Carousel of Happiness – Nederland, Colorado - Atlas Obscura

Carousel of Happiness

Inspired by a music box, a small town Vietnam vet carved an entire carousel full of animals by hand. 


The Carousel of Happiness started simply enough: with an empty frame for an antique carousel, and an idea to repopulate it with something beautiful.

Nederland, Colorado, native Scott Harrison once distracted himself from the ravages of the Vietnam War with a music box. The tinkling sounds of Chopin’s “Tristesse” conjured images of his mountain home and a carousel, calming him amidst firefights and the hellscape of combat while serving as a U.S. Marine. Upon his return home, this peaceful scene inspired by his music box was one Harrison couldn’t shake.

Over a decade later, in 1986, when the opportunity to purchase the skeleton of a Looff carousel—which itself had survived fires and wind storms—presented itself, Harrison leaped at the chance.

Despite having never carved a single thing in his life, Harrison would spend the next quarter-century learning to carve wood into the shapes of animals, fantastic figures, and more, propelled by little more than a vision of populating that bare carousel with something capable of producing nothing but pure joy. 

As he told a local news channel, “I didn’t want it to be a goofy kind of carnival ride. I wanted it to be something meaningful for others like it’s been for me.”

Officially opened to the public in 2010, Harrison’s “Carousel of Happiness” harnesses the spirit of the century-old carousel by pairing his new carvings with original art, including “The Michelangelo of the Midway,” plus a 1970s mural of endangered species. 35 brightly colored, ridable creatures bob up and down on the once bare frame of the former Saltair carousel, surrounded by a crew of 25 smaller animals Harrison created to keep the bigger ones company. For an added touch of magic, as the wheel spins around, tiny fairies flit overhead, hiding in the nooks and crannies of the carousel’s eaves. 

Positioned in the small mountain town’s only shopping center, Nederland’s own residents raised the necessary funds to build a permanent structure around Harrison’s Carousel of Happiness in advance of its public debut in 2010. With an admission price of just $1, plus wheelchair ramps and bench seating on the ride itself, Harrison’s mission of spreading warmth and joy remains accessible to all for generations to come. 

Know Before You Go

Located just off Highway 119.

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January 18, 2016
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