A veteran shows he cares by building a carousel
Vietnam vet builds Carousel of Happiness. (Courtesy of KUSA) 07/08/14
NEDERLAND (KUSA) – When Scott Harrison started carving the first animal for an idea, he never figured people would come to see his creation from all around the country.
"I didn't want it to be a goofy kind of carnival ride," Harrison said. "I wanted it to be something meaningful for others like it's been for me."
Harrison is a Marine who served as a machine gun squad leader during the Vietnam War.
"Firefights, a lot of adrenaline, a lot of chaos," Harrison said. "In between firefights, one wants to calm down and get rid of the adrenaline."
His sister had sent him a music box. Harrison says it saved him.
"I would use that music box to just hold up to my ear and play. It played a little Chopin tune called 'Tristesse,' and it just calmed me down," Harrison said. "The imagery that I came up with as part of that music was a carousel and a mountain meadow with families having picnics around and riding the carousel."
That dream gave him solace, Harrison says, inspired by his music box. But, then it was lost. Harrison was seriously injured during an attack the day before the famed Tet Offensive in January of 1968.
"They had torn most of the clothes off just to treat the wounds and so I didn't have any personal effects," Harrison said. "That music box, I had no idea what happened to it."
When he returned to the United States, he says he still needed his Tristesse.
"I had a hard time when I got back from Vietnam and I still thought of the music box as a way to try to calm me," Harrison said.
So, he started to re-create it in the form of the carousel he pictured in his mind during the war.
"I carved my first animal in 1986," Harrison said. "I was carving animals after work every day, weekends."
Harrison carved carousel animals for more than 24 years.
"It was a pretty selfish project in that at the time of the carving, I was doing it for myself," Harrison said.
But, it would not stay that way. He found a carousel being taken apart in Salt Lake City. It was constructed in 1910 and had a motor from 1909. Harrison brought all the pieces to Colorado and finally opened up the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland in 2010 after raising $650,000 to construct a building to house his handiwork.
"It's become a place people drive to," Harrison said.
Teresa Legregni came to see the carousel from Massachusetts.
"First of all how talented this man must be," Legregni said. "Everywhere you look, there is something else to see."
Harrison carved only one of each kind of animal. From a rabbit to peacock to a friendly gorilla, he wanted to put personality into each piece. He says from the beginning the carousel has had more adult riders than children.
"It's an equalizer," Harrison said. "Once you get on the carousel, whether you're three years old or 93 years old, you have the same goofy smile."
Elizabeth Rodgers takes the bus from Boulder to Nederland to ride the Carousel of Happiness.
"I was diagnosed with terminal stage four lung cancer," Rodgers said.
She says she has less than a year to live. Rodgers comes to carousel regularly to forget about her health problems even if it's just for a few minutes.
"Cause every waking moment, I'm aware of this and anything I can do to distract me from it," Rodgers said. "The carousel, it does that."
Rodgers loves the 1913 Wurlitzer Band Organ that belts out old swing music to propel the carousel ride for about three minutes each time.
"I can't dance physically up anymore, but I can dance on the animals," Rodgers said. "It takes me. It just takes me."
Harrison says he likes that people feel like they can help themselves in some way by coming to the carousel.
"It helped me in my journey to heal from the war," Harrison said. "Maybe, it helps others, as well."
The Carousel of Happiness is a non-profit run mostly by volunteers. Harrison spends his spare time maintaining the operations of the carousel and making repairs. The rides cost $1 each and the proceeds are used to help people with special needs. The carousel is dedicated to two his friends killed during the same attack when he was injured in Vietnam.
"I'm 67 and I've been thinking about this since I was 19," Harrison said. "Whoever is on there is gonna have good time, for sure."