carousel of happiness is can't miss attraction in nederland colorado
Travel date August 2020

Who doesn’t love a carousel?

Seriously, the music and brightly colored animals going round and round evoke a smile from even the sternest adult.

I couldn’t stop smiling when I rode the aptly named carousel nestled in the tiny Colorado mountain town of Nederland. Keep reading to learn why you can’t miss the epic Carousel of Happiness.

What is the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round?

Carousel is derived from the French word carrousel and is used interchangeably in North America with the term merry-go-round. These amusement rides consist of a round rotating platform with seats for riders. Most often the seats are shaped like horses. Some carousels include other species of animals or themed seats.

History of Carousels in America

The early 1900s were the golden age of carousels in America and nearly 4,000 were in use. At that time, most carousel, or merry-go-rounds, contains wooden carved animals. Most were horses. With the decline of carousels, most were dismantled and sold off piece by piece. Many collectors purchased the carved wooden animals individually.

As part of a revival carousel art, many of the original frames are being restored. New wooden animals are created and added.

Today, only a few hundred wooden carousels are in use in the United States. The Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, Colorado is one example with an amazing story.

Where is Nederland Colorado?

We loved our time in Nederland. It is less than an hour’s drive from Denver but feels worlds away. Nederland is located in the foothills of southwest Boulder County.

The town is surrounded by evergreen-covered mountains. The small town has a healthy tourism business but only claims a population of 1,500. Check out 15 Amazing Things to do in Nederland: Our Favorite Colorado Hippie Town.

The town’s residents are very granola. For example, most shops sell both pre-owned and new goods. I enjoyed seeing the sustainable living ideas at work.

We saw “Keep Ned Weird” bumper stickers around town. The free-spirited, artistic vibes of Ned reminded me of Austin, Texas. As you might know, Austin shares the same desire to preserve its uniqueness.

Why is there a carousel in Nederland Colorado?

The Carousel of Happiness is impressive without the backstory. But once we heard the backstory we were amazed. A Vietnam veteran promised to build a carousel in the mountains if he made it home from the war. And he did just that.

camel on carousel of happines

Who made the Carousel of Happiness?

Scott Harrison hand-carved every animal on the carousel. During the Vietnam War, he carried a small music box. It provided comfort and let his mind temporarily escape from war. The music, Chopin’s “Tristesse”, evoked visions of a carousel in a mountain meadow. He promised that if he made it home from the war, he’d build a carousel. In the end, the project took him two decades but he did it.

How was the Carousel of Happiness made?

After returning home Scott Harrison purchased an empty vintage carousel frame by the famous carousel maker Charles Louff. The frame was created in 1910 for Saltair Park in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 1959, Saltair Park declared bankruptcy and the Utah governor moved the carousel to the Utah State Training School in nearby American Fork. The mentally and physically challenged residents enjoyed the carousel for 27 years. In 1976, the residents performed a restoration on the beloved carousel.

A private buyer purchased the carousel in 1986 solely for the animals. Meanwhile, Scott learned the empty frame was still available. With the help of a friend, he disassembled and moved the carousel to Nederland.

All the original bearings, gears, and metalwork have been restored or rebuilt for continued use. Due to safety concerns, a few pieces were replaced. General Electric retooled the original electric motor and controller for modern-day use.

Scott had had no previous wood carving experience. His first project was the rabbit carving that now lives on the carousel’s sign. Scott worked for 26 years to hand-carve more than 50 one-of-a-kind animals. You can get up close and ride 35 of the carvings on the Carousel of Happiness.

carousel of happiness sign with rabbit

Did Charles Looff make other carousels?

Charless Looff was a one of the great carousel makers of the late 19th century and early 20th century. He immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1870. Looff was a master wood carver and is famed for his rotating works of art.

Only 6 years after immigrating and still only 24, Looff manufactured the first carousel for New York’s Coney Island. His Rhode Island factory produced about forty carousels between 1876 and 1916. Ten have survived and are still working. In addition to his famous carousel, Looff also created amusement parks, roller coasters, Ferris Wheels and the famous Santa Monica pier.

Per Wikipedia, a few of the original surviving Looff carousels are:

Nederland’s Carousel of Happiness consists of a Looff carousel frame. Scott Harrison hand carved the wooden animals for the carousel.

What is the music on the Carousel of Happiness?

In addition to hand carving each animal on the carousel, Scott also purchased and refurbished a 1913 Wurlitzer band organ. The organ left us speechless.

Who is Wurlitzer?

