I’ve been involved with the Carousel of Light since the nonprofit was formed in the mid-’90s. When I was asked to join the board for the then-nascent local charity all those years ago, I saw it as not only an opportunity to give back to the community in which I grew up, but an opportunity to help preserve the unique and cherished artwork of a friend and to pay it forward for the kindness and generosity that he had shown to my family and me.
You see, I met Lance Shinkle under tragic but now what I see as fateful, circumstances. This week marked the 40th anniversary of the death of my father, Kent Clarkson. On November 4, 1981, Dad went to work and did not come home, taken from us too soon by a heart whose love knew no bounds but whose strength ran out. Not long thereafter, my mom had the idea to pay tribute to Dad’s love of the ocean—Old Silver Beach, in particular—and decided to have a beach scene created on a large boulder as his headstone. Mom found Lance Shinkle through a mutual friend, and he agreed to help create a loving and lasting memorial to my dad.
I remember like it was yesterday. My sister Dena and I, along with family friend Tracy Murphy, sat on a blanket near the site at St. Joseph’s Cemetery on Gifford Street and enjoyed some Paul’s pizza while Lance first traced the beach scene, then sandblasted it on a large boulder. He added in some highlights to represent the sunshine falling on the ocean in the scene that depicted Dad walking near the two jetties that separate the two sides of the beach. All these years later, that scene still brings a smile to my face, knowing how Lance’s work was the gateway to many wonderful memories. Dad loved that beach. Lance helped memorialize that love forever.
Given that history, when Rich Sherman, Art Calfee, Grace Bardelis, Jim Bowen and other local stalwarts of paying it forward reached out to me to be part of the Carousel of Light board, I jumped at the chance to help preserve Lance’s opus, his creation of hand-carved horses bound together by the antique 1947 Alan Herschell mechanism. You probably have heard a portion of the story. The board worked with Lance for a time and pursued several options for a permanent home. After a time, Lance moved to California and brought the carousel with him. In 2013 he decided to come home and asked that we revive the then-dormant nonprofit and offered that if we could raise the money to get the mechanism and the horses back to their hometown, he would donate the carousel to the nonprofit. We did, and he did. After raising $30,000 from a supportive community, the carousel came home. We worked closely with the school committee and, since 2014, have operated each summer on the playground at Mullen-Hall School, offering more than 135,000 rides to kids of all ages and memories for generations of Falmouthites and visitors alike. We have hosted weddings, birthday parties, and other joyous occasions, including countless family outings where making a merry-go-round memory was the only requirement for gathering together. We are fulfilling Lance’s vision of smiles, families, and memories every day we operate.
Alas, the annual stress of assembling the mechanism and taking it down is taking its toll on the precious but tired antique. In addition to the annual cost of $10,000 for those steps, the lack of a permanent home also impacts our ability to secure donations and grant funds. A permanent home would provide us with a long-term ability to preserve Lance’s opus and deliver those memories for generations to come.
At the upcoming Town Meeting on November 15, the Carousel of Light has the opportunity to take a step toward finding that permanent home. Article 32 seeks to transfer a small, rarely used portion of land in the southwest corner of the Mullen-Hall property from the school committee to the select board, so that they can begin lease negotiations with the Carousel. Much like the town did with leasing Highfield Hall to a local nonprofit in order to preserve that beautiful, historic estate, this article seeks to open the door to the next step in the process. All of the components of the lease will be discussed, debated, and voted at a public meeting. This Town Meeting vote is the beginning—not the end—of the process.
A few years back, a task force was established that included two members of the select board, two members of the Carousel board of directors, and Michael Kasparian from the chamber of commerce. We met for more than a year (the Carousel members of the task force were Jim Bowen and me) and considered many sites, including Town Hall Square, Peg Noonan Park, Library Lane, the library lawn, Marine Park, and Teaticket Park. After more than a year’s worth of measuring, studying and discussing, we unanimously selected the current site on Katharine Lee Bates Road as the best site. Because we have operated there for several years now without any traffic or safety issues, and because our operations at the current site have been widely supported by the Falmouth Village Association, the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, and countless locals, moving our location just down the street from the current site is a natural fit.
Over the years, our all-volunteer board has worked tirelessly to find a permanent home to keep the Carousel of Light in Falmouth. This is our opportunity to accomplish a step in that very public process. Our simple mission is to “bring joy to children of all ages by protecting, supporting, and preserving the Carousel of Light for generations to come.” Finding a permanent home and preserving this Falmouth-based, Falmouth-created, and Falmouth-centric work of art will allow us—and the community—to do just that.