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Heritage Carousel in Union Park Celebrates 21 Years

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Heritage Carousel has been a staple in Union Park for 21 years and it opens for the season on Saturday.

The founder of the carousel was Buzz Brenton of the Brenton Family. He was in a park in New Hampshire in the 1970s and saw a carousel and was inspired.

“He sat and watched the people coming and going, the families, the grandparents with the grandchildren, and just was so entranced by this carousel and how much fun people were having and how happy it made them and he just thought to himself, we need one of those in Des Moines,” Des Moines Carousel Foundation Executive Director Jackie Cacciatore said.

He started the foundation right then and there and the carousel was finally built in 1998. Not much has changed with the carousel except for the outside building was constructed in 2000. Thirty hand-carved and painted animals dance around the carousel, employees say the favorite every year is the pirate cat, they even made it into a key chain. There are also paintings of historic places around Iowa on top of the carousel.

But new this year is a sales counter, made possible by a grant from Polk County and local artisans who volunteered their time. Before they were just using an old Clinique counter from Younkers, now it is a work of art.

“It just really pulls the fun and whimsy of the carousel into the counter and as you walk up, you’re immediately greeted with that fun, whimsical, nostalgia of the carousel,” Cacciatore said.

One of the most nostalgic things about the carousel is the price. It is the same now as it was 21 years ago -- it only costs 50 cents for a child to ride. They are able to keep the price so low through their animal adoption program.

“Our animal adoption is an annual program and it’s a suggested $150 donation minimum to adopt an animal and if you adopt an animal you get to name it,” Cacciatore said.

Names like S’more, organizations like Omega Nu, and all the names in between. This year, all 30 animals have already been adopted but you can put your name on a waitlist for next year. The animal adoption, donations, carousel rentals, and merchandise sales are what pays the seasonal employees as well as helps with the yearly maintenance on the surrounding buildings as well as the animals themselves. This carousel is one of a kind, made specifically for Des Moines by a company in Ohio called Carousel Works.

“All the animals are hand carved from solid wood so adults can ride them and then they’re painted, and these animals were specifically picked out and designed for our carousel so there aren’t any other animals that look exactly like ours,” Cacciatore said.

The Heritage Carousel opens Saturday morning at 11:00 and will be open every day but Monday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. all summer.

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