The future of the famed Nunley’s Carousel, which graced Baldwin from 1940 to 1995, is uncertain.
Beth Obergh, of Wantagh, the woman who has been cleaning, maintaining and operating the carousel for the past 11 years at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, where it is housed, said that she and all the other employees who cared for the ride have been laid off, and the carousel has been left alone.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic six months ago came the closure of the museum, and Obergh was furloughed. Despite that, she said, she came back to the museum each week as a volunteer to undertake the repair projects the carousel needed.
“And then one week I went, keys in hand, and the gate’s lock had been changed, so I was essentially locked out,” Obergh said. “The concern is who’s maintaining it, who’s running it, if I’m not there?”
In 2006, Obergh and her daughter launched a campaign to raise money to revive Nunley’s Carousel and find it a new home on Museum Row.
“The only reason it’s closed right now is because of the pandemic, and the fact that the state has not allowed amusement parks to open,” Museum President Andy Parton said.
The Cradle’s theater, planetarium and interactive exhibits were also temporarily shut down because of the pandemic. The museum is open, but for four days a week rather than the usual six. Revenue has been lacking, Parton said, and 60 percent of the Cradle’s staff was laid off.
But the museum, Parton said, is committed to reopening the carousel when the state gives the go-ahead.
“We have staff that are fluent in operating it and maintaining it,” he said. “Beth was great in terms of her work on it; she had a lot of passion for the carousel itself.”
In July, Obergh sent a letter outlining her concerns to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.
“We worked really hard on the carousel,” Obergh said. “It’s a tiny, little, insignificant thing with what’s going on right now, but it’s important to people, and we don’t want anything bad to happen.”
She said that cleaning and maintaining the carousel required a “phenomenal amount of time and work.” She regularly and meticulously brushed, washed and conditioned the horses’ tails, and cleaned the seatbelts, horses and poles.
“It’s a labor of love, so you really need someone who’s going to commit to that,” Obergh said. “It meant a lot to the people of Nassau County. People are very concerned about the carousel. People are very nostalgic about it.”
Additionally, Nunley’s, which is 108 years old, was named the recipient of the National Carousel Association’s 2020 Historic Carousel Award.
The ride was created in 1912 by the Brooklyn-based Stein and Goldstein Artistic Carousel Company, and operated for 26 years in Canarsie’s Golden City Park, where it was known as Murphy’s Carousel, according to the Cradle of Aviation Museum’s website. It reopened as Nunley’s Carousel in Baldwin in 1940, and was a popular attraction to South Shore residents for more than 50 years, before closing in 1995. The land was sold to Pep Boys, an automobile parts retail store.
Nassau County purchased the carousel, and it was stored in a hangar at Mitchel Field. For years, officials tried to bring it back to Baldwin, but those plans never came to fruition. Billy Joel wrote a song dedicated to the ride called “Waltz #1 (Nunley’s Carousel),” and unsuccessfully tried to move it to a park in Oyster Bay, where he lives. An Ohio-based company began restoring the carousel in 2007, and it was opened on Museum Row, adjacent to the Cradle of Aviation, in 2009.
County officials said the administration has scheduled a meeting with Cradle representatives to discuss the future of the carousel and other financial issues.
“Our museums and entertainment venues are struggling to survive amidst the pandemic — grappling with the devastating loss of revenues from their prolonged shutdown and other Covid-related restrictions,” County spokeswoman Christine Geed said in a statement. “We are exploring ways to support this valuable and beloved artifact to help ensure it’s available for children and families to enjoy for years to come.”
Ben Strack contributed to this story.