NEDERLAND, COLORADO IS MY HOMETOWN. Even those living in Boulder may not have heard of it, but my parents have lived in the same house, nestled between pine trees and aspens, for the past 27 years. They bought our house over the phone while living in Burbank, California, and I’ve always wondered how anyone who didn’t grow up around here could even find Nederland. We’ve always been a quirky community, known for our dreads, our music festivals, our marijuana, and Frozen Dead Guy Days (a long story that requires a post of its own.) About eight years ago, we gained a new, quirky attraction: the Carousel of Happiness. It seemed weird when the town dug out a huge chunk of the old shopping center to install a giant carousel – right there in the middle of everything – but almost a decade later it’s a fixture of the town. I’ve been bringing my older nephew to the carousel since he was about a year old. He’s nine today and now brings his little brother.
While I’ve been there more times than I can count, I wasn’t fully aware of the story behind the carousel until today. I’d heard something about a local guy spending 20 years carving each animal, and knew that the antique parts of the carousel were brought in from Salt Lake City after they’d long been abandoned and left to rust. Still, I wondered, why would someone spend all that time carving animals, and how did the carousel actually come to be in our little town?
Seeing as my friend Emma just moved to Boulder and had never been to Nederland, I used this project as an opportunity to show her around and bring her on a mission to dig deeper into the carousel’s history. As it turns out, there’s more to the story than I knew, and more to these animals than a bit of wood, paint, and lacquer.
I have to jump in here with some dark news, which I hate to do, but it would be weird to write this story without mentioning that earlier this week someone left a bomb in the shopping center in my little town – right by the carousel, actually. Thanks to local firefighters and police, as well as the FBI, no one was hurt. I was still awake when the team safely detonated the contraption in the middle of the night and heard the BOOM echo through my house. It was a shock having something like that happen up here. Who would target our tucked away community? What if kids had gotten hurt?
At a time like this, the carousel seems less cheesy (as a teenager it was hard not to poke fun at the name) and more like something for my community to rally around. You can leave a bomb at our doorstep, but we’re the kind of people who build a goddamn carousel smack-dab in the center of town. You can’t break our spirits that easily.
The carousel’s history isn’t all sunshine and crackerjacks. In fact, the man who would later toil over a stable of wooden animals for 26 years did so after surviving a war. In one of the darkest times in our country’s history, he clung to a few notes from a music box given to him by his sister. Years later, he made it his mission to create a music box big enough for a whole town to enjoy. We call it the Carousel of Happiness.