Tonawanda News — At this museum, going around in circles is a good thing.
While the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum on Thompson Street in North Tonawanda prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary with events and new attractions, it’s been a long trip — and a lot of hard work — to get there.
Rae Proefrock, who currently serves as the museum director, was one of the original group of volunteers all those years ago. She said that a former director of the Carnegie Art Center wrote a piece in the Tonawanda News asking if anyone would be interesting in bringing the carrousel back to North Tonawanda.
“I went to the first meeting and we started to plan — and then he left and went somewhere else. And it was all us,” she said while painting one of the carrousel ponies recently at the museum. “We sat around the table, about seven to 10 of us. We each placed a dollar on the table for postage so we could tell people what we were trying to do. That’s how it started.”
The building where thousands of carrousels were produced over the years now hosts thousands of visitors each year, but at the time, in 1979, the 1915 Allan Herschell Company factory complex — then owned by a nearby auto sales and repair business which used it for storage — was not in the best of shape.
“You would not believe what it looked like,” Proefrock said. “You know the fairy tale where the thorns grew up all over the castle? The building was covered with all kinds of wild growth. In the building itself, you could not walk from front to back.”
Doug Bathke, the president of the museum’s board, volunteer curator and wood-carving teacher at the museum, was also one of those early volunteers.
“It looked like if you sneezed, the building would fall down,” Bathke said, recalling that the space that is now the museum’s courtyard was full of garbage, whiskey bottles, pop cans and other debris.