Burkey Boggs remembers those days well. As a high school student, he and his then-girlfriend, Margaret Drinks, used to take the Wilson Line boat from Washington, D.C., to Marshall Hall, an amusement park-type fun zone of jousting tournaments, slot machines, swimming pool, roller coaster, amusement park and bumper cars.But what the 76-year-old retired La Plata resident seems to remember most clearly from those days in the late 1950s was the carousel with its shiny, painted animals, lively music and magical aura.“It was fascinating, I guess,” Boggs said. He remembers “the music and all the kids’ laughter and everybody having a good time.”Boggs, an avid duck carver, later became a member of the Southern Maryland Woodcarvers Group, but his memories of the amusement park — which closed in the early ’70s — remained so strong that he formed a splinter group, the Southern Maryland Carousel Group, in 2004. There are now 40 members. “When the tornado came through La Plata [in 2002] and kind of tore things up, we decided we should do something for the town and give back something to the community,” said Boggs, president of the group. “And we came up with the idea of doing a carousel. But other than riding on one, no one knew anything about carving them. I was a waterfowl carver. I never carved a horse. None of us did.”“It was quite a change,” said Melvin Williams, 74, of La Plata, vice president of the group. “Most of us had never carved anything that size. Probably a duck was the biggest thing I’d ever done, so it was quite a change and quite a learning experience.”Williams said duck carving usually is done with knives and gouges, while carousel animals are formed with mallets, chisels and “tons of sandpaper.”“Of course, the size has a lot to do with it,” said carver Bob Brookins, 62, of California, Md. “When you’re working on a duck, there’s a lot of detail in the feathers, and by the time you get done and you put paint on it, you have something that’s looking like a real animal if you’re good at it. With a carousel horse, they’re more like caricature animals and not real horses. They have some funny faces, big, flared nostrils. Some have big teeth and things like that.”Boggs said there was a large advantage in making large carousel animals — hewn of basswood from the linden tree — instead of carving the intricate, delicate features of a duck.“We had a saying that if you made a mistake, it was just a design change,” he said with a smile. “If we chipped off a piece of wood and couldn’t glue it back on, we worked around it.”All systems goWorking primarily on the band saw, Boggs formed a production line. Soon, animals were taking shape.“Once we had the legs, I would build the body, which was a hollow, square box,” Boggs said. “And then [we’d make] the head and the neck and attach everything to [the body] and carve. I kept the schedule going for whatever animal we were working on, and whatever part was needed, I would have it ready for them before it was needed.”Then, animals were painted in what was certainly no slap-it-on-and-spread-it-around procedure. “Oh, absolutely it’s harder” than painting waterfowl, said Brookins, who spent 23 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and another nine as a contractor. “I put three or four coats on, and I kept seeing shadows and didn’t like the look of something. By the time you’re done [sometimes] you’re thinking, ‘I can’t put that out in public.’ You want to erase it and start all over again.” Boggs made sure that didn’t happen when a blue crab carousel animal was made. “We wanted the crab to look like a crab,” said Boggs, who used a dried crustacean mounted on a piece of wood as a guide. “And we didn’t want a cooked crab. We didn’t want it to be orange. We turned it over to the artisan and said, ‘We want this to look like a crab, not a psychedelic crab.’”Now the group has 50 finished animals, all hand-carved, hand-painted and gleaming. Some of the horses are painted and constructed to represent organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and Girl Scouts. There is also a grasshopper and two wheelchair-accessible animals — a frog and swan — where a user is able to back in and lock the wheels. A museum? NeighWhere does the Southern Maryland Carousel Group want to display its animals? This is where things get a little tricky. Boggs’ dream is to display the animals in a museum complete with a full-scale, operational, 48-animal ride, an American folk art museum and a woodworking learning center.