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Waterloo carousel comes full circle

By Keith Barber

C.W. Parker Carousel Enclosure, Waterloo, Jefferson County

There were marching bands, a wiener dog parade, food, good cheer and an antique carousel. What a day it was!

In fall of 2007, I attended Waterloo’s Wiener & Kraut Festival, held every year the first Saturday after Labor Day. The parade, lead by all five of the Klement’s Sausages and followed by trotting little costumed Dachshunds, started in downtown and moved to nearby Fireman’s Park for additional events, including a weenie wagon dog pull contest.

The hounds were delightful, but nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to discover down the hill at Fireman’s Park.

As I walked through the park enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of the festival, I began to admire the old-world look of the park. Towering 300-year-old oaks and other hardwoods were part of the landscape. Even the 1920’s-era park buildings were starting to set the stage for a jaunt back in time.

The carousel at Fireman's Park in Waterloo is being restored after it sustained damage from a flood in 2008. (Photo courtesy of the National Carousel Association/Jean Bennett)

And then, to the eastern end of the park and down a steep hill, there it stood. A rather large and ornate antique carousel lay before me. I could hear laughter from adults and children alike, their sounds echoing off the Maunesha River, only a few feet away. The river is a short tributary of the Crawfish River, part of the Mississippi River watershed. As you will learn later, the river will become an integral part of this story.

In researching this story, I discovered that the carousel is a C.W. Parker Carousel built in 1911 (complete with band organ), and is one of less than 100 left in the United States. It is also one of the first carousels shipped from Parker’s Leavenworth, Kan., factory.

This is the real thing folks.

The carousel was purchased by the Waterloo Fire Department in 1925 for $1,311.64, and placed in the park at that time. Today’s value is listed at more than $1 million. To view some of the examples of the animals and characters on the carousel, visit the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum website and the website of the National Carousel Association.

Now, some bad news followed by some good news.

In a rare event, spring floods of 2008 sent water from the Maunesha River crashing into the carousel, submerging it, and causing severe damage to the structure. It was determined that the carousel must be renovated, as it is an historic structure and an asset to the community. So, in June of 2009, the city went out to bid for disassembling and relocating the carousel to higher ground in the park.

At a cost of $148,812, Bauer & Raether Builders Inc., Madison, took on the project. They completed the move and reassembly earlier this year, and now various volunteer groups are restoring the characters on the carousel, a long and daunting task.

It is hopeful that it will reopen in spring 2011.

Still managed by the Waterloo Fire Department, donations for this project are always welcome at City of Waterloo, c/o Carousel Flood Fund, 136 N. Monroe St., Waterloo, Wisconsin 53594.

I feel privileged to have been able to ride the carousel that fall day the year before the flood. For a couple of bucks, I was all smiles and got a 10-minute ride on an elaborately painted wooden horse.

The day was perfect. The only thing that would have topped this would have been if the Klement’s Sausages were on board with me, and maybe some of those small parade dogs.

After my ride I sat around for almost an hour studying the characters and admiring this magnificent structure.

All things must come to an end however. The hot dog eating contest was about to begin up the hill.

Keith Barber is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter. He’s currently in training for next year’s hot dog eating contest.

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