The story begins 41 years ago in Vietnam. Scott Harrison was 19 and a machine gunner for the Marines. Between the chaos of combat, he’d hold a wind-up music box, a gift from his sister, up to his ear. “I’d listen to the song every night,” says Harrison, now 60, “and I’d find myself imagining a beautiful carousel in a big green park back home.” Which is strange, he admits, because he has no memories of riding a carousel as a child. “I guess I figured if I made it home I’d go and find that carousel and go for a ride.”
Even better: He built it himself. This fall, Harrison plans to break ground in downtown Nederland on the Carousel of Happiness. The completed project will be one of about 150 hand-carved wooden carousels that remain in the U.S. He built the ride over two decades by restoring a circa-1910 frame acquired from the Salt Lake City area, and meticulously hand-carving a menagerie of 58 wooden animals. Carving was a respite from daily pressures for the former Marine; for 32 years, he and his wife ran a regional home-based Amnesty International emergency-response program to remotely assist political prisoners and torture victims worldwide. “My job was really stressful and emotional,” Harrison says, “so this was my escape.” Every night after dinner he’d retire to the garage to tinker with the carousel in his self-taught carving style, which led to the folk-artsy collection of friendly and smiling creatures—everything from an alpaca and a frog to a giant gorilla sitting on a throne.
Though plans for a LEED-certified structure design are under way, construction funds are about $180,000 short. Harrison, a man who smiles with his whole face, will do whatever he can to see his life’s work completed. “I want this to be a gathering place for our community,” he says, “because a carousel always brings smiles to people’s faces.”
To donate money to the Carousel of Happiness, visit www.carouselofhappiness.org.