Updated: Jul 27, 2022
I spent my childhood in Youngstown, Ohio. I know. Youngstown. Well, at one time, Y-Town had a heyday. It was once a thriving metropolis, its prosperity fueled by the steel industry. When all that went away, in the 1970s, the city’s economy deteriorated drastically and sadly has never been able to come back.
Youngstown had a wonderful amusement park, established at the turn of the last century, known as Idora Park. Idora had many attractions – two wooden roller coasters called the Wildcat and the Jackrabbit, a popular rapids ride, a funhouse I still have dreams about today, and the best French Fries in the country. People still rave about those fries today (on a Facebook page called “I Grew Up in Youngstown, Ohio) and the recipe for Idora Park French Fries can be found on the internet. But above all, there was a magnificent carousel with 48 elegantly carved ponies in three rows across and two chariots, and beautiful pastoral murals. It was constructed by the famous Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922.
My father took our family to Idora several times each summer, and my sisters and I adored riding the ponies up and down, especially at night when there were bright lights and calliope music. It was one of the highlights of our visits.
Then something terrible happened. In 1984, there was a fire that destroyed most of the park. The firefighters valiantly fought and saved the carousel by constantly keeping the hoses trained on it, and it was spared. But the damage done to the rest of the park was irreparable and Idora was closed forever. Many of the park’s remnants were sold at auction. The carousel was supposed to be sold piecemeal, and then bidding would be opened for the entire ride. Dealers and collectors bid anywhere from $1,000 to $23,000 for individual ponies. Then the auctioneer asked for $325,000 for the entire merry-go-round. The crowd was quiet until, at the last minute, a couple from New York, Jane and David Walentas, agreed to purchase the carousel for that amount. The auction crowd cheered at the idea that the carousel would remain intact.
However, it was in very poor condition. Jane Walentas was an artist, a former art director at Clinique, and she resolved to restore the entire carousel. The necessary carpentry repairs were made. Then she began the painstaking process of scraping the layers of paint from the carved ponies and chariots down to the original wood. She replaced 62 years of park paint with the researched original colors. The scenery panels were also repainted with the proper colors and re-leafed in gold. It took Jane over twenty years of dedication and hard work to accomplish this labor of love.
Today the completely refurbished Jane’s Carousel is re-located in a Brooklyn Park, next to the East River in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is enclosed in a giant glass pavilion to protect it from the elements. It was opened to the public in September of 2011.
Unfortunately, Jane Walentas passed away in July of 2020, but she left an amazing legacy. Thousands of children and adults enjoy riding the ponies on this restored carousel every year, many of them visitors from Youngstown. I want to visit my much-loved childhood carousel as soon as I possibly can and pay homage to the wonderful woman who saved that beautiful and historical artifact.
Thank you, Jane.