Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Carousel horses "rearing" to go

Photo by Peter Casolino

By Amanda Howe
Special to the Register

Members of New Haven Department of Parks, Recreation, and Trees looked on anxiously as nine horses and one chariot were lifted from a moving van and carried carefully into their home: the Lighthouse Point Carousel.
One by one, Comanche, Chico, Fantasia, Free Spirit, Stormy, Blossom, Midnight, Thunderbolt, Mayflower and the chariot, Spitfire, were taken from the truck and carried to a special stand or a table, where they would wait until they could be placed among the rest of the herd.
Events Coordinator Sabrina Bruno, who has a large part in running Lighthouse Park and plans events such as weddings, said she was anxious for the carrousel horses to return.
“They’re like my kids. I had a hard enough time seeing them leave,” Bruno said.
There are 72 figures in all, including 69 horses, two chariots, and one camel. Karen Ashe, curator of the Lighthouse Point Carousel, said all of them were built in 1911 by Charles I.D. Loof and Charles Carmel. The carousel’s original mechanics, which were designed by the Murphy Brothers in a Savin Rock workshop, and the original Stenson Pipe Organ, are still in working condition to this day.
William Finkenstein and his sons Gabe and Zac drove the painted ponies from Plainville, where they had been working on restoring the wooden creatures since November.
Finkenstein said he first became involved with the Lighthouse Point Carousel back in the ‘80s when he came to watch workers assemble the carousel again.
The carousel was opened from 1911 until 1977, according to the Parks Department Web site. At closing time, the building was boarded up and the horses went into storage. It wasn’t until the ‘80s when the mayor at the time, Biagio DiLieto, appointed community members to look into ways to fund the restoration and reopening of the carousel.
Finkenstein said when he came to watch the chariots be carried in, there was an accident.
“Movers hit the top the chariot against a door and a piece chipped off,” Finkenstein said. “You could see the layers of paint. It’s really not the correct way you touch up a carousel horse, to just keep adding layers.”
With that, Finkenstein said he handed out his business card and now has been doing restorations for the carousel for about 20 years.
Finkenstein has been in the business of repairing carousels for 35 years. Each year he travels to New Orleans to restore carousel horses at the City Park carousel there. Finkenstein has spent a lot of time in New Orleans in the past few years, after Hurricane Katrina hit.
He said when the levees broke the water from came up to the bellies of the horses on the carousel.
“We went three times for up to two weeks each time,” Finkenstein said. “A lot of the problems were water damage. The horses legs were sitting in that water, absorbing the moisture, which led to cracks and broken legs.”
The type of work that Finkenstein and sons said they are doing for the Lighthouse Point horses has to do with stripping off paint, sanding, them, and then repainting them completely.
Three horses received new tails, which Finkenstein said comes from real horses that have died.
“One time a child asked me what the tails were made of so I told him, ‘real horse hair.’ I scrambled because I didn’t want to tell him the real answer, and told him horse tails are like leaves in the autumn, they fall off,” Finkenstein said.
Bruno said the horses are currently appraised at being worth from $25,000 to as much as $50,000. Repairs for the horses and chariot range from $3,800 to $5,000 each.
Finkenstein said that includes labor and cost of materials. He said a horse tail can cost $150, and close to $200 when it’s white. And many horses in the carousel have gold leafing on them.
“It’s 23-karat gold leaf, which comes in boxes of one ounce. On a carousel this size, for all of the horses, you would use about 11 to 12 boxes. Each box is worth, on average, $700 now with the price of gold,” Finkenstein said.
He said he uses the actual gold because bronzing powder dulls quickly and turns a “brownish color.”
Mary Boyle, president of Friends of the Carousel, which raises money for the carousel and the building it is housed in, said when the horses were taken out of storage originally, they were repainted with a lot of green and brown.
“We wanted to take them back to their original colors,” Boyle said.
Bruno said weddings and events that are held at the Lighthouse Point Carousel do a lot to fund such renovations.
“Bob Levine, director of Parks, Recreation and Trees, had the idea to start holding events at the here, that way the money raised from them could go directly to the Carousel and not the entire park,” Bruno said.
Finkenstein said he was pleased with his work and hopes that his wish each time he restores a horse comes true.
“When a youngster comes to a carousel, they always run to that one horse that catches their eye. Our biggest compliment would be if a child didn’t know which horse to choose,” Finkenstein said.
Lighthouse Point Park is open from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend.
Amanda Howe is a Register intern.

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