Memphian Cheryl Dare was on a date at the Fairgrounds Amusement Park when she got her first glimpse of the carousel. It was 1971, and Libertyland would not be built for four more years. But the fairgrounds already was home to two rides: the carousel and Elvis' favorite roller coaster, the Zippin' Pippin'.
Shortly after Dare saw the antique merry-go-round, with its 48 colorful hand-carved horses and two dragon chariots, she joined the National Carousel Association. Today, she's fighting to save the ride that sparked her passion. Since Libertyland closed November 4th,, the carousel's fate, as well as the fate of the Pippin', is undecided.
"I'm hoping the city or the Mid-South Fair will find a place for [the carousel] in a park somewhere, so it could be set up like the old trolley parks used to be," said Dare. "Somewhere with nice picnic grounds and maybe a couple of amusement rides for the family to enjoy on an outing."
According to Misty Craft, public relations director for Libertyland, the amusement park has made no decision as to what will happen with the site or either ride.
Both rides are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The carousel was manufactured by the Dentzel Company of Pennsylvania and installed at the fairgrounds in 1923. According to Dare, it's one of only 200 wooden, hand-carved carousels left in the country.
The Zippin' Pippin' is the oldest operating wooden roller coaster in North America. The date of manufacture is disputed, but information from the Memphis Landmarks Commission shows it was built in 1902. It was brought to Memphis in 1923 and installed in Overton Park before being moved to the fairgrounds at a later date.
Nancy Jane Baker of the Memphis Landmarks Commission said that if the rides are relocated, they will be removed from the National Register.
Steve Auterman of Looney Ricks Kiss, the architectural firm charged with presenting scenarios for the re-use of the fairgrounds, said that they are not in a position to decide if the rides will stay or go. However, there doesn't appear to be room for them in the scenario deemed the "highest and best use" by the Mid-South Fairgrounds Re-Use Committee.
The proposed "festival green" scenario would turn the land into a public park with sports and recreation fields, pavilions catering to farmers' and flea markets, and some mixed-use development along Central Avenue.
Robert Lipscomb, the committee's organizer, said that nothing is definitive at this point, although he'd like to see the committee decide on something within 90 days. He said the only way the rides could stay would be if Libertyland stays.
"If you want anything new or different to happen on-site, you'll have to move something or someone," said Auterman. "There's just no room, like in those little games where you have to push the plastic tiles around to put things in order. You've got to have one missing before you can make any new moves."