Silver Beach Carousel resurrected with handcarved charm

Published 2:04 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The recently reopened Silver Beach Carousel evokes fond memories for many. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Mayo Studios)

It was several years ago when Gus Damaske, vice president of the Silver Beach Carousel Society, said that the first steps were made in bringing the carousel back to life.

“There was a group that formed long before I got involved,” Damaske said, who “wanted to bring the original Silver Beach Carousel back to St. Joseph.”

Since that group set about making the dream a reality, countless hours have been spent on making sure the carousel that would take the place of the original would surely be something to behold.

And something to behold it is.

A total of 48 figurines and two chariots, hand-carved and adorned with elaborate design, take their turn around the carousel with equally detailed panels and authentic old-time music.

“Volunteers have commented that people who are up in age and remember the original (carousel), they expect it to be nice and may not have seen a bunch of pictures,” Damaske said. “And they’ve had situations where people come in and their jaw drops and tears just come out of their eyes.”

The society originally had three basic challenges to bring the carousel to fruition, Damaske said.

“To find and locate the original carousel and talk with the owner to see if he or she was willing to sell it … to find the financing and find a site. That effort went on several years,” he said.

Eventually the group would find the original carousel, which started its run in 1910 in Arizona with an owner who was willing to talk about a sale. But over time, as the project continued to develop the carousel was sold, now to near Seattle.

“The new owner didn’t want to sell it,” Damaske said.

Still the search was on to find a way to “replicate the original style of the Silver Beach Carousel, which was hand-carved wood figurines,” he said.

Still, they wanted the new carousel to be something more, something “indicative of Berrien County and the State of Michigan.”

So some of the figurines are exactly that. There is the Lakeshore Lancer horse, the State of Michigan, University of Michigan and Michigan State University horses and the Coloma Comet.

The figurines are sponsored by their namesakes and the designs are a resemblance of those institutions rather than blatant advertisements.

It lends to the overall class and character of the carousel and even the education available to those who come down to St. Joseph to see it — or better yet, take a ride.

“They would have an opportunity to be educated about the area,” Damaske said. “It took the same effort in designing the rounding boards.”

The boards represent a variety of themes, Damaske said, including summer in the city, winter in the city, music, faith and waterfront entrepreneurs and companies both past and present.