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Happy homecoming: Historic carousel returns to Coeur d’Alene

Coeur d’Alene Carousel Foundation President Richard Le Francis carries a carousel horse near Independence Point on Monday. (Kathy Plonka)
Coeur d’Alene Carousel Foundation President Richard Le Francis carries a carousel horse near Independence Point on Monday. (Kathy Plonka)

A historic carousel that once entertained crowds on Coeur d’Alene’s waterfront has come home.

A pony with a fiery orange mane, carved in the 1920s, was unveiled near the carousel’s original location at Independence Point on Monday afternoon. It was one of 20 antique wooden horses that arrived by van over the weekend.

“Look at the jewels,” said Carol Perron, pointing out sparkly stones in the harness as she admired the craftsmanship in the pony, which was hand carved from basswood.

Perron and her husband, Duane, own the International Museum of Carousel Art in Hood River, Ore. In 1987, they purchased the 1921 Stillman Carousel in Puyallup, Wash. On Monday, the couple accepted a $250,000 check from the Coeur d’Alene Carousel Foundation for the 20-horse machine, which includes two chariots. Only about 100 wooden carousels remain in the United States, according to Duane Perron.

“This is the only one we can find that’s come back home,” he said.

The carousel is the gift of John and Pat Foote, of Eagle, Idaho, who agreed to buy the carousel and donate it to the community. The carousel will be kept in storage until the Coeur d’Alene Carousel Foundation can raise money for a new building.

Between 1942 and 1975, the carousel was part of the Playland Pier amusement park at Independence Point near downtown. The park was destroyed by fire.

Seeing the antique pony brought back memories for Cari Fraser.

“I grew up here, and I rode the carousel when I was a little girl,” said Fraser, the Coeur d’Alene Carousel Foundation’s treasurer. “I remember the music and the color and the fun. Every kid’s dream is to ride a horse.”

Richard Le Francis, the foundation’s president, said the members hope to install the carousel near its original location. One option could be an addition to the Museum of North Idaho building on Northwest Boulevard, if the museum eventually relocates as planned.

Attracting revenue from birthday parties and other events is part of the carousel’s business plan, so a downtown location would be ideal, Le Francis said.

Foundation members discussed, but discarded, McEuen Field as a possible location, said Bliss Bignall Jr., the foundation’s vice president. The city already has a fully developed plan for remaking that 20 acres of green space and public parking, he said.

For historic reasons, members also preferred a spot closer to the original Playland Pier location, he added. Bignall predicted that it would take several years to raise the money.

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