Seaside Heights carousel to go on the auction block

Sin Young Jung and Daniel Lee of Palisades Park, N.J., ride the carousel in Seaside Heights at Casino Pier.
Sin Young Jung and Daniel Lee of Palisades Park, N.J., ride the carousel in Seaside Heights at Casino Pier. (MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 17, 2014

SEASIDE HEIGHTS - In a light-blue Ford Falcon convertible, Floyd Moreland used to drive across the country in the 1960s from Berkeley, Calif., to Seaside Heights. Every summer, he was drawn back to work on the carousel, built in 1910, housed on what is today known as Casino Pier.

It was his seasonal job to operate the carousel, from high school through graduate studies. He was paid $1.25 an hour. He couldn't give it up.

He loved the carousel, which now bears his name, and still does. The news that the Casino Pier owners plan to sell the hand-carved piece of history - with 35 moving horses, 18 stationary horses, two camels, one lion, one tiger, and two chariots - was difficult for him to hear, even if at the same time he felt he understood.

"When I was little, I was brought up in North Jersey and we would always vacation every summer for two weeks here in Seaside," said Moreland, 71, who is a retired classics professor and former dean in the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. "I was just mesmerized by the carousel. I just loved it."

No auction date has been set, but the sale will be handled by Guernsey's Auction in New York. The carousel is expected to fetch up to $3 million. The owners of the Casino Pier, who are selling the antique, declined through their public relations staff to be interviewed for this story.

Moreland said the basswood horses and carriages slowly deteriorated over the years: the paint faded, the band organ withered.

In the 1980s, the then-owners also decided to auction it off, but Moreland couldn't stand to see it move. He wrote his longtime employers a letter.

"Their response was an envelope with a key to the building and they said, 'You can do what you want with your carousel.' So I restored it."

In the years that followed, Moreland, then a college professor, continued to make summer trips down to Seaside Heights to operate the carousel. During the winter months, he would restore it on the weekends.

"The notion of a college professor coming down and running a carousel and painting it. . . . I just wanted to revive the magic of it as I saw it through a child's eye," Moreland said. "Then we succeeded and then, 25 years later, 30 years later it's still here. Nothing is forever and there's different ownership now and a different view of the property."

Now that its fate is once again in question, Moreland said he hopes for the best.

"I'm hoping that if somebody does come along to buy it, they can buy it as a whole piece," he said. "Otherwise it will be sold in fragments, and horses and lions and stuff will end up in people's living rooms . . . but the memories will live on in a lot of people of the happiness it brought during the years."

The company hired to sell the carousel hopes to sell it in one piece, though selling it horse-by-horse, piece-by-piece is a possibility.

"We're going to make every effort to see that it stays intact, sell it as a complete carousel," Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey's, said. "There are very few of these left and we think it's appropriate as part of our national heritage to keep it intact."

Guernsey's has some experience selling carousels. About eight years ago, Guernsey's was contacted to sell the last carousel in Coney Island, N.Y. - the B&B Carousel - and helped keep it intact. They approached then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and were told it would take years of meetings before the city could buy the $2 million carousel and keep it where it was, according to Ettinger.

Months later, however, the city bought the ride, solidifying a piece of New York City's history.

"Hopefully something similar will be the case with this carousel in Seaside Heights," Ettinger said.

The B&B Carousel was a smaller ride than the Seaside Heights carousel, which is now known as the Dr. Floyd Moreland Carousel.

It was built in 1910 in Philadelphia, with many artists working on the figures - representing a diversity of stylistic approaches to the animals. The style is identified by its primary carver, William H. Dentzel, who operated one of two major carousel carving companies in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

It moved from Burlington County to Seaside Heights in 1932. It has undergone the restoration by Moreland, survived Hurricane Sandy - which devastated much of the rest of the pier and area, including Moreland's home - and then survived a devastating fire.

Guernsey's cited several factors that likely led to the decision to sell.

"It's a little bit of a number of things. I think there certainly was a little bit of a scare with the two tragedies that occurred with Hurricane Sandy, then followed closely by the terrible fire that occurred just a short distance down the boardwalk from where this is, and that this treasure could easily have been destroyed," Ettinger said. "I think they have, from what I understand, slightly different visions for how to make the Casino Pier as wonderful and as exciting to the most people . . . which would involve using the space in a slightly different fashion than the space that the carousel takes up."

Guernsey's has been in contact with other towns and municipalities along the Jersey coast, including a conversation with the mayor of Seaside Park, and hasn't set a date for auction. They hope to sell the carousel as one piece to preserve one of a limited number of surviving hand-carved carousels.

"What we would lose is memories. I know for a fact all my children, my grandchildren, they've been on the carousel year after year growing up, and they enjoyed it," said Tony Vaz, a councilman in Seaside Heights. "I'm sure it was not a quick decision. My speculation is they thought about this and they had to have a reasoning to do this. They wouldn't just up and do it without a reason."

For those hoping to create some last memories on the Seaside Heights carousel, or for teenagers hoping to kick it old school with a date on a carousel instead of at the movies, the carousel, at $2.25 a ride, will be open through the end of this year's Shore season.

cmindock@phillynews.com856-779-3237 @clarkmindock

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