Any kid growing up in Nassau County, on Long Island, any time within 1939 - 1995, has some kind of memory of Nunley's. Nunley's was the kind of small-scale amusement park that lots of us think of while we're getting all misty about our childhoods. There were parks like it everywhere, packed into spaces next to boardwalks, on the edges of cities, along the sides of suburban roads. My Nunley's had boats that went round and round a blue cement pool, race cars that zoomed by themselves on a wooden track, a roller coaster no taller than a school bus. There was skee ball, there was pinball, there was a Ferris Wheel, there was a mechanical fortune-teller in a case. It was wonderful.
Best of all, Nunley's had a carousel, and it was the jewel in its crown. It sat in the center of the park, in its own wooden house, made up of 41 hand carved horses, a lion, and two chariots. A machine in a cabinet with a drum stick on a spring seemed to contain a full size orchestra. It was the most exciting thing, all those spinning, rising, straining horses, the landscape paintings along the inside, the neon tubes swirling above my head.
In 1995, it was dismantled, and Nunley's turned into a Pep Boys.
The carousel disappeared for a while. There were rumours about where the pieces were, and it took on the aura and mystery of missing things. I heard that Billy Joel, who had written the carousel's music into his musical Moving Out, had tried to get it reassembled in a park in his hometown of Oyster Bay, but that never happened. For me, it remained an amorphous construction made up of a mixture of old, dark photographs and selective memory.
But on my last trip back to Long Island, in April, I found it again. It had been restored, repainted, decorated with paintings of Long Island history and set up in Uniondale. It looks only vaguely like my old merry-go-round, almost too beautifully made up, like a friend after an extreme makeover. But it's beautiful, and it's whole, and it rides again.
It truly does.