“We don’t know at this point where it’s going to go yet,” Boggs said of the estimated $2.5 million project. “We’re open. It could go in Charles, St. Mary’s or Calvert. If somebody has the property that it can go on and help us get a building built and so on, we’re happy to go anywhere.” He’s come close a few times to realizing his dream. The group was designated some property in Laurel Springs Park in La Plata in 2005, but that plan fell through as did a plan to house the museum in one of the commercial barns in Hughesville. There was also a plan to house the project in an 11,000-square-foot tobacco barn in Hughesville. The group even had a bond bill for $250,000 and was working through the House of Delegates, but that was ultimately pulled because the group was unable to complete the necessary paperwork. “It would be another draw to have the carousel and I think a fantastic tourist attraction,” Boggs said of his first choice, which would be to house it in Hughesville. “It would be far enough [off the highway to] not cause traffic.”Until then, several animals are displayed at Charles County-based businesses, and 15 found homes in Leonardtown businesses through May as part of a First Friday promotion.“I saw one in a store, and I liked it,” said Ellen Lewis, who is housing two animals, Beatrix Bunny (because it’s fiber-bearing, and it would tie in with the yarn store) and a horse called Gracie Joelle (painted by regular customer Renee Nelson) at her Crazy For Ewe stores in Leonardtown and La Plata, respectively. “They’re decorative. They’re art. They’re a way to have synergy between an art group and my businesses. It’s my way of saying, ‘I support this group and what they’re doing a beautiful job, and I would love to see this move forward.’”Lewis also helped coordinate the month-long adoption process for other Leonardtown businesses.“One of the things it does is create a way for people to see the animals and also for them to visit each business,” said Lewis, who selected the animals for the various St. Mary’s businesses. “They were excited. Everyone loves carousels and carousel animals, and there was a tremendous amount of interest in the Leonardtown Business Association group for carousels in general.”It’s clear Lewis shares Boggs’ love for carousel animals. “To me that is just a tremendous example of folk art and local art and its history and its entertainment,” Lewis said.And Boggs and Lewis are not alone. Though she admitted carousels are not her favorite ride (that honor went to the swings), 7-year-old Nicole Summers of Port Tobacco said she enjoys merry-go-rounds. “Because it makes you go up and down,” the first-grader at Gale-Bailey Elementary School said. “I like to go on the small horses. I normally pick one that is white with black stripes.”“There’s something magical about carousels,” Lewis said. “They’re not real horses, but for a child it’s like you’re riding a horse, except it safe, and it’s more mystical. You can pretend whatever you want.”Circus heavenIt’s a warm weekday morning in La Plata, and Boggs stands outside a plain brick structure on Charles Street, awaiting a visitor. A brightly painted carousel animal stands inside the doors. Boggs leads the way down a dark hallway to the back of the building and into a bright room that could innocently be mistaken for P.T. Barnum’s basement. There are old circus posters on the walls and framed carousel artwork. On a long workbench lie chunks of wood and an army’s worth of woodworking tools. Lining the walls are gleaming, though for now homeless, carousel animals. In the corner sits a large box with brass sleeves that fit over the posts and support the animals. It’s probably one of the few places around with a sign that reads: “Please do not climb on the pig. Thank you!”Boggs does it all — including making the pig sign — to help restore a piece of Americana, a piece he hopes will one day have a permanent home.“Oh, yes,” Boggs pipes up when asked if he’s still optimistic. “Melvin and I want to see it through now that we’ve put so much time in it. I’m going to carry on as long as I can.”“I think that would be fabulous,” Lewis said when asked if one day she would like to stand next to Boggs at a ribbon cutting. “They have devoted so much in terms of time and resources and heart and soul. They have worked tirelessly to try and get a place and to try and get funding and I think it would mean a lot to them for their life’s work to kind of be realized. I would just be really thrilled for them.”Brookins admitted that making the animals was not easy, but “carving was the easy part. Raising the money is the hard part. You have to keep going on. If you quit, that’ll be the end of it, so you really don’t get a choice. We’ll find something eventually. I’m confident of that. It’s just a matter of when.”Brookins said the museum would no doubt evoke memories of Marshall Hall and days gone by.“To the older folks, yes, [the museum would be] a trip to their past,” he said. “Any folks we talk to that remember Marshall Hall can even tell you their favorite animal they rode on. We don’t have exact replicas of [the Marshall Hall carousel], but it’ll bring back the memories of it. And kids love carousels, so hopefully it’ll fit all ages.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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