Round They Go
Making a carousel to make Newtown happy
What gift is appropriate in the wake of a tragedy?” Valerie Jensen and Margaret Price-Sims wondered aloud, as they discussed the horrors that had unfolded in Newtown hours earlier. On that bleak December afternoon, they knew they had to help, and they tossed ideas back and forth about something symbolic and inspirational that they might build. “Val suggested a carousel, and when I asked her why, she said, ‘Because it will make Newtown fun again, and it will give the residents a reason to smile,’” recalls Price-Sims, a mother of two and president of Ridgefield Supply Company.
That night, Price-Sims went online to research carousels and called Jensen the following morning. “I think we can do this,” she announced, and the two set to work learning all there is to know about carousels. It turns out, they had a lot to learn.
As luck would have it, the New England Carousel Museum, where the history and science of carousels is taught and celebrated, is only an hour’s drive from their homes. “Connecticut is rich in carousel history,” explains Jensen, a mother of three, president of SPHERE, and founder of Ridgefield’s new Prospector Theater. “So we quickly absorbed everything from the differences between fiberglass and wooden horses to the importance of four-season enclosures.”
Sensitive to the feelings of the victims’ families, the women connected with the Fairfield County Community Foundation, which is charged, among other things, with ensuring that charitable donations to a variety of Newtown-related funds are directed appropriately. “We decided that if we received any indication that the families of the victims did not want the carousel, we would not push forward,” Jensen continues. “But, we have received only positive feedback.”
With the idea that a carousel could symbolize goodness—that when people work together, beauty is created—the women formed a non-profit fund with the FCCF. They hired architect John Muse, whose notable projects include the Carousel Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, to design a four-season pavilion that complements Newtown’s architectural character. “John’s rendering includes 20 windows in the dome and six doors to represent the lives lost at Sandy Hook,” explains Jensen.
“This is not a memorial, but rather a gift,” Price-Sims points out. “So, symbolism is subtle and gentle and often accomplished through numbers.” Like Litchfield, Newtown has long been graced with horses grazing in pastures. So, making the beautiful animals the centerpiece of the gift seemed appropriate. Twenty-six wooden horses and carriages will be handcrafted to harness the feeling of happiness.
The Newtown Connecticut Carousel committee has since expanded and plans to raise $6 million—$2 million for construction of the carousel and pavilion and $4 million to cover maintenance and operations going forward. “We felt strongly that a gift to the community must be self-sustaining and an income generator. We didn’t want the taxpayers to have to underwrite any expenses in the future,” Price-Sims continues. “The pavilion will allow for year-round use, and will have space to accommodate parties which will contribute supplementary income.”
Now in the early stages of fundraising, the committee has created a Facebook page (NewtownCtCarousel) and produced a video to get the word out. “We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so far, but we need millions in order to help Newtown smile again,” Jensen says with a twinkle in her eye. “Life is beautiful; let’s enjoy the ride.”