A recent article in City Pulse regarding possible reuses for the Lansing City Market got me thinking that a perfect marriage with our new beach on the river would be a carousel. I’m a fan of carousels, having growing up in a city with two amusement parks, Wenona Beach and Tony’s Park in Bay City, and then going to college in East Lansing where we had easy access to Lake Lansing Amusement Park and its storied carousel.
Until visionary city leaders saw the possibility of a beach, I would have thought that bringing a carousel to Lansing a bit of over-reach. Historic carousels are expensive and they don’t often show up for purchase on the open market. Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn cost more than $1.5 million to purchase and took 28 years to restore. A Coney Island carousel was purchased by New York City in 2005 for $1.8 million and an additional $1.7 million was spent to restore it.
However, Lansing with imagination, chutzpah and money might be able to land a historic carousel. There’s one right down the street-sort of. Michigan State University Museum still owns a 1916 Herschell-Spillman carousel that has 35 carved, wooden animals, including zebras, a pig, a dog, chicken, horses and a Punch and Judy Chariot which it stores in Marion, Ohio.
The “menagerie” carousel was first installed at Lakeside Park in Flint in 1916 and then was moved to Sunset Beach at Crystal, Michigan, in 1936 where it operated until 1977. The carousel narrowly avoided disaster when the building holding it collapsed during a storm. In 1979 it was donated to the MSU Museum, where a group of volunteers called the Brass Ring Society began a tedious restoration. The restoration was completed by the Mott Foundation in 1984 so the carousel could be used at Flint’s Auto World. When Auto World failed it was moved to Marion, Ohio, in 1989, where it is now resides.
In the last decade there have been several communities which have shown interest in providing a home for the carousel, but they were hindered in part by the cost of constructing a building to house it year round. That wouldn’t be as much of a problem for Lansing since it has the City Market on the banks of the Grand River, which could easily house it. Grand Rapids, another river town west of Lansing has its own carousel in use at the Van Andel Museum Center.
A carousel similar to the one owned by MSU operates at Greenfield Village, Dearborn. Additionally, there are carousels at Comerica Park, Detroit, Crossroads Village, near Flint, Silver Beach in St. Joseph, and on the Detroit Riverfront.
Why a carousel? Riding a carousel is still a magical experience for children and adults who want to recreate the fantasy of their childhood. Jumping on a “racing steed” or one of the popular menagerie animals like a frog can still bring a wide smile to your face.
What will it take? First an exploration of the idea with the MSU Museum and MSU officials is in order. Clearly, Lansing will have to develop a proposal on how the carousel will be housed, maintained, restored, preserved and who will be responsible for overseeing all the details.
If everything is a go, then the hard work of fund-raising begins. Corporations could be recruited to step up and underwrite the restoration of an animal; individuals might want naming rights or local clubs and organizations might adopt a horse or menagerie animal.
The carousel could be complemented by educational panels detailing the history of carousels and some of the legendary Michigan amusement parks or even more about Lansing’s circus mayor, James (Joel) Warner, who at one time owned the largest traveling circus in the country. He also is known for bringing Jumbo the elephant to America, which at the time was the biggest elephant in the world.
It’s worth trying to “grab the brass ring” to bring a carousel to Lansing. (“Brass ring” refers to a ring of brass that was fastened on a stand next to the carousel and as the carousel revolved a rider who could grab the ring would get a free ride). It’s come to mean trying something that’s hard to do, but that has great reward like putting a carousel on Lansing’s waterfront.
If you listen closely you can hear the band organ signaling the start of the carousel.
(Bill Castanier, a longtime contributor to City Pulse, is president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.)
And by coincidence …
Asked about the carousel idea, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said that using it at the City Market is, very preliminarily, under consideration.
“I had a citizen reach out to me and say I have an idea and why not put a carousel there,” Schor said. “I don’t even know if it works, but I thought before we even think about let us see if it’s still there and still available.”
As a result, he said, an intern in the Mayor’s Office contacted the MSU Museum to find out more about the 103-year-old carousel. Schor said he was waiting for a report on the intern’s findings.
“I don’t know if that’s the right use,” Schor said in an interview taped Tuesday that will be posted on City’s Pulse website. “I don’t know if it makes money, and again I’ve said from the beginning this has to be sustainable and the city’s not going to subsidize the space.”
Schor said he was entertaining the idea of installing it in the City Market at least “till we have something permanent.
The Waterfront Bar & Grill, the remaining tenant, vacated the City Market last month after a protracted legal battle to stay.
“I don’t want it to sit vacant,” Schor said. He said the space could be used for weddings and festivals, for example, “until we have a permanent replacement.”
— BERL SCHWARTZ