Wurlitzer is a brand of musical instrument. The Randolph Wurlitzer is an American music company started by German immigrant Franz Randolph Wurlitzer in 1853. Wurlitzer got its start by importing string, woodwind and brass instruments. The company’s early success is attributed to its contracts supplying musical instruments to the American military.

In 1880, the company relocated from Cincinnati to New York and began making pianos. They quickly expanded to also creating band organs, player pianos, pipe organs which were popular in theatres playing silent movies. Several US companies created band organs but Wurlitzer was the only company that created multiple other types of organs.

Today Wurlitzer doesn’t produce musical instruments instead they make jukeboxes and vending machines.

What is a band organ?

Band organs are also known as fairground organs because they were designed to provide loud music to accompany rides for commercial fairgrounds. Their most popular application is on carousels or merry-go-rounds. They provide high-volume music meant to be heard over the loud noises at a fair.

Fairground or band organs were made to produce the music of an entire band. The organs are often housed in ornate wooden cases that include multiple musical instruments. The beautiful cases were designed to be displayed as an attraction at fairs.

No special training or skills is needed to operate a band organ. It is completely mechanized and requires no musical experience. The music is created by mechanically powered wind bellows. Punched music cards or music rolls provide “sheet music” to the machine. All machine functions are guided by the perforated music.

These machines are works of art and only a few hundred have survived. A similar fully restored Wurlitzer military band organ is available for sale on AntiqueCarousels.com for $60,000.

wurlitzer band organ at carousel of happines

Who paid to build the Carousel of Happiness?

For approximately 20 years, the creator, Scott Harrison, funded the project. Towards the end of construction, Scott created a non-profit organization.

Through the non-profit, he raised $700k to finish the carousel and build the home of the carousel in downtown Nederland. Volunteers helped to finish the project and construct the permanent home of the Carousel of Happiness.

peacock on carousel of happiness

How much does it cost to ride the Carousel of Happiness?

We paid $2 each to ride the carousel and it was amazing. The Carousel of Happiness is definitely a can’t miss attraction in Nederland. Due to decreased ridership in 2020, the price has increased to $3 in 2021. It is definitely still worth it.

Infants under 9 months ride for free. In addition, frequent rider 10 punch cards are available for $25.

The only other passengers on our ride were a local family. While waiting in line, they were discussing which animals they rode on their last visit. Before even stepping foot on the carousel, they had already decided which one to ride on this visit.

i can't imagine missing the opportunity to ride a saint bernard at carousel of happiness

What animals are on the Carousel of Happiness?

Original carousels consisted of horses but the Carousel of Happiness has a variety of animals. The Navajo pony is the only carved horse on the Nederland merry-go-round. Some of the animal carvings on the Carousel of Happiness are a camel, alpaca, lion, calico cat, rooster, bear, pig, duck, giraffe, moose, heron, panda, cheetah, frog, St Bernard dog, coyote, dolphin, elephant, gorilla, dragon, donkey, kangaroo, deer, lynx, zebra, mermaid, ostrich, peacock, a tropical fish and swans. I loved the donkey carrying a monkey in his saddlebag but I chose to ride the St Bernard.

When is the Carousel of Happiness open?

The Carousel is open 7 days a week from 11a-5p. It opens one hour earlier at 10 am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Carousel of Happiness opened on Memorial Day 2010 in recognition of fallen veterans including Marine Corp friends of the creator. I enjoyed this short informative interview with Scott from 2010.

Is the Carousel of Happiness accessible?

Yes, the carousel has a wheelchair ramp. It is accessible and inclusive to everyone. Parking is located nearby with paved sidewalks leading to the entrance.

Who runs the Carousel?

Volunteers run the majority of the daily operations at the Carousel. This allows ticket prices to stay low. On our visit, a senior man was running the carousel and his love of the project was contagious. He gushed telling us about his buddy Scott’s work on the animals. To be fair, we were already impressed with the Carousel before talking to the volunteer.

Summary

Nederland is a wonderful vacation location near both Boulder and Denver Colorado. It’s on our shortlist of places we want to visit again in our travels.

The Carousel of Happiness is a can’t miss destination in Nederland. The realization of one Vietnam veteran’s dream to build a carousel in the mountains is amazing. For a few bucks, you can ride on a carousel full of animals that he carved by hand. Despite insurmountable odds, his wartime promise turned into an amazing work of art.

donkey carrying a monkey in his basket at the carousel of happines

YouTube Video of Carousel of Happiness including Music

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2 Comments

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