* A State Fair Tradition *|
* At Auction * Saving the Carousel *
* Raising the Money *
* Town Square * Como Park *
About the Carousel
About the Band Organ
A State Fair Tradition...
Back in 1914, an enterprising man named Austin McFadden paid the Philadelphia Toboggan Company $8,500 to build a
carousel, bring it to St. Paul, and assemble it on the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair. He ran
it as a concession for many years, after which it passed into the hands of other families.
Each year during the fair, Minnesota families would ride the carousel. Parents brought their children, grandparents rode with grandchildren, young people rode with friends and sweethearts, and over the years the carousel wove itself into the stories of thousands of families.
Most of those families, perhaps believing that the State Fair owned the carousel, took for granted that "their" carousel would be at the fair forever. That was not to be.
Slated for Auction... In 1988, Minnesota carousel fans were shocked to learn that the privately-owned carousel had been put up for sale. By the time the story hit the newspapers on November 11, twenty horses and a chariot were on a truck headed for a December 10 auction in New York. According to the story, the carousel's owners had tried unsuccessfully to find someone to buy the carousel and keep it intact.
A St. Paul couple read the story and decided to try to save the carousel. Peter Boehm and Nancy Peterson, a husband-and-wife team who had become interested in historic carousels only a year before, made a series of phone calls and learned that for a purchase price of just over $1.1 million, the carousel would be sold intact.
Saving the Carousel... Within 72 hours of learning of the impending auction, Boehm and Peterson formed a non-profit organization called Our Fair Carousel, Inc. (OFC), opened a bank account and post office box, announced through Twin Cities media their intention to acquire the carousel and operate it on a non-profit basis "for the people of Minnesota," and invited help from any source. Over the next week, their phone rang non-stop with people calling to tell their stories and offer their support. Each day's mail brought contributions, which generally ranged from $100 to a six-year-old's gift of a quarter, two dimes and a nickel "to save my favorite horse." The St. Paul City Council soon voted to use city resources to guarantee a bank loan with which OFC could purchase the carousel.
On December 10, 1988, after extensive negotiation, Boehm and Peterson traveled to New York and completed the purchase--ten minutes after the auction had begun and moments before the first of the carousel's horses would have been sold. By terms of their agreement with St. Paul, they had one year to raise more than $1 million to repay the loan.
Raising the Money... Boehm and Peterson spent 1989 raising money to pay off the million-dollar bank loan with which they had purchased the carousel. They created an Adopt-A-Pony program, which allowed donors to sponsor a horse on the carousel for gifts ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.
With the help of dozens of volunteers, they also operated the carousel at the Minnesota State Fair in 1989. More than 108,000 people rode the merry-go-round in its 75th and final year at the Fair, and they purchased thousands of t-shirts, posters and buttons to generate funds for the cause.
Meanwhile, a "mystery donor" had pledged $600,000, about half the amount needed. Later, his identity was revealed as Gerard L. Cafesjian and the carousel was named for him.
By the deadline in December 1989, OFC had raised about $900,000. The City of St. Paul, through one of its agencies, extended a long-term loan for the remainder.
Operating at St. Paul's Town Square... The carousel moved into a new home at Town Square Park, an enclosed city park on the top level of a building in the heart of downtown St. Paul. The building housed a variety of stores and restaurants, and for about two years, business at the carousel was good. (For another photo of the carousel at Town Square, click on the photo or click here.
By 1993, however, downtown retail business was in decline and Town Square itself was beginning a transition from retail to office space. Our Fair Carousel's board of directors began to seek another location. A lengthy negotiation with the city and a careful consideration of bids from three locations led to the selection of St. Paul's Como Park.
New Home in Como Park... In spring 2000, Cafesjian's Carousel opened in a new, $1.1 million copper-roofed pavilion in Como Park. When the carousel is in operation, eight 14-by-14-foot garage-style doors can be opened in various configurations to suit the weather. Just outside the doors are patios with benches for visitors. For another view of the pavilion, click here or on the photo. Even when the doors are closed, their generous windows allow visitors to see the carousel, which has undergone a complete restoration.
Inside the building are six display cases which provide changing informational displays about the history and restoration of the carousel and band organ. A permanent display case and name plates on the carousel platform identify participants in the Adopt-A-Pony program.
The carousel's new pavilion was financed by Mr. Cafesjian, the City of St. Paul, Ramsey County, and Our Fair Carousel, which in November 2005 was able to repay a $400,000 loan through donations and carousel revenues.
OFC is now creating a special reserve fund to protect against emergencies and allow for future restoration and repair of the carousel.
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|This site is maintained by Our Fair Carousel, Inc.,
not-for-profit owner and operator of Cafesjian's Carousel,
1245 Midway Parkway, St. Paul, Minnesota 55103