‘It’s the happiest place in town,’ Kingsport carousel celebrates 2 years

KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL)- Two years ago in Kingsport, a dream came to life thanks to hundreds of volunteers and donations. The Kingsport carousel has now hosted thousands of visitors since its opening in 2015.

“It’s the happiest place in town,” Valerie Joh said. The carousel is a dream that started with Joh’s husband’s, and a place that many, including Valerie Joh, never thought possible.

“He walked into the kitchen one morning and said ‘Kingsport needs a carousel’ and I told him that was the craziest idea I’ve ever heard,” Joh said.  “I said Gale we will have a carousel in Kingsport when pigs fly.”

But now pigs are flying and the carousel has been spinning here in Kingsport for two years now.

“When we opened that we didn’t have any idea of what type of reception we were going to get and we’ve already had over 160,000 riders in a town of 50,000 people,” Joh said.

Gale Joh didn’t live to see his vision come to life. But now Valerie Joh gets to see and her husband’s dream brings joy to everyone who visits.

“I’ve watched I don’t know how many children come in and their eyes just, they just stand there mesmerized and to see them pick out an animal that’s their favorite and hug and kiss and pat it,” Joh said.

From kids to senior citizens,  “Hoopin’ and hollering and loving it and some of them as I said had tears in their eyes and said this was the most wonderful thing,” Goh said. And she said it was all possible because of the people in Kingsport.

“Kingsport’s a volunteer city,” Joh said.

“Three hundred volunteers were actively involved in and laid their hands on this carousel, everything from painting to carving to the mechanics to the operating system to the programming of the band organ and the music,” Bonnie Macdonald, director for the city of Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts said.

Community donations totaled over $700,000. Every animal you see was hand-carved by a local volunteer.

“Most of the animals took an average of 800 to 1000 hours,” Joh said.

And just like carving, this project started with nothing but a vision and after hours of hard work, it turned in to something beautiful.

“We’ve had so many accolades, people saying it’s the prettiest carousel they’ve ever seen and probably because it wasn’t done for money it was done for love and that we all put our hearts in every animal instead of just trying to get one done,” Joh said.

Joh even learned to carve and made some of the animals you see on the carousel, one of her most recent ones: the flying pig.

Joh told me for most towns, a project like this can take nearly 30 years. She said this project was done in about seven years thanks to the volunteers. And still, there are volunteer opