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Carousel Sellouts

by on June 1, 2010

Would I make a good merry-go-round museum tour guide?  Or is that too general a field upon which to get a handle?  Either way, I’m preparing for a future where I will inevitably end up working for The Man just like everyone else.  Of course, we’ve learned over the past year and a half that said Man’s office is on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Wall Street, so I’m trying to get in good with the boss before Joe Sestak takes the job I want.  I’d like to “volunteer,” too!

I am a big bowl of sunshine who obviously loves working with people.  So, ushering visitors through North Tonawanda’s Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum may be an ideal way for me to get on the dole.  It’d basically be a government job, after all: the federal government just threw a six-figure fortune at a local repository dedicated to the most boring amusement park ride ever (h/t The American Spectator):

A stroll through the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is a walk through the early history of American amusement parks.

But nothing solidifies the historic significance of the sprawling, long-defunct North Tonawanda factory that once produced the most carousels in the world more than a recent award: a Save America’s Treasures Grant, the National Park Service’s most competitive and prestigious preservation grant.

“It’s validation,” museum director Rae Proefrock said. “We’ve been saying for 30 years that this site needs to be preserved and interpreted. This grant validates everything we’ve been saying. It’s very exciting for us.”

If it was crucial enough to be “preserved and interpreted,” perhaps a little more hustling for private funds would have been appropriate; they had 30 years to do so by the director’s own admission.

Then again, maybe it’s wise from their perspective that they never tried hard: as with countless other businesses, organizations, and individuals in 2010, the museum’s staff has learned that the government will pay you if you wait long enough.

For Western New Yorkers, the ridiculous infusion isn’t justified by the location.  Imagine how aggravated you’d be if an inconsequential museum in Topeka, Colorado Springs, or Jacksonville landed a $265,000 federal grant.  Now, you know how residents of those municipalities, along with every other one in America, would view an arcane Western New York exhibit hall being handed same amount.  The feeling welling up inside you is not local pride:

The museum was one of 40 grant recipients out of 400 applicants nationwide. It received a $265,000 matching grant to go toward a $590,000 project to stabilize the wood trusses of the Carving Shop, which was built in 1905, and upgrade its aging sprinkler system. The work, which will include building a steel frame to hold up the building, is slated to begin in November.

Proefrock said the museum also garnered additional grants — $215,000 from the state Environmental Protection Fund; $65,000 from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation; and $50,000 from New York State Dormitory Authority.

After pondering such obvious waste, any journalist should have been inspired to pursue a story about why this state is constantly in debt up to its appetite.  But Buffalo News copy-producer Emma D. Sapong cannot be bothered with your trifling concerns about confiscated or borrowed money literally being spun away in North Tonawanda.  No, Ms. D. Sapong is too busy doing public relations work for the museum so they can get even more money from us without our permission:

The state and federal grants are both matching grants, and the federal money cannot be used to match the state grant, leaving the museum in a financial bind and the duty of raising an additional $80,000.

If the museum can come up with the matching funds for the state grant, the state grant can then be used to match the federal grant, Proefrock said. To donate,

I’d like to apologize, as I mysteriously copied and pasted the block quote without including information on how to make contributions.  You’ll have to invest the effort to find it; will you forgive me?  Anyway, attracting more paid visitors is obviously a ludicrous strategy.  That’s apparently why neither the director nor reporter thought to suggest that more people should consider spending their own capital at the museum.

Maybe they’re just realistic about the facility’s capacity for self-sufficiency.  Consider the former factory itself, which set an example for today’s manufacturers by being vacated decades before the stimulus:

But nothing solidifies the historic significance of the sprawling, long-defunct North Tonawanda factory…

There’s a reason it’s “long-defunct.”  Namely, carousels are even more uselessly outdated as an entertainment form than actual horse racing.  Of course, the government props up that silent film-era activity, too, so at least they’re consistent about dragging us back early into the previous century.  At least not many people want to follow:

About 15,000 people visit the museum each year, taking in exhibits and displays in its six areas.

According to the museum’s website, which made me nostalgic for 1995, they are open something like 210 days per year.  That’s works out to about 71 measly people per day.  It’s almost as if folks just aren’t interested in carousels and carousel history anymore.  No- it can’t be.  Please stuff that cynical notion in your moustache wax tin.

Still, every one of those 15,000 undoubtedly clamors for the museum to open in January, February, and March, the months in which it’s presently closed; maybe the grants will help.  That said, I suspect that one woman in Getzville accounted for about 150 of those visits on her own.

But you, I, and most of the people you know will likely not be visiting the obscure museum soon even though bundles of taxpayer cash are being used as doorstops.  I don’t think I’ll get to use the service entrance, either:  I may have sunk my chances to get hired by the museum during this smart-alecky blog’s course.

I lost my shot before the interview all because I pointed out that they should do their own fundraising if it’s essential to preserve materials related to this subject.  I’m frankly doubtful a single job will be created or saved out of the outlandish endowment.  Besides, they probably wouldn’t even let me ride the wooden horsies on my lunch break.

I’ll simply have to look elsewhere: are there any positions open in the field of grant giver-outer?  I feel I’m qualified to dole hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations with astoundingly parochial appeal; I also like the zero accountability part.  I better e-mail my résumé to Washington.  I’ll blind copy Albany, too.

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