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Carousel for Missoula


Children of all ages in Montana know that one of the treasures of our state lay right within the city of Missoula on the river front in Caras Park. It's Missoula's "Carousel", whose playful wooden horses prance gaily up and down to the festive music of the pipe organ. Whirling round and round, the ponies parade you through a fantasy of brightly painted gargoyles and dragons. Contagious smiles and laughter are reflected in the lights and mirrors as the next group of eager riders watch with anticipation.

The Carousel was the concept of Chuck Kaparich, the grandson of a Croatian immigrant to the Butte copper mines. Kaparich, with childhood memories of the Columbia Gardens in Butte, a reverence for his family history, and an interest sparked by a trip to the Spokane carousel, began carving his first pony in 1990. His carving lead to another and then another. With each new pony, his vision became clearer: a carousel in Caras Park. In 1991, taking one of his ponies in hand, Kaparich met with the Missoula mayor and then with Missoula Redevelopment Agency; the dream caught on. Wood carvers were recruited through classes at the vo-tech center. But most of the excitement for the project was created by the horses themselves. By the completion of the project in 1995, 125 businesses and over 1,100 individuals had given financial support. Over 240 people had given their time and skill to the carousel project.


Here are some interesting facts about the Missoula Carousel:

  • There are 38-hand carved horses and 2 chariot rides.
  • It takes about 800 hours to carve, sand and paint a carousel horse.
  • The horses are carved from basswood, which comes from linden trees.
  • The design of each horse was selected by its "adoptive parents," and each horse has itís own unique features and characteristics.


Another wonderful aspect of the Missoula carousel is the Stinson band organ. It is Americaís largest carousel band organ, with 400 pipes. These 400 wooden pipes duplicated the sound of 23 instruments and 45 musicians: saxophone, flutes, piccolos, violins, viola, bass drum, snare drum, wood block and cymbal, a tiny cast bell and a shiny chrome xylophone. The smallest pipe is two inches and the longest is 10 feet. The wood used for these pipes are yellow poplar and maple, with walnut caps on the clarinet row. The organ plays music punched onto paper song rolls much like that of a player piano.

Fifty cents yields a three and a half minute ride at a top speed of 11 miles per hour (on the outside row)!

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