John Frato sits on a park bench just outside the new glass pavilion on the grounds of the Western Reserve Historical Society. From here, Dan Jones and his team of Carousel Works experts can be seen putting the finishing touches on the restoration of 58 fantastically colored wooden horses. "Mention Euclid Beach Park to anyone in Cleveland, and they do exactly what you're doing right now," says Frato. "They smile." The long-gone amusement park on Lake Erie's southern shores welcomed 74 summers of company picnics, teenage lovebirds and children taking their first swing over the water on the flying rocket ship ride. But the first ride to greet people through the gate and the last to bid them "come again soon" was the Grand Carousel, designed by Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in 1910.
"It was the closest you could get to feeling like you were flying," says Terry Kovel, an antiques expert who enjoyed dates at Euclid Beach Park with her late husband, Ralph, in the 1950s.
After Euclid Beach Park closed in 1969, many of the rides were destroyed. But the carousel — deemed "the finest carousel ever made" when first unveiled — found a home in Maine, where it whirled for another 26 years before it was consigned to an auctioneer.
Many Clevelanders could never quite accept a carousel-less version of the city. So in 1997, the ride was purchased at auction for $715,000. When it returned home, however, supporters discovered four of the original hand-carved wooden horses were missing. Euclid Beach Park Now worked for a year to raise funds for replacement horses. But when efforts fell short, the horses were put into storage at the Western Reserve Historical Society.
"We would come so close, and then there would be some hitch," says Ray Rackley, executive director of the Cleveland's Euclid Beach Park Carousel Society. The group formed in 2009 to protect and restore the landmark at the behest of Ralph Kovel, who feared the horses would be abandoned again if more time slipped by.
Finally in 2012, enough was raised for the $2 million project, which included construction of the glass pavilion and restoration by Carousel Works. "There was a lightning bolt," Rackley recounts.
As the carousel begins its new spin Nov. 23 to the tunes of the original Euclid Beach Band organ, Rackley sees a host of artistic programming potential, including a partnership with local libraries to reward students with free tickets for reading goals.
Yet even by late September, the horses look right at home in their new quarters, surrounded on all sides by insulated glass walls, awaiting new and returning riders. "We want to make this carousel live on for another generation," says Frato.