Life on a roller coaster
I’m the Kit Carson County Carousel’s War Horse from Burlington, Colo. We, the carousel’s animals, have endured rejection many times, prolonged suffocation, and theft. But, we have also enjoyed acceptance, restoration, and celebration.
Ironically, our company, Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC), still makes roller coasters. But, sadly, they no longer make carousels.
The birth of a carousel
Along with the other Kit Carson County Carousel animals, I was born in 1905 in PTC’s shop. First, the carvers and painters created us with pride. Then, when they had finished us, we were proud, too. They had made us beautiful.
PTC was crafting at least three carousels simultaneously, PTC Nos. 6, 7, and 8. They chose a set of animals for each carousel. We were excited to meet new friends. We got to know each other well while waiting to step onto our carousel’s turntable.
Selection and rejection
We heard that Mary (Elitch) Long from Elitch’s Gardens in Denver was coming to see the carousels. We could hardly wait! Every carousel animal lives to give people joy, and we were looking forward to our turn.
When Long came, she inspected each of us and rejected some of us. Instead, she went to the animals set aside for Nos. 7 and 8. PTC staff removed our friends, and the others replaced them. The adjustment was not easy, but we persevered.
Our first happy place
We settled into our lives at Elitch’s. We took guests on rides at 12 mph. That’s blazingly fast for a carousel. From 1905 until 1928, we made people happy. What could be better than that? We carried children and adults for 23 years at Elitch’s. And then.
Rejection and selection
People began to complain about us. They wanted four rows of jumping horses on their carousel, not a stationary menagerie. Elitch’s visitors didn’t enjoy our three rows of giraffes, zebras, big cats, and other animals. Then three Kit Carson County commissioners, C.J. Buchanan, G.W. Huntley, and I.D. Messinger, bought us and arranged to bring us home to Burlington. Of course, stationary carousel animals can’t move, but we wanted to dance.
The organ that had accompanied us all those years wasn’t coming. Instead, a different organ, a 1912 Wurlitzer Monster Military Band Organ, was headed to Burlington. We named the organ “Wurtz.” His music sounds like a 12- or 15-piece band.
Finally, our moving day arrived. A crew loaded us onto three boxcars, leaving for Burlington on Aug. 24, 1928. But, unfortunately, our welcome would be mixed at best.
Related: Ride the historic Kit Carson County Carousel.
Kit Carson County Carousel arrives during hard times
Many citizens were displeased because times were hard in Rural America during the 1920s.
Kit Carson County had paid $1,200 for us, including freight. (That’s worth over $17,400 in 2019’s money.) So we had cost a year and a half of a farm laborer’s pay.
Many Kit Carson County citizens were outraged because of the commissioners’ “extravagant expenditure,” many Kit Carson County citizens were outraged. As a result, Huntley didn’t try for reelection. Buchanan lost in the primary only three weeks before the carousel opened for the first time. Messinger had two years left in his term, but he would lose in the next election.
In 1929, the world began spiraling into the Great Depression, and the slide refused to stop. On top of the economic disaster came the Dust Bowl. It ravaged the Great Plains. Crops died in the fields, and wheat brought less than 50 cents a bushel. The farmers wondered whether they should even bother harvesting.
A scorned and suffocated carousel
From 1931 to 1936, Kit Carson County shuttered its fair. When the government provided feed to farmers, the county needed somewhere to store it. The county commissioners decided to use the unused buildings for grain storage. People poured the grain over our heads. We screamed in fear, but our terror went unheard. We cried because the community had scorned us. Our only wish was to make the people happy, and, instead, they had buried us.
The grain attracted rodents, and they nibbled on Wurtz. Finally, because of their actions, our friend spoke no more. We grieved.
A carousel reborn
After six years, Kit Carson County resumed its county fair. Finally, Commissioner Harley Rhoads decided to free us from our tomb. As people cleared the trash, we rejoiced. But we were in sad shape. Our bedraggled condition discouraged our rescuers, and some wanted to burn us in the same fire as the old cornstalks. Had we been freed only to die?
At last, the citizens saw our worth. We weren’t to burn. So instead, the citizens scrubbed us with soapy water and revarnished us. Wurtz was filthy with torn drum heads, dented and missing horns. But, unfortunately, his repair wasn’t a priority. So for over 40 years, we danced to records and tapes.
The carousel organ regains his voice
And then the United States Bicentennial and the Colorado Centennial approached. The citizens wanted a signature project to mark the joyous occasion. Wurtz is unique, one of only three Monster organs to exist. He is the most complete of them all. And the citizens decided to restore him. So in February 1976, Wurtz traveled by horse trailer to Colorado Springs organ restorer Art Reblitz. Local craftsman Merle Worden refinished his cabinet and repaired the glass windows. When the installers finished their work, just in time for the fair, we shouted for joy. Our ears and tails stood taller as we circled our magnificent friend. The day was spectacular.
The carousel encounters thieves
Times seemed promising, but we had one more indignity to suffer. On May 4, 1981, thieves stole three inner ring horses and one donkey. We screamed, but no one heard us. The alarm also failed. The entire region fumed about the despicable act. The carousel association tied yellow ribbons on the missing horses’ poles. Salina, Kan., police found the horses corralled in a warehouse with other stolen art. Our friends drove to Salina and brought our lost brethren home in a horse trailer.
The stolen animals returned to Burlington on Halloween 1981. The sheriff rode a flesh-and-blood horse to lead the parade with our lost amigos as the guests of honor. People from around the region welcomed us home in one of Burlington’s most joyous celebrations.
A national treasure
We went from scorned and rejected to the pride of Burlington. In 1987, our carousel became a National Historic Landmark. The same year, Will Morton restored our original paint, although the project required 18 months. In 1999, Reblitz returned Wurtz to his original condition. Two years later, the carousel association restored our building. Riding the
We invited you to ride us during the summer and in December. Make sure to visit the museum that Burlington erected in 2007. The rides cost a quarter, and the museum costs $1. We can’t wait to give you a ride.