Around it goes, a blur of flying gold manes, lavender chariots and open-mouthed children. There’s no surer sign of summer in Saratoga than a long line of kids and parents lining up for 50-cent tokens for a ride on the Congress Park carousel.
The weather cooperated for opening day of carousel season, so Saturday in the park was nothing less than idyllic. The sky was bright, the sun was out, the tulips had bloomed on the park’s north side and families sprawled out on the grass with picnic blankets and coolers, inflatable balls and soapy bubbles for the young ones.
“We look forward to it very much,” said Paula Fischer of Porter Corners, who spent her morning at yard sales and the farmers market. “We don’t usually get out here for opening day, but we were here on Wednesday night and saw that it would be open this weekend, so we made a plan to come down.”
Her 3-year-old daughter, Emme, twisted her hands together in nervous anticipation. Her toddler son, David, held tight to mom’s hand, with a wide-eyed look up at her every now and then. They were next in line, and the carousel operator was bellowing incomprehensibly over a raucous steam organ and circus tunes.
A bell jangled and the old wooden carousel came to a slow stop. A group streamed out, squinting their eyes to adjust to the unforgiving sun.
The Congress Park Carousel continues to provide entertainment more than a century after it was built. Carved by Marcus C. Illions in 1910, the wooden carousel features two rows of 28 jumping horses, two chariots and the look and feel of a Coney Island ride.
It hasn’t always sat at the intersection of Spring and Putnam streets, but it has always called Saratoga County home. The carousel gave most of its rides to children from the 1950s through the 1980s, when it spun at Kaydeross Amusement Park on Saratoga Lake. On hot, lazy days, kids would take field trips to the park, swarming the carousel, arcade and Tilt-a-Whirl.
When the park closed to make way for new development in 1987, the city of Saratoga Springs rallied and raised money to save the carousel. It spent a long time in storage before it was restored and reopened in 2002 in Congress Park, and it hasn’t seen a slow summer since.
On Saturday, a dark-haired teenager in a hot pink, full-figured gown raced across the street and over to the carousel. A group of young guys and girls stood waiting by the on-ramp, while a cadre of parents armed with cameras beamed with pride.
“Oh my god, your dress is beautiful,” muttered one.
“Look at your hair,” said another.
“Hurry, it’s time!” a boy called out.
The group of teenagers from South Glens Falls High School lumbered onto the carousel and split off into boy-girl pairs. Their junior prom was later that night, and the day was picture-perfect for group photos in Congress Park.
“They wanted to do the carousel because it’s pretty,” said Michele Carpenter, the aunt of one of the tuxedo-clad boys. “I think Congress Park was their first choice, too. They already took a few over by the pond and then on a whim were like, ‘Let’s go the carousel!’ ”
The carousel is open weekends until June 21, after which it will be open daily through Labor Day.