Carousel collection exhibit takes visitors on merry-go-round journey into history

Display at Bernhard Museum Winery through Jan. 25
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The art and history of carousel horses is providing Auburn with a rarely glimpsed portal into a little-known corner of its past. “The Tradition of the Carousel” opened last week at the Bernhard Museum Winery building’s new second-floor show space and continues through Jan. 25. The display highlights 11 intricately carved carousel animals from the collection of guest curator Sue Hegarty, a former curator and director of the American Carousel Museum in San Francisco. Hegarty estimates she’s owned more than 100 carousel animals over nearly 40 years of collecting and study. “I’ve always loved horses and I’ve always loved riding the merry-go-round,” Hegarty said. In 1999, she moved to Placerville and met Placer County Museums Administrator Melanie Barton while volunteering as a docent at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. Barton said that she has wanted to exhibit Hegarty’s menagerie of horses, a bear, a rabbit, dog and other carousel animals for several years but could never find a local angle. That local angle emerged after a photograph of a merry-go-round was donated to the Gold Drift Historical Society. The photo showed a small merry-go-round located in the community of Towle, near Gold Run. That led to a county archives search that turned up several articles from 1906 editions of the Placer Herald discussing a Lincoln entrepreneur’s trip to Abilene, Kansas to buy the merry-go-round. The merry-go-round was installed in Auburn on a vacant lot in May of 1906, one of the many venues it would visit after being shipped from Kansas. Hegarty said the merry-go-round undoubtedly came from the Parker factory in Kansas – the only merry-go-round manufacturer at that time not located on the East Coast. The story goes that President Dwight Eisenhower sanded carousel horses at the Parker factory while living in Abilene, Hegarty said. These days, the closest Placer County has to a real carousel is a merry-go-round with fiberglass animals at Roseville’s Galleria shopping center. For a real experience with carved wooden carousel animals, the closest merry-go-round is in Tilden Park in Berkeley. But for local residents who want to examine the lovingly carved horses and other animals, the Winery Building display provides perspective on the craft as well as the history. Visitor Gini Jackson marveled at the collection and said that she was particularly fascinated by the way carvers would create different expressions on the horses to up the excitement level of the ride. Hegarty will be on hand Jan. 10 for an educational program on carousels and their animals. Located at 291 Auburn Folsom Road in Auburn, the Bernhard Museum Winery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday as part of the Bernhard Museum complex tour. Admission is free. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or comment at