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From the archives: Nunley's Carousel's first spin in 14 years

Florent Rhuma of West Hempstead reaches for the

Florent Rhuma of West Hempstead reaches for the ring while riding the Nunley's Carousel. (May 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

This article was originally published in Newsday on April 12, 2009

For three years, Rachel Obergh waited for the carousel ride of her life.

And yesterday, when she started up Nunley's Carousel at 10:52 a.m. for the first time in 14 years and later rode atop Penny the horse, the 11-year-old from Wantagh couldn't stop smiling.

"It was really exciting," Rachel said. "It was fun going up and down."

In 2006, Rachel made it her mission to bring Nunley's Carousel back to life. She succeeded and three years later, it's in a $1-million enclosure on Museum Row in East Garden City.

The carousel, built in 1912, operated at Nunley's Amusement Park in Baldwin from 1940 to 1995. In 1998, Nassau County bought it for $854,000 and it sat, languishing, in a county warehouse at Mitchel Field - until Rachel came along.

Her campaign, dubbed Pennies for Ponies, enlisted elementary schools to adopt an animal for $2,000. Her school, the Progressive School of Long Island in Merrick, adopted Penny - the lead horse on the carousel with red roses on its mane and what look like pennies on the reins.

Altogether, Rachel raised $91,000 toward the $485,000 carousel restoration costs. She also convinced Billy Joel to allow the use of his "Waltz No. 1, Op. 2" - inspired by his childhood rides on the carousel - for the soundtrack. (Joel arranged to have the composition rerecorded for the carousel with organ-like instrumentation.)

"It was a huge undertaking for an 8-year-old," said Rachel's mom, Beth Obergh. "Three years was a long time to stick it out, but it was worth it. She's in her glory."

The carousel had been stored at the Ohio manufacturing facility where it underwent its yearlong restoration.

Legis. Joe Scannell (D-Baldwin), who allocated $425,000 in revitalization funds to the project, said the carousel's comeback was long-awaited.

He and his two children, Brittney, 13, and Brian, 8, took the test ride along with Rachel and her mom.

"It's a great day," Scannell said. "It's a beloved piece of Baldwin and Nassau County history brought back to life."

The carousel is scheduled to open to the public May 2, but only after the kids from the schools that raised money for its restoration get a go-round. Rides are expected to cost $2, but will be free on opening day.

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