As this summer unofficially comes to a close this weekend, it may be the last summer for the historic carousel on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Having survived hurricanes and fires, the Casino Pier attraction could be headed for the auction block.
Built in 1910 and installed on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights in 1932, the carousel is actually called the Floyd L. Moreland Carousel, named after the man who lovingly restored it in the 1980s.
“In my baby book, my mother wrote that the first time I was taken on that carousel my wish was, ‘I wanna operate the carousel,'” said Moreland. “My grandfather said, ‘Don’t run it. Own it.'”
He never owned it. Rather, he earned his way through college operating the antique carousel, eventually receiving a doctorate in classics and becoming a professor at City University of New York.
In the 1980s, when the carousel faced a sale that would likely have destroyed it, Moreland asked the owners at the time if he could take a crack at renovating it, despite having no experience of carousel restoration.
To his surprise, the owners accepted his offer and took the carousel off the market. Moreland and his friends spent years, in their spare time, bringing back the bling. He would eventually open a shop on the boardwalk, Magical Carousel Shoppe, and have the carousel named after him.
The carousel has a menagerie of 58 hand-carved figures. It is one of the very few antique carousels still in existence with music provided by a mechanical band playing real acoustic instruments. On the saddles of all the animals are names provided by restoration sponsors who wanted a loved one to be remembered, including a seeing-eye dog, William, whose owner wanted the name in Braille.
“Remember, this is pre-technology. It was a different world,” said Moreland, who lives in nearby Ortley Beach. “There was something magical about it, safe about it. Turning around, with the music. It had the Wurlitzer organ, and the drums going. You can close your eyes and be in another world.”
The carousel now faces another sale which, again, might destroy it. Nowadays carousels are worth more as American folk art, and less as amusement park attractions. As its admirers are legion, its ridership is declining. Few carousels are able to sustain themselves. The animals, cut out and sold individually, are worth more than the whole carousel.
‘A visceral museum’ at stake
The owner of the carousel in Seaside Heights, the Storino family who owns Casino Pier, hired Guernsey’s auction house to sell the carousel. But Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey’s, will not set a date for an auction until he has exhausted every possibility of finding a buyer who will find the carousel’s value as a single unit.
“If Seaside Heights were a car, it would be a Rolls Royce,” said Ettinger, who brokered the sale of the recently restored B&B carousel on Coney Island, whole, to the city of New York. “It was bigger, grander in all ways than the vast majority of carousels ever made. You can make an argument that it is the finest antique carousel in existence today.”
The pending sale has aroused both nostalgia and anger from longtime riders of the carousel. A petition on Facebook has attracted several thousand signatures, among them that of Caroline Ferrante, who has been riding the carousel for 65 years.
“This is not a ride. It’s like a visceral museum,” said Ferrante, 68, during a recent visit to the carousel.
She also wrote an email to Gov. Chris Christie asking for state intervention, and contacted the Storino family using a pre-technology device.
“I sent him a postcard with the picture of the carousel, and I think I said some nasty things,” said Ferrante. “It was, like, how could you? Do you really need to do this?”
The best hopes for the carousel, expected to fetch between $3 million and $5 million, would be adoption by a public agency, as were the carousels at the Please Touch Museum and Coney Island, or a developer looking for a centerpiece.
Ettinger says he has gotten a few nibbles from towns in New Jersey and Indiana, but no one has yet bitten. He said he’s prepared to hold off an auction for a few months.