Last Sunday we drove the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Black Hawk to Estes Park. As the name implies, this outing was more about the journey than the destination. We stopped to investigate anything that looked interesting along the way.
One of the highlights for me was the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland. We drove up just as it was opening, so we were the first customers of the day and for a few minutes we had the carousel to ourselves.
It lives in a modest, unassuming building.
But inside is a world of whimsy!
The operator said there was no time limit, we could stay as long as we liked, so we got to wander around and look at all the animals close-up.
There is a bittersweet story behind this carousel. All of the animals were carved by an ex-marine named Scott Harrison, who has worked through his post-Vietnam ptsd by bringing these happy creatures to life.
During the war his sister had sent him a small music box that played Chopin’s “Tristesse.” It was a source of comfort to him between firefights. He would listen to the tune and imagine a carousel in a serene mountain meadow.
The music box was lost when Harrison was badly injured in January of 1968. After he returned home, he struggled to adjust and longed for the comfort of his music box tune.
In 1986 he found an old 1910 wooden carousel in Salt Lake City that was being dismantled after someone had purchased its animals. Harrison brought the carousel to Colorado and spent the next 26 years carving new animals for it. He held a fundraiser to collect the money to build the structure that now houses the carousel.
Look at this adorable little fish giving a frog a ride!
I just now noticed that the rabbit is holding a watch.
Chillin’ with Harambe.
When the next customers arrived, we chose our animals and the ride began.
The carousel is teeming with creatures large and small.
A 1913 Wurlitzer band organ provides the music, guarded by a wolf.
Painted koi swim around beneath the platform.
So many birds everywhere!
Not all of the animals are on the carousel. Some sit nearby to watch the fun.
Some of the walls are portrayed as misty portals.
This vignette in particular tugs at my heart.
Adjacent to the carousel is a gift shop, with a Nietzsche quote painted over the door: “We have art so that we are not destroyed by the truth.”
The experience made me happy and sad. Sad that a teenage boy was so traumatized by an ugly, pointless war that the entire rest of his life was shaped by that trauma. Happy that he was able to craft his pain into something so beautiful and uplifting.
Almost all art is, on some level, an expression of longing. It’s not hard to see that this exhibit was created by a man who longed for peace and happiness. I hope he eventually found them.