It was 10:48 on Wednesday morning, August 19, and passersby of the Falmouth Carousel of Light at the Mullen-Hall School were getting antsy. As a mother and son approached the ticket table, manager Beth E. Juaire rushed over and asked that they go to the nearby playground for a few minutes while they opened the carousel.
Since last summer, the school property has been home for the carousel, which was hand-carved and painted by Lance R. Shinkle from Falmouth, starting in 1988. The finished product was completed in 1993 and includes a circular, nautical-themed lineup of horses and seahorses, mermaids and chariots. The carousel was displayed at the Barnstable County Fair, Mashpee Commons, and on Main Street in Hyannis before moving to California with Mr. Shinkle while he cared for his father. Mr. Shinkle returned to Falmouth in 2008, storing the carousel at his home until it began operating at the Mullen-Hall Elementary School.
Ms. Juaire and another carousel operator, Susan M. Lefcourt, disappeared behind the carousel’s maroon-and-white curtain. From the outside, the closed structure appeared void of activity. But behind the curtain, the two women were turning on power boxes and lighting up an elaborate parade of wooden horses.
“We have a lot of girl power, too,” Ms. Lefcourt said dryly. “It’s the most effective power.”
She and Ms. Juaire had each climbed a horse to raise sections of the curtain to the top of the structure. As they raised the material, sunlight poured in and the two were struck by the heat of the day. Sweat glistened on their faces as they continued to lift the heavy material.
The women said that usually, Donald Terry, the vice president of the carousel’s board of directors, is there to assist them with the task, because of his height. They also normally have help from another carousel operator, Kathleen Pokraka, and a ticket salesperson who recently went on vacation. On Wednesday, Ms. Juaire said that it was just the two of them, “all day with no break.”
From about 10:30 AM to 8:45 PM at the latest, they are responsible for ticket sales, ride operations, and even crowd control.
“We have a sign out front that says it all,” Ms. Lefcourt said, referring to one on the front gate that reads, “Children, please control your adults.” Ms. Juaire joked that their typically young customers can get rowdy when they want to hear a song.
“We play the Beatles, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Bruno,” she said of their music selection. But the biggest hit is the song “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen.” Ms. Juaire pinched a gold carousel charm on her necklace between two fingers. On the bottom was engraved, “Let it Go 2014.” “We must’ve played it 40 times a day last year.”
They lifted the curtain on the side facing the playground to face a crowd of 20 to 30 people who appeared to range from 8 to 80 in age. They patiently watched the two women, who said that they did not mind the stares.
“We love our job,” Ms. Lefcourt said, and she and Ms. Juaire readied the ticket table and opened the gates.
After adults had lifted children onto their horses, Ms. Juaire greeted them from a microphone.
“Good morning, everybody!” she shouted to a few quiet “good mornings” in response. Twice more she echoed the greeting until children shouted back, “Good morning!”
The first song, she said, would be a traditional song that is always played on the first ride of the day, and invited riders to sing along. The carousel began to turn to the opening notes of a crowd favorite, “Let it Go.”
Watching the spinning work of art from the gate were several seniors patiently awaiting their turns. The group was from JML Care Center’s adult day health program, which offers caregivers respite for families of seniors in need of care, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Kristen Keith, a nurse at JML, said that music is “huge entertainment” for people with Alzheimer’s. Beside her, director of activities Kimberly Brown explained that the part of the brain that recognizes songs is “one of the last centers in the brain to go.”
The seniors “perk up” upon hearing the carousel music, Ms. Keith said.
“And, you know, it’s like taking them back in time,” she said.
One of the clients, 41-year-old Beth Cole of Falmouth, said that she rode the carousel with the group last year and it reminded her of riding the Flying Horses on Martha’s Vineyard as a child.
“You get to go up and down on the horses and listen to music and just have a good time,” she said.
The crowd cleared as the seniors entered the gate and were helped onto their horses. The carousel again began to turn, from one generation to the next.
At the front gate, a woman approached Ms. Lefcourt to purchase a ticket for her granddaughter.
“You’re never too old to ride a carousel,” Ms. Lefcourt told her, “or too sophisticated.”
The customer, Falmouth resident Nina Hocker, looked over at her granddaughter, 6-year-old Hazel Kane, who was watching the seniors on their ride. She said that she takes her three grandchildren there often and she agrees with Ms. Lefcourt: no one is too old for a carousel ride.
“Look at how beautiful it is,” Ms. Hocker said as she, too, watched it turn. “And just look at the riders… from 8 to 80.”
The carousel will operate every day until Labor Day, then on weekends through Columbus Day. Its Facebook page can be viewed at www.facebook.com/CarouselOfLight.