Seaside Attraction

Paragon Carousel preserves a piece of the past while bringing joy to new generations.

By Noelle Barbosa    Photography by Jack Foley

Overlooking the sandy shores of Nantasket Beach in Hull, Paragon Carousel is the ultimate summertime entertainment spot for young families.

The vintage carousel is filled to the rafters with nostalgia. It was once part of the amusement mecca known as Paragon Park, which shuttered its doors in 1984 following eight decades of fanfare. The carousel was purchased at auction by three local businessmen in 1985 and moved to its current location. Today, it is an alluring example of kinetic art, owned and operated by the Friends of the Paragon Carousel, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to preserve and restore the ride to its original splendor. The carousel continues to attract history buffs and people looking to relive the magic of childhood. Riding around and around on the painted ponies and hearing the 1928 Wurlitzer Band Organ play is a summertime tradition for many visitors. Here are five fascinating facts about Hull’s historic gem.

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The Friends of the Paragon Carousel lease the land upon which the carousel and adjacent Clock Tower Building sit from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, a state agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Clock Tower Building, another one of Nantasket Beach’s landmarks, dates to 1923 and is home to the Paragon Park Museum, a restoration studio, the Friends’ business office and The Paragon Creamery, which serves up Gifford’s ice cream and kid-friendly snacks. “There’s a huge love in the community for the carousel and what it represents as a piece of living history and artwork,” says Jim Callahan, director of operations.

The golden age of carousels spanned six decades, from 1870 to 1930. During this period,  artisans from Europe hand-carved and painted nearly 3,000 carousels. Unfortunately, less than 150 of these ageless wonders are operating today. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company crafted 89 carousels in the early 20th century–one of which was the Paragon Carousel. The 1928 merry-go-round is classified as a Grand Carousel and earned its coveted title because it carries four rows of horses and two Roman-style chariots.

Paragon Carousel is one of only five remaining carousels designed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company that features chariots. The bejeweled booth-like benches are considered rare and believed to be crafted by Frank Carretta, a master carver from Sicily. In 2003, James Hardison, the carousel’s restoration curator and chief mechanic restored one of the chariots to its original splendor–revealing its vibrant colors. Hardison, a Hull resident and fine artist, has been breathing life into the carousel for more than two decades. Over the years he has refurbished 44 of its horses. “I carefully remove the paint with heat,” explains Hardison. “These figures were painted over many times and there could be 20 or 30 coats of paint on a horse. I try to discover the original color scheme.” The carousel’s second chariot is currently being restored and is expected to be unveiled later this season.

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Paragon Carousel flaunts baroque elements from a bygone age. The ride features 66 majestic horses, each designed in the Philadelphia style, a carving technique that yielded lifelike poses, expressive eyes and windswept manes. The 12 stationary “standers” along the perimeter of the carousel feature some of the most impressive ornamentation. “They’re the largest and most elaborately carved horses because they’re the closest to the guests who are watching,” explains Callahan. There are also 42 “jumpers,” which move up and down, two chariots that are each pulled by two horses and eight smaller ponies. The antique showpiece is also adorned with six cherubs, 35 oil paintings and 18 goddesses—all illuminated by 1,056 dazzling lights. 

The Friends of the Paragon Carousel offers a unique carousel horse adoption program. With a gift of $10,000, the adopter gains exclusive naming rights to a horse for life and lends support to the carousel’s ongoing restoration. A seasonal adoption is also available for $250 and includes naming rights to a horse for the carousel’s current operating season (April to October).

Carousel Hours & Special Events 

Carousel Hours, from mid-June through Labor Day

Sunday - Thursday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Friday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

July 5, 12, 19, 26:  Princess Storytime

July 10, 17, 24, 31: Youth Talent Showcase

July 20, 21: Nostalgia Weekend

August 2, 9, 16, 23, 30: Princess Storytime

August 7, 14, 21, 28: Youth Talent Showcase

August 16: Free Fun Friday, open 12 – 5 p.m.

September 2: Labor Day, open 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

For more information,
visit paragoncarousel.com.

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