When I was a child my mother's sister would often visit us. I recall several occasions when she would take all of us to the old Highlands Amusement Park in Forest Park. Her motive, I believe, was two fold. It allowed her to maintain her favorite Aunt status, by treating us to an activity my parents could not afford. But, it also gave her the chance to ride the Comet. The Comet was one of the largest and most famous roller coasters in the country back in the 1950's. My Aunt loved to ride roller coasters. I remember her and my father riding it at least a dozen times one night. Both were so dizzy that they could barely walk to the car to go home.
The Highlands burned down in 1963. The only ride left standing and unscathed was the carousel, and what a beautiful carousel it was. Built in 1929 for a dairy park in St. Louis, it was moved to the Highlands when it opened in 1941. After the fire, the carousel was set up in Sylvan Springs Park near Jefferson Barracks. The carousel fell into disrepair and was taken out of service in 1980. A local business man and lover of the old merry-go-round, Howard Ohlendorf, purchased the carousel and placed it in storage to prevent its being dismantled. A campaign to raise the funds to restore the old machine was started by local boy scout troops and others soon joined in to help raise enough money to build a new home for the fine old ride. Many local citizens and artists volunteered to work on striping and repainting. Among them were Mr. Ohlendorf's four daughters and five of their friends. Mr. Ohlendorf donated the carousel to the St. Louis County Parks Department once it was almost like new. It was then installed in a climate controlled building in Faust Park in Chesterfield, Mo. In 1987 the refurbished carousel began entertaining a new generation of children (who had never heard of the old Forest Park Highlands) along with many senior citizens groups, for whom climbing aboard their favorite animal is a trip back in time to when they were young and a trip to the Highlands was the best treat of the summer.
The cost to ride this carousel in 1941 was just a nickel. Today, the Parks Department charges just one dollar per ride for everyone over two.
The carousel revolves in a fifty-two foot circle and is composed of more than 60 exquisitely hand-carved horses and four deer. One of the wonderful "stories" our parents told us was that four of the reindeers on Santas' sleigh would come to the Highlands' carousel during the spring season and rest by turning into carousel animals and stay on the carousel until the season was over.
The lady in this picture is my roller coaster loving Aunt. Only this time it was me taking her for a ride on the old Highland Park Carousel during one of her visits to St. Louis. At the time this was taken she was eighty six and so taken with the carousel that she refused to get off until she had ridden it half a dozen times. In fact, we were there until after closing time because the attendant was nice enough to allow her to ride it one last time all by herself.
Even though I have more recent photos of this ride, I dug back into my archives for these photos so that I could tell the story of my Aunt and our connection to the Highlands Park Carousel; which recently celebrated its eighth decade of service to the citizens of St. Louis.
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