SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. – The 82-year-old carousel on the Seaside Heights boardwalk survived Superstorm Sandy and a devastating fire, but it may not survive changing economics.
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The company that owns the carousel is selling it to make room for new attractions. An auction is planned for fall, with the hope that a buyer will take the entire ride and prevent it from being broken up and sold off piecemeal.
The National Carousel Association says it's one of only 212 classic wood carousels left in North America.
"We've had it for a long time, and it was very expensive to maintain and insure," said Maria Mastoris, a spokeswoman for the carousel's owners, the Storino family, which owns boardwalk attractions here and in Point Pleasant Beach.
"We recognize its contribution to the Seaside Heights community as well as the joy and excitement it has brought to the countless riders who have reveled in its magic and majesty for the better part of a century," she said. "Current market conditions, however, make it clear that all would be best served if this national treasure were to find a new home."
The carousel is a wholesome family-friendly attraction on the same boardwalk prowled for years by cast members of MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality show. Debbie Ahr of Lawrenceville was saddened to learn the carousel would be sold.
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"It's a shame," she said. "It's a part of the history off the Jersey shore. Oh, I feel so bad!"
Joann Laing of Palisades Park has ridden carousels all over the world, and loves the one in Seaside Heights.
"It's a beautiful piece, all the hand carvings, hand-painted horses, tigers and camels," she said. "It's a real piece of history."
The 1910 Dentzel model, hand-made by a Philadelphia family renowned for carousels, has 58 animals, 36 of which move up and down. It has two benches, and a Wurlitzer organ that operates with a pneumatic system using a leather bellows and perforated music rolls that play its individual notes. It has operated in Seaside Heights since 1932.
Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's, the New York firm that will handle the auction, said that during the golden era of carousels in the United States, from the mid-1890s through the 1920s, there were 5,000 such amusements nationwide.
"A hundred years ago if you wanted to go out on a date on a Saturday night, you took your date to a carousel, much like you'd go to a movie nowadays," Ettinger said.
But then the Depression hit, and customers wanted scary thrill rides, and carousels began being removed, he said.
"This carousel is a real survivor," he said. It's one of the very last ones. If this were a car, it would be a Rolls Royce."
No deadline has been set for the auction, which Ettinger expects to happen in the fall. A carousel from Coney Island, New York, that Ettinger said was smaller and in worse condition than the Seaside Heights one sold for just under $2 million about five years ago, he said. The Seaside Heights carousel should be worth more than $2 million if sold to a single buyer, which is the auctioneer's goal.
Ettinger said he has already heard from several potential buyers interested in acquiring the entire ride.
The Storinos plan new family attractions for the space the carousel now occupies, but are not ready to announce those plans, Mastoris said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC