Originally called the C.W. Parker Carousel and built in 1927, the carousel was purchased by a Ringling Brothers circus performer for $25,000.
A bright and balmy Sunday brought out hundreds to say goodbye to the J&S Carousel in St. Augustine.
Children and adults didn’t seem to mind waiting to take a final ride on what has been a piece of local history for 25 years.
Some said the line had been even longer Saturday — up to an hour-and-a-half.
Among the crowd was Arcadio Calaf who’d brought his sons — 3-year-old Brooklyn and 6-year-old Christian — to the merry-go-round for years.
“We’ll definitely miss it,” Calaf said.
Lisa Henderson also had memories of riding with her son on the brightly-colored horses years ago.
“I said I better come do this again,” said Henderson. “It had a great run. ... We’ve just been so lucky to have it here for a whole generation of children.”
The carousel Jim Soules operated for a quarter of a century in Davenport Park was a labor of love. Between the cost of upkeep and a ticket-taker, a nominal charge of $1 per ride allowed the merry-go-round to just about pay for itself.
Operating 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week including holidays, there were only a handful of times the ride wasn’t open, due either to renovations or extreme weather. It was the latter that closed the carousel most recently. The threat of Hurricane Dorian earlier this month was enough for Soules to shut it down for several days.
Soules, 74, had planned to reopen it Sept. 6 but he died about 11:30 p.m. the night before, according to his wife, Peggy.
Her husband had been sick for the last year-and-a-half, she said, but had faithfully attended to maintenance of the carousel just as he had for all the years before.
Soules’ last wish was that his beloved carousel be returned to the couple’s hometown of Port Charlotte, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where much of their family — and now, Peggy — lives.
Ever since news spread of its impending removal, locals have been waxing poetic with their own personal memories and attachments to the iconic structure.
In a phone interview with The Record on Thursday, Peggy said: “I just want everyone to know that I am truly, truly sorry and that for every ride we gave it made my husband very happy.”
Located on the playground at the corner of San Carlos and San Marco avenues, the restored antique carousel was brought to St. Augustine in 1994.
Originally called the C.W. Parker Carousel and built in 1927, the carousel was purchased by a Ringling Brothers circus performer for $25,000. It spent time at a children’s zoo in Indiana and a barn in Michigan before being acquired by Soules’ brother, Gerard, and refurbished.
After Gerard passed away, Soules continued to run the carousel, still allowing disabled children to ride for free as his brother always did.
It was one of the best bargains in St. Augustine: $1 for three minutes of simple joy as the painted horses (and one camel) went up and down while the carousel turned and the calliope played.
Many seemed surprised at just how strong a connection they felt to the carousel now that it was to be dismantled Monday.
“I understand why,” Amber Benuck said.
Standing next to her in line was Jonathan Craig, who said, “I just think it would be remiss if the city didn’t put something here in its place.”
“Ding, ding,” the brass bell clanged before another group was let inside the gate to board.
For her part, Peggy told The Record she was happy if the carousel had some part in bringing joy to the St. Augustine community during its time here.
“I hope it’s created thousands of memories for everyone, because at some point ...” she paused and collected herself as she began to get emotional. “At some point, that’s all they’re going to have.”
This story originally published to staugustine.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.