers nestled in the folds of a fabric sling held by a stork, a lion and giraffe and many others. Some of the figures have glass eyes and are decorated with "jewels" on the trappings.

The carousel also has a "spinning love tub" and a "Victorian rocker" — both of which are among the first seats to be taken.

E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com