From 1939 to 1995, Nunley’s Amusement Park, on Sunrise Highway, was a fixture in Baldwin and known widely in the surrounding communities, the source of memories for fun-seeking children, parents and employees alike.
Last Saturday, a tangible piece of Nunley’s history — perhaps the largest piece, besides the carousel, which is in storage behind the Long Island Children’s Museum in Uniondale — was returned home, to become a permanent feature of the Baldwin Historical Society and Museum. That, of course, is the 8-foot round fiberglass golf ball that topped the building where golf clubs were distributed to park-goers for miniature golf.
After an unveiling ceremony — and with the help of the Baldwin Fire Department and Sanitation District Two — the ball is now displayed atop a 10-foot pole that resembles a tee to the left of the museum’s entrance.
Sanitation District Two Commissioner Jerry Brown, who is also a firefighter, explained that cargo straps were used to put the ball in place. “It took about two hours,” Brown said, “between laughing and worrying.” The ball, which is sentimental to many, brought back memories for Brown, too, who used to work on the golf course, and as a “ring boy,” collecting the metal rings children would try to grab as the carousel spun. “It’s a part of my childhood and my kids’,” he said. “It was such a happy place, and a great memory for the guys and gals who worked there growing up. We were all just teenagers.”
The restoration of the ball wouldn’t have been possible without amateur treasure hunter Vinny Valentini, who lived in Baldwin for 35 years. Valentini began searching for Nunley’s paraphernalia a few years ago, starting with the cars kids raced on a small-scale track. After tracking down two of them and other object, he began hunting for the ball, which he discovered at Obnoxious Antiques in Burlington, New Jersey.
After a community GoFundMe was organized by the museum with Maureen Herman, a resident who oversees the popular Facebook group Baldwin Inside, which has over 7,000 members, Valentini and historical society President Gary Farkash rented a truck, bought the ball and brought it back. “I was the guy who located the ball,” Valentini chuckled. “I’m a big fan of putting things back where they belong.”
Karen Montalbano, vice president of the historical society, said she hoped this larger-than-life landmark would draw more attention to the museum, which is slightly obscured by a parking lot. “We’re a little tucked away, so hopefully this will help draw attention,” she said, “and it’s just a fun thing to happen.”
Montalbano brought her own family photos to the museum for the unveiling, which show the lush green holes of the miniature golf course — and the ball in its original resting place, on top of the golf club dispensary.
Former resident Michael White, an artist, came from New Jersey to attend the event and to sell some of his prints, with some of the proceeds going to the museum. Being back in Baldwin was emotional for White. “This is really where it all started,” he said. “It’s starting to really become a place of memories.
“Seeing [the ball] back here is very cool,” he added. “That’s about as big of a relic from Nunley’s as you can get, and it’s cool pop art. It’s a pop culture artifact, really.” White has been hyper-realistically recreating photos from Nunley’s for two years.
Farkash said he thinks of his father when he talks about Nunley’s, explaining how, as a child, his father rode the carousel while it was stationed in Rosedale, Queens. “And then when it came here … he sat on the horse with me as a little boy until I was old enough to be on it myself,” Farkash said. “So he did it in two spots.”
When the carousel was purchased by the county in 1998, Farkash, a volunteer for the Nassau County Museum System, helped put it in storage. In 2007, its restoration began at Carousel Works in Ohio, and in 2009 it found a new home on Museum Row, behind the children’s museum, where it sits unused and identified as a historic object today.
Other memorabilia that were on view at the museum were the Hodges hand car trains that kids pedaled with their hands, and an original ring arm, from which they grabbed rings as they circled on the carousel, hoping for the brass ring from, which was on loan for the day from the children’s museum.
County Executive Bruce Blakeman and Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé presented citations to the Historical Society and Museum for the unveiling.