Still spinning: Former State Fair carousel turns 100 in Como Park

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It's had its ups and downs over the years but Minnesota's much-loved carousel has probably never looked better than it does at age 100.

Cafesjian's Carousel was born at the 1914 State Fair. After a long ride there it's found a second career in St. Paul's Como Park, where Saturday's centennial celebration will be.

Its 68 hand-carved horses (and two chariots) were at home at the fairgrounds for 75 years. But in 1988 the owner decided to put them out to pasture, figuring the individual parts were worth more at auction than the carousel would bring in.

That's when Peter Boehm and Nancy Peterson sprang into action. Boehm and Peterson tell Lillie News 20 horses and a chariot were already loaded on trucks bound for the auction house. But the couple pulled together a grass roots effort and formed the non-profit group Our Fair Carousel, to keep the carousel intact and operate it in St. Paul.

A retired entrepreneur and philanthropist, Gerard Cafesjian, donated more than half of the $1.1 million needed to buy the carousel. Boehm tells Lillie News Cafesjian had grown up near an amusement park in New Jersey and carousel music put him to sleep at night.

Sure, lots of people are too cool for carousels. They're not exactly what you'd call 21st Century entertainment.

But with folks like Caroline Tison around, spinning in circles doesn't get old – even after a century. After dismounting, the beaming 10-year-old from Maple Grove told the Pioneer Press: "The ride started out slow, but when it got faster, it felt like a real running horse."

The carousel's Facebook page promises free rides from 3:45 to 6 p.m. Saturday (instead of the regular $2 cost). Birthday cake and a brief ceremony are planned for 3 o'clock.

What's more, the Carousel Organ Association of America is in on the fun. They're hosting a band organ rally through the weekend.

Gerard Cafesjian will not be there to hear the music. He had a couple of decades to enjoy the revived carousel but died last year at the age of 88.

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