Jerry Reinhardt, the volunteer museum director of the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, didn't grow up with a love of carousels.
Jerry Reinhardt, the volunteer museum director of the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, didn’t grow up with a love of carousels.
Reinhardt only carved his first carousel horse because he needed something “Renaissance-themed” for his woodworking group’s booth at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.
In his research, he happened to read in an Encyclopedia Britannica that carousels first appeared during the Renaissance and figured he’d rather work on a miniature carousel horse than a religious icon.
“So I carved a horse,” says Reinhardt, “poked a pole through it, and stuck it out there and darned if I didn't sell two of them the first day I was there … I was just winging it.”
With that, he knew, “I’m on to something.” He began carving miniatures, and doing a few full-sized replicas and restorations, for collectors around the country.
“I was busier than a one-armed paper hanger,” says Reinhardt. “But it all worked out.”
Shortly after that first Renaissance Festival carousel horse, Reinhardt got his first commission ― carving a full-sized replica of a C.W. Parker carousel horse called “Lillie Belle” for an employee of Leavenworth’s Theel Manufacturing Company, another local carousel manufacturer.
For that commission, Reinhardt was given a “lousy” Xeroxed photo as a guide ― but it was the article attached to the photo that had the lasting impact.
“(I) started reading the history of carousels ― which was part of this article. And son of a gun, I was always sort of a history nut, and got to reading this article and got tangled up in it, and next thing I knew I was digging around trying to find out more about it, and I was hooked.”
Now, Reinhardt, his wife, Marilyn Reinhardt, and the other volunteers working with the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum are the proud hosts of the 2013 annual National Carousel Association convention ― here in Leavenworth Wednesday through Sept. 29.
The NCA dates back to 1973, but this is the first time their annual convention has been held in Leavenworth. This year attendees are collectors, historians and carousel lovers from across the United States and Canada.
Reinhardt has put together a carousel-crammed itinerary for the 120 attendees. They are busing to Abilene to see and ride the 1901 Parker Track carousel there, where the carousel purveyors will set up the original steam boiler just for the conventioneers’ visit.
Then, the tour will continue to the Herschell Spillman carousel in Gage Park in Topeka and the Kansas City Zoo’s endangered species carousel. After that, they will visit the Baseball Carousel at Royals stadium.
Finally, the convention attendees will trek to the recently restored and re-painted 1926 Illions carousel at Worlds of Fun, the machine Reinhardt deems “probably the best carousel we’re going to see.”
Saturday, they will spend the day in Leavenworth, touring Historic Leavenworth, the fort, riding and photographing the three carousels at the Leavenworth museum and exploring the National Carousel Archives, also housed in the Leavenworth museum.
But this convention, and even the local carousel museum, might not have been were if not for Reinhardt’s evolution from a woodcarving entrepreneur to a full-blown carousel enthusiast.
If you ask Reinhardt how he first got started with the 1913 C.W. Parker carousel, which is now the crown jewel of the museum, he’ll tell you “I got lied to.”
That Parker carousel was purchased with help from the city and local donors for $100,000 ― but it was a “wreck,” according to Reinhardt, and needed significant restoration before it could be open to the public.
“It looked like they had turned on the carousel,” says Reinhardt, “And somebody had stood there with a paintbrush as (the horses) went by. We had a real mess.”
Reinhardt had become known to several Kansas carousel enthusiasts for his carousel horse carvings and restorations, and was asked to “teach” the new carousel proprietors restoration techniques.
But when he arrived in Leavenworth, Reinhardt says, “There was nobody to teach to do the restoration ― that was the con.”
One of the first tasks in the restoration process was stripping all the haphazard paint from the carousel horses. Reinhardt gathered a few of his woodworking friends and opened up a shop about where the First City Museum is today to begin the restoration work.
"It had a big garage door,” recalls Reinhardt, “and we had that open for air and ventilation more than anything … and people would come wandering in that door because it was open, and as soon as they came in we'd grab em' and give them a piece of sandpaper and tell them to get to work.
“And usually they stuck. These people who just wandered in. And we ended up with 25 to 30 people, just off the streets.”
Reinhardt remembers one volunteer, Larney Tate, who “got the reputation of being the oldest male stripper in the city of Leavenworth. Because he stripped all the horses, he stripped the paint.”
The restoration began in 1979 and the carousel was up and running for the first time in 2005. In that time, Reinhardt and the other carousel museum volunteers raised money for a building large enough to hold the 1913 C.W. Parker carousel, as well as the 1950 Paul Parker carousel (a moveable, aluminum-horse carousel that the museum now uses as back-up when the C.W. Parker is down for maintenance), and the 1850 NCA Primitive carousel.
Since the museum opened in 2005, Reinhardt has served as the museum director, though, he says “There's not much directing ― this is a loose bunch of people.
“You don't direct anybody in this group. They just sort of run around and do their own thing. But it works. It works.”
All of the staff are volunteers – except for one man they pay to clean the toilets.
“I couldn't get a volunteer to step forward and say ‘That is my job,’” chuckles Reinhardt.
The C.W. Parker Carousel Museum recently hosted a fundraising contest with local area businesses, where each establishment decorated a miniature horse and collected donations for the museum. The winner will be announced soon, and the horses can be viewed in the museum gift shop.
More information on the museum is available on their website, http://firstcitymuseums.org/carousel_main.html or by calling the museum at 913-897-2521.