“Look!” A toddler was jumping up and down, chubby cheeks jiggling, with arm outstretched toward the slow and steady movement of the carousel up ahead. The sun was gleaming off one of the glossy horses, and its antique looks contrasted oddly with the brilliance of the sunlight, as though it was a reminder of how the past can mingle with the present moment. Of course, the past mingling with the present is nothing new to Saint Augustine, and the iconic carousel fits right in.
The toddler with the jiggling chubby cheeks was ushered through the carousel gates, and like the thousands of other children that have done the same in the last twenty-five years, she hurried up to her favorite horse. A smile spread from chubby cheek to chubby cheek as she settled into position, hands gripping the silver bar while squirming in anticipation. Slowly her horse took off, and a childhood memory was settled into her mind, there in the heart of Saint Augustine.
The heart of a city is often considered the most central part. If that is the case, maybe we ought to consider the Castillo the heart, or some quiet side street where we can visualize the ghosts of Spanish guards slowly wandering in the dead of night. To me, the definition is a bit more complicated. The heart of a city ought to be the place where many people experience warmth and kindness, or maybe a glimpse into a forgotten time when things were simpler. Many of us—the lifeblood of the city—are pumped back and forth through these streets. We often find ourselves passing through this old carousel, if for no other reason than the sight of a warm, familiar icon.
The Heart of a City Inside a Carousel
Rain drizzled down here and there, leaving big wet splotches on our coats on that cold day a few winters ago. My children and I were the only ones at Davenport Park that day when the wind cut through our clothes and drifted the sound of the carousel music to our ears. My children were going down the slide on repeat—there was a consistent rhythm of “whee!” followed by bump as their bottoms hit the ground, and then repeated all over again. My attention to the rhythm faded as my eyes focused in on the man operating the carousel. It had just stopped and the carousel man stood idle for a moment, his attention drawn in another direction.
A homeless man was slowly ambling toward him, making his way to wherever it was that he planned to find shelter from the cold. The carousel man knew him by name and they shared a brief conversation that was friendly. There was a tone of equality to it. The carousel man treated him the way he would have treated one of his well-to-do customers. I watched for quite some time that cold, quiet afternoon. Many characters passed through, and quite a few of them eccentric. The carousel man knew them all.
It occurred to me then that there could be a draw to the carousel that went beyond the appeal to children. The lights that brighten the darkness that comes too early on January evenings, the cheerful music of a bygone era, the enthusiasm of children hopping about in line outside the carousel gate—it gives all members of society a dose of happiness.
A Heart Transplant
The children and I decided to go to the carousel today to say our farewells, since it has been announced that it will be closed for removal at the end of the week. It is hard to imagine that corner of Davenport Park barren. It will render the park just a park, rather than the carousel park, as my family and many families have been calling it for years.
I know of tourists that visit every year, and no matter how old their children have grown, they still make a stop-off at the carousel. They will wonder what on earth has happened to it. An icon missing, and a tradition broken.
I hear that it may be dismantled and reinstated somewhere down south. I hope that wherever it goes, those old horses that have seated thousands of children will get to seat thousands more. I can visualize it now—the jiggling chubby cheeks of a happy toddler, a moment of peace washing over the face of a homeless person—the city’s heart beats on.
The J&S Carousel will be operational until Sunday, September 15th. The attraction will be dismantled and moved to Port Charolette beginning Monday, September 16th. The owner of the Carousel passed away last Sunday, September 8th and our condolences go out to his family.
Here is the official updated from the City Manager, John Regan, regarding the status of the carousel at Davenport Park:
“On Tuesday morning (September 10, 2019) I had proposed to Peggy Soules (the widow of the owner) that the city would like to keep the carousel and operate it. We had an outpouring of support from the business community and residents to save the carousel, including financial commitments. I felt maintaining and operating it would not be a problem, and Mrs. Soules said she would talk it over with her family.
On Wednesday (September 11, 2019), Mrs. Soules informed me that their final decision is to stay with the relocation plan and that she appreciated our desire to keep the carousel in St Augustine. She said she needs to follow through on Jim’s (deceased husband) wishes to bring the carousel to Port Charlotte, which is their home.
We thank the Soules family for the 20 years of joy, happiness and memories they made possible and hope it will continue to brighten lives wherever it is located in the future. Also, they are always welcome to return to St. Augustine in the future. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and we wish her and her family the best.”