Historic carousel at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs starts turning again

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Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
Families enjoy riding the carousel at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs on June 13, 2024.

"Is everybody ready to go?"

"Yeah!" a chorus of kids shouts as a motor starts up, music begins playing, and horses and carriages start going round and round and round again.

Crowd of people staring at a carousel at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Asa Gartrell/KRCC News
Crowds wait to ride the carousel at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on June 13, 2024.

Other kids are waiting their turn for the next ride on the newly reopened and restored historic carousel at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. Six and 7-year-old brothers Alistair and Emiliano Cheeseman are among them.

"I like all the animals. I like horses. I really like them because they're really fast and we get to ride them," they said.

The carousel was removed last summer as part of plans for an ongoing $50 million construction project that includes a giraffe habitat expansion, the International Center for the Care and Conservation of Giraffe building, and a South America exhibit. Now the carousel is in a new location featuring natural shade, a native plant display and space away from traffic for guests to gather. 

"It's really fast," said Bob Chastain, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo CEO. "So it feels like … you're saying to yourself, someone should slow this thing down."

Historically carousels ran very quickly, said Chastain. So the gearing on this 1926 unit is set accordingly.

The seven-ton carousel built by the Allan Herschell Company was designed to be portable, according to zoo officials. It’s a so-called county fair-style unit that can be taken apart in about eight hours using basic hand tools.

Chastain said the zoo’s founder, Spencer Penrose, installed the carousel in 1937. Since then it’s been moved and restored a couple of times and is listed in the State Register of Historic Properties. Chastain remembers what it was like thirty years ago.

"The carousel was at the very, very top of the zoo," Chastain said. The zoo is built into the mountains on the south end of the city. "Families would have to slog all the way up there. They'd be sweaty by the time they got there and then the carousel was there and a few goats were there. So I'm not sure the payoff was worth it, but people loved the carousel."

Man in a blue button down shirt stands with his hands in front of his stomach pressed fingertip together.
Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo CEO Bob Chastain speaks during the re-opening of the zoo's carousel on June 13, 2024.

Originally powered by a gas engine, the 36-foot diameter carousel now runs on electricity. It features two rows of 10 jumping horses carved of yellow poplar.

While the carousel was offline during the last year, the horses and carriages had cracks repaired and paint touched up. Its Stinson organ is also back in working condition after being out of commission for five years.

A child sits on a horse on a carousel while a man in a blue short sleeve button-down shirt and a ballcap looks at him.
Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
Alexander Mruzik (at left) rides the carousel at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. He was first in line for the inaugural ride when the carousel reopened on June 13, 2024.

And 10-year-old carousel aficionado Alexander Mruzik of Denver says that’s a good thing.

"It’s amazing, better than any carousel that I've ever been on," he said. "The music really changes a lot because most of the carousels that I go on actually don't have music playing and that extra bit of music just makes it so much more exciting."

The carousel also features decorations depicting mountain landscapes, sailboats and a Viking ship.

Rides cost $2, and proceeds help fund wildlife conservation.

a man in a blue button down shirt adjusts a stuffed skunk plaque on a table
Asa Gartrell/KRCC News
A striped skunk named Padfoot presses the button to start the first ride on the newly relocated carousel at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on June 13, 2024