BUFFALO, NY – Too small for the rides of the grown-ups, I wrap my arms around my horse’s muscular neck as it rises and falls like the waves of Lake Erie.
In another memory from Kodachrome, I squint at a hill of flowers as colorful and orderly as my pack of 64 Crayola. I wonder: are they real?
They are in the flower clock on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. But the horse with the sculpted, flowing mane and flared nostrils was part of the carousel in Crystal Beach, in neighboring Ontario, Canada. The 1880s amusement park closed in 1989 and the merry-go-round was sold along with its roller coasters and other rides.
Now the horses have returned, along with lions, ostriches, giraffes and other carved wooden creatures in a restored antique sun-powered merry-go-round, the Buffalo Heritage Carousel.
What about the flowers? They still bloom on the 40 foot floral clock face on the Canadian side of the falls. And now, vaccinated U.S. residents can visit Canada again.
But why stand in line at the Peace Bridge? You can see Frank Lloyd Wright’s “floricyle” – a huge curved garden bed where flowers bloom successively from March to November – at Darwin Martin House in Buffalo.
The 34 endlessly spinning carousel animals in a solar-powered pavilion by the Buffalo River began as wooden blocks carved by unknown artisans in the suburb of North Tonawanda, New York. Craftsmen from Spillman Engineering Co. – many of whom also sculpted for Spillman’s competitor, now the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum – created this carousel in 1924 for Domenick DeAngelis, who operated it in various parks in Massachusetts. It is called the menagerie merry-go-round because it is not just horses.
After DeAngelis died in 1952, his family kept the carousel for 60 years, hoping to see it working again. In 2016, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. bought it for $ 250,000 to install it at Canalside, an entertainment complex in downtown Buffalo, near the western terminus of the Erie Canal. Then the fun really started.
âMy friend recruited me,â said artist Linda Chaffee, 70, Akron, NY. âWe’re going to paint this carousel. It will take a year. It took four years. “
Conservators, mostly volunteers like Chaffee, spent around 200 hours on each animal, hot stripping and documenting each coat of paint, removing screws and nails, repairing, sanding and applying five coats of paint and sealant. The Connection Terminal Grain Elevator, located directly across the Buffalo River from Canalside, hosts a light show every night from dusk until 11 p.m. The show started last November.
Although the horses were ordered from a catalog, customers could add details that made them unique. DeAngelis, an Italian immigrant, asked Spillman to carve an American eagle and sword into the sides of the horses.
âMany of our horses are unique. We are the only ones who have them, âsaid Carima El-Behairy, Director of Operations and Development.
Chaffee, who often works at the registry, said 50,000 people have walked through the carousel since it opened in late May.
âWhat surprises me is that it’s all ages,â she said. âWe had two wives aged 99 and 104. They walk through the door and they become children again.
We don’t know if Frank Lloyd Wright coined the word ‘floricycle’, but letters between the architect and his wealthy clients, Isabelle and Darwin Martin, show that all three loved the idea of ââflowers that bloom from early spring to late fall.
But how do you do it? This question and Wright’s delays in sending in detailed landscaping upset Martin in the early 1900s.
âAs the shrubs withered we planted them on Saturday and I have attached this photo showing how they were planted,â soap manager Larkin wrote in 1905. âIf the photo is skinny, remember the planting plan was too. “
Martin had no way of knowing that Wright’s plant expert Walter Burley Griffin had resigned because he wanted to be paid other than Japanese prints. With Griffin’s help, Wright made a plant list filled with old-fashioned garden pillars – hollyhock, phlox, columbine, lupine, and my favorite, the delphinium.
All grow today in the floricycle and other flowerbeds around Darwin Martin’s iconic house (martinhouse.org) and the adjacent Barton house built for Martin’s sister.
But it was not easy. Martin lost his fortune in the stock market crash of 1929 and his iconic 1.5 hectare house lay in ruins when restoration began in the 1990s. The gardens were the last room, started in 2016.
Landscape architect Mark Bayer was commissioned to recreate this collaborative landscape.
âThis garden is as much that of the Martins as that of Frank Lloyd Wright. They loved plants and gardening, âsaid the owner of Bayer Landscape Architecture in Honeoye Falls, NY.
Since this was a rehabilitation rather than a restoration, Bayer had more latitude in the choice of perennials, shrubs and trees. Improved cultivars are available for most of the plants that grew a century ago.
The ‘Pagans Purple’ delphiniums near the veranda were spectacular when I visited in early July. But they’ve faded lately, so Susan Perlow and other garden volunteers recently cut them off.
“We’re getting a nice second bloom in September,” said recent retiree from Williamsville, NY.
Rosanne Stolzenburg, of East Amherst, said she and the 20 other regular garden volunteers are constantly learning and sometimes using these lessons in their home gardens. Her favorite flower is the delphinium, but it changes every week.
âThis week the phlox looks amazing. They are purple, pink and white, âshe said.
Perlow said she felt “privileged” to work on a National Historic Property that is part of the Great Wright Road Trip with Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob and Polymath Park in western Pennsylvania.
Stolzenburg, who spends an average of 12 to 15 hours a week in the gardens, agreed.
âTo see how the landscape complements the beautiful Martin House, it’s awesome,â she said.
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