A new wave of kids takes a spin on the Salisbury Beach Carousel
SALISBURY — George Burtch eased his foot off the pedal. “The ride is about to end,” he intoned into a microphone. “Please remain seated until the carousel comes to a complete stop.”
It’s been almost 50 years since the historic Broadway Flying Horses carousel came to a complete stop in this North Shore beach town. Its demise was symbolic of a decades-long decline for the community of Salisbury, which plummeted from its mid-century peak — when families flocked to the seashore, the amusements, and the arcades — to the nadir of the 1990s, when the rough-and-tumble dive bars became the area’s main attraction.
This summer, however, the salt air of the Broadway Loop has filled once again with the sound of the calliope. The nonprofit Salisbury Beach Partnership recently celebrated the opening of the Salisbury Beach Carousel, a fully restored vintage merry-go-round housed in a new, state-of-the-art roundhouse, just a Frisbee’s toss from the beach. It’s the latest phase in a long-term strategic plan to revive Salisbury’s commercial district as a destination for family entertainment, with attractions, live music, and street fairs.
The partnership raised over $4 million for the new carousel through grants, corporate and private donations, and fund-raisers.
On a recent weekday afternoon, three generations of a family from the Leominster area lined up to climb aboard the carousel. They were on vacation, staying in an RV at the nearby Salisbury Beach State Reservation.
Ariel Norum was about to help her 2-year-old daughter, Lilyana, saddle up. “We came last night,” she explained, “and she talked about it all day.”
“This is what growing up is about,” said Ariel’s mother, Dawna.
Methuen native Mike Condon, who is in his 60s, grew up spending summers in Salisbury with his family. After the pandemic waylaid his restaurant business, he took a job as the carousel’s operations manager. He’s the face of the attraction, greeting every rider — 11,000 of them in July alone.
“This is my retirement job,” he said, beaming. “What a way to go out!”
Local businessman Wayne Capolupo has been a prime mover in a years-long push to revive the Broadway Loop, the main drag that leads visitors to the edge of the beachfront before switching back in a hairpin turn. For more than a decade, his Atlantic Hospitality Group has operated the Blue Ocean Music Hall, a 500-seat performance venue, and Seaglass, a restaurant with expansive views of the ocean. More recently, he added Surfside, a colorful seasonal bar with an enormous deck that juts out above the water.
The grand vision for Salisbury is to establish a “bedroom beach” community, “a small version of what they call ‘new urbanism,’” said Capolupo. He and his siblings grew up in Salisbury after their parents moved north from East Boston. He recently built his dream house on the beach.
Capolupo founded SPS New England, an infrastructure contractor, in 1984, and has used his wealth and influence in a sustained effort to transform his hometown. Next on his agenda: the so-called One Oceanfront project, a mixed-use development that will completely remake the southern corner of the Broadway Loop. He hopes to break ground on the project — which proposes 225 residential units and 10,000 square feet of retail space — sometime in 2024.
Once upon a time, that stretch of the Salisbury waterfront featured the Frolics, a supper club that drew major celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Liberace. More recently, it was home to some of the “honky-tonks” that contributed to the town’s seedy reputation.
According to Jilda Shaheen Patten, whose father, Roger, owned Shaheen’s Fun-O-Rama and Fun Park in Salisbury from the mid-1950s until 1990, traditional boardwalk destinations began to fall into disrepair in the late 1960s. The reasons were many, she said, including the influx of shopping malls, the growing ranks of working mothers who were no longer spending all summer at the beach with their kids, and the appeal of planning big family trips to Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
“People started to have options of going to much bigger amusement parks,” Capolupo said. “Small regional parks for the most part became obsolete.”
Patten, who lives in nearby Seabrook, N.H., grew up working for her father’s business, which he expanded over the years to include an arcade, bumper cars, and the Himalaya, a stomach-churning carriage carousel that undulated up and down while moving backward. Her husband worked as general manager of Shaheen’s for 25 years.
In the party room adjacent to the new carousel, Patten showed a visitor a trove of photographs and clippings of the old attractions, which she has donated to the Salisbury Beach Partnership. On a necklace she wore a brass ring, a remnant of Salisbury’s original Flying Horses carousel. Before the insurance companies put an end to the practice, carousel riders were encouraged to reach for the rings as their horses circled past, inspiring the expression “to grab the brass ring.”
The pendant is a treasured keepsake. Patten used to wear it when she attended meetings of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, which her late father once served as president.
“I don’t let it out of my sight,” she said.
After the original Salisbury carousel was sold in 1977, it landed in Southern California. By the time the partnership went looking for it several years ago, the ride was no longer in operation and had been disassembled.
The “new” Salisbury Beach Carousel was built in 1909 by the Providence-based manufacturer William Mangels, with horses and other riding animals created by the master carver Charles I.D. Looff. That makes it a “sister unit” to the original attraction, Capolupo said. The new roundhouse has radiant heating installed beneath the floorboards, so the ride can remain open in winter.
The original Flying Horses carousel had 46 animals, including three dogs and three goats, according to carouselhistory.com. The new attraction has 44 horses, giraffes, camels, goats, and a zebra, said Amy Moore, executive director of the carousel.
George Burtch, who serves on the Salisbury Beach Partnership board, is one of several volunteers who help run the carousel. He was the one who found the historic ride in rural Pennsylvania, where it entertained families for seven decades at a lake resort. The Salisbury partnership paid $600,000 for it.
Burtch worked for 40 years in western Massachusetts as a community relations representative for Hasbro, the toy and game company. When he and his wife retired to Salisbury, he wanted to get involved in his new community.
“Sometimes we lose sight of how fortunate we are,” he said. “I traveled to 26 countries for Hasbro. I like to give back.”
When the partnership announced its “Adopt a Horse” fund-raising program, he and his wife, Judy, purchased a plaque that is now fixed to the platform of the carousel.
“We lost our daughter, Missie, in 2018,” he said. “She was very artistic. She would have loved it. Now, every day, I get to say hi to Missie.”
Across the corner, the Salisbury Discount House was doing brisk business on a warm summer day, selling beach gear, toys, and souvenirs.
Owner Sandi Sheafer grew up riding the “dobby horses” on the old carousel. Her father ran Eddie’s Toyland under the same roof as the Frolics before moving across the street and opening the discount store.
“What I’m overhearing at the register is ‘OK, let’s go to the arcade and get some ice cream, and then we’ll go on a carousel ride,’” Sheafer said. In a matter of weeks, she said, the ride “has become part of the fabric of the center.”
Though the carousel is a nostalgic reminder of the town’s heyday, the partnership’s board members are looking beyond the old amusement park model for inspiration.
“We recognize for a number of reasons we will never be an amusement park again, and frankly, people don’t want that,” said Capolupo. “They want a nice, quaint town center, with ‘shoppes’ spelled with two Ps.” He mentioned the possibility of attracting a laser tag venue or an escape room.
“We want family-centric activities that are year-round. You can’t sustain a viable commercial center based on a 10-week season.”
With the long-planned carousel now open for business, Capolupo and his team of boosters have their sights set on grabbing that brass ring.
James Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.