Friends of Looff Carousel to create documentary

Friends of Looff Carousel to create documentary

Donna Houle, president of the Friends of the Looff Carousel, stands outside the carousel at Slater Park in Pawtucket. The nonprofit group received a $1,000 grant from the city of Pawtucket to produce a documentary about the history of the carousel, which has been at the park for 110 years. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault)

PAWTUCKET – If all goes according to plan, Donna Houle will have a documentary about the historic Looff Carousel at Slater Park to premiere at this year’s partial Pawtucket Arts Festival in September.

The Friends of the Looff Carousel, a volunteer-run nonprofit, received a $1,000 grant to make the documentary from the city of Pawtucket, the City Council, and the Pawtucket Arts Panel, which awarded $30,000 in grant funds to provide operational support to nine Pawtucket-based nonprofit art groups, and funding for nine creative events and artistic programming earlier this month.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Houle, president of the Friends of the Looff Carousel, said about receiving the grant. “I put a lot of thought into it.”

She said she applied for the grant this year because she thought the timing was right. The carousel was carved by Charles I.D. Looff of Brooklyn, New York, in 1895, 125 years ago, and has been in Slater Park for 110 years this month, she said. The carousel was first placed in Lee Funland Park in Troy, New York, before being moved to Pawtucket.

The carousel features a functioning band organ as well as 44 horses, six menagerie animals (one camel, three dogs, one giraffe, one lion), and two chariots.

“I think the carousel is a great work of art,” said Houle, a Pawtucket resident who works as the special projects manager for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council and is also a member of the National Carousel Association. “We have a real treasure here.”

The documentary will include video and images as well as a narrative detailing the history of the carousel at Slater Park and its various restorations over the years.

In 2008, Houle said she received a grant to make a documentary about the history of Slater Park. Some of that history will be included in this new film.

Houle has conducted plenty of historical research, including at the Pawtucket Public Library and at historian Betty Johnson’s research library, she said, digging up old articles, including from the day in 1910 when the carousel was brought to the park.

“I love the research and documenting it,” she said.

According to Houle, the carousel once traveled at 14 mph but after a young woman fell off a horse in 1913 and broke her leg, it was slowed down to 12 mph and now operates at 9 mph.

She also said she has about 500 photographs from over the years. She documented the restoration of the carousel last year and has many photos from that.

In May 2019, renovations by Red Oak Remodeling, of Coventry, began and included fixing the exterior roof, including shingles and the cupola, as well as the skeleton of the building including walls, windows, doors, and stairs. A grand reopening was held last September.

The carousel is still operational but currently closed. Workers are currently installing electrical upgrades including lighting and a fire suppression system.

Prior to 2019, the carousel underwent other restorations. It closed in 1969 due to disrepair and was restored and reopened in 1979, according to Houle. Another project was initiated in 1989.

The Looff Carousel and Slater Park were added to the National Historic Register in 1976. In 2018, the National Carousel Association unanimously awarded the Slater Park Looff Carousel the NCA Historic Award. Houle said she thinks having the carousel win a national award helped the city realize the meaning and importance of it to the community.

“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years,” she said. “It’s been a hobby of mine.”

For the film, her friend, Lesley McLaughlin, of Cumberland, will be narrating it and will help her with the editing, she said. David Lawlor, a freelance photographer for the Tourism Council, will be assisting with video. Houle said she hopes he can take some slow motion videos and really capture the details of the structures as well as take some images with a drone.

She said she thinks people from Pawtucket will appreciate the film, adding that it would be great if she could premiere it at the Arts Festival in September. She also plans to put it online and show it to different local groups.

Houle is asking the community to share any favorite stories, childhood memories, or photographs with her for the project.

Email her at .

One of the restored horses at the Looff Carousel at Slater Park in Pawtucket.