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Hempstead Lake Carousel celebrates 100-year anniversary

Jasonah Lovell, 10, of Roosevelt, rides the Hempstead

Jasonah Lovell, 10, of Roosevelt, rides the Hempstead Lake Carousel in Hempstead Lake State Park on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. The vintage carousel, which celebrated its centennial Saturday, was crafted between 1910 and 1917 in the shop of master carver M.C. Illions. Credit: Barry Sloan

What goes around, comes around — certainly a truism for the Hempstead Lake Carousel, which celebrated its centennial Saturday.

To mark the occasion, the state parks department offered free rides on the vintage merry-go-round in Hempstead Lake State Park, plus juggling acts, makers of balloon animals and other crafts.

Saturday’s phenomenal heat and humidity definitely enhanced the carousel’s appeal.

“It felt great, because the breeze was blowing on you,” said Adelola Ayeku, 15, of Springfield Gardens, Queens.

His brother, Adesola, 11, was another enthusiast of the three-minute ride.

“It was great,” he said. “The best part was going up and down.”

Susan Illions-Lee, 64, of Dix Hills — a descendant of carousel’s famous creator, M.C. Illions — joined in the fun, riding with her son, Adam, 27.

Her grandfather, Harry, a first cousin of the master carver, and her father both visited the Coney Island company in that bygone era, she recalled.

“It was a business, and now it’s an art,” Illions-Lee said. One of the reasons the horses’ faces are so expressive, she said, is that the carver based them on observations of his own steeds.

M.C. Illions, a Lithuanian immigrant and one of the nation’s top carousel creators during their golden age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had the 36 steeds and two chariots created in his shop between 1910 and 1917, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

William Brown, Hempstead Lake’s park manager, said he hoped the festivities remind Long Islanders why they live here.

“I think it takes us back to where we came from and our heritage,” he said. “There’s a deep history right in our own backyard.”

August Heckscher, the multimillionaire industrialist and real estate developer, donated the three-row carousel to the Long Island State Park Commission in 1931.

The Hempstead Lake Carousel, one of three such Long Island treasures, underwent a three-year, $400,000 restoration that ended in 2004.

Several horses were substituted from other carousels created by Illions and his sons or found in storage. The restorers also carved a new pair of horses for the ride.

The other two vintage carousels on the Island are Nunley’s Carousel at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City and the Northrop Grumman Carousel in Greenport’s Mitchell Park.

The National Carousel Association estimates that only about 150 wooden carousels remain, out of 3,000 to 4,000 that were carved a century or so ago.


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