WILMORE, Kansas — Carousels most often are found in carnivals, amusement parks or, occasionally, upscale shopping centers.
But in Wilmore, Kansas — population 37 — you can ride one in Ernie and Christy Griffin’s backyard.
Wilmore is about 35 miles west of Medicine Lodge in Comanche County. The Griffins, who retired several years ago, live there half the year — the other half is spent in San Diego — and the carousel is open and available whenever they’re in town.
I met Ernie and Christy in their beautifully landscaped backyard. We chatted on a bench next to the gazebo that houses the carousel.
They’ve told their story several times, and my first question was the same that most people have: Why a carousel?
The Griffins looked at each other and smiled.
"We did an analysis of Wilmore," Ernie said. "We decided that, given all its problems, a carousel would cure them."
OK, that’s a joke. The real reason has more to do with nostalgia.
"I grew up in San Diego," Ernie said. "Balboa Park has a carousel from the 19-teens, and when we were kids we used to go up and ride. You’d ride for a nickel and try to grab the brass ring, and if you were lucky, you’d get another ride for free.
"And we moved here, and I thought, 'Maybe I ought to buy a carousel.'"
Ernie laughed. "That was about it. Some people want Harley-Davidsons."
The Griffins bought the carousel in 2013. It was manufactured in Italy and located in a mall in Texas.
"We found it online," he said, "where you find everything."
The carousel — and the gazebo, which had to be ordered separately — arrived in several large, heavy boxes with an instruction manual. Neighbors pitched in to help.
Some machinery was required for the heavier pieces, and the town needed to run more electrical lines to the property.
"It took a lot of people," Christy said.
The result is beautiful.
The craftsmanship is amazing: Each horse is different, painted in bright reds, blues and greens and decked out with straps, harnesses and feathers, the sign of a European carousel. There are lights, mirrors and a sound system that plays traditional carnival tunes.
It sits in a brightly painted gazebo where a sign invites you to honk for a free ride.
Christy said they rarely hear the horn, but their dog does.
"So you get the horn honking, the dog barking and finally, we’re at it," she said.
The Griffins get visitors from across the state and occasionally from farther away. There’s a steady procession from Wichita.
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll see up to 75 visitors on a weekend day — all in small family groups.
"You know who likes it best? Little kids," Ernie said. "They have this look of wonderment in their eye when they look up at all the lights and things.
"And old people, people Christy and my age, they have this whimsical, 'Gosh, I remember doing that' (expression).
"I tell everyone they’re seven when they’re on a carousel. And a lot of them look that way, too."
The Griffins think everyone should have a chance to take a ride — even me — so I found myself on a beautiful white horse with a bright red feather.
They were delighted — but not as much as I was.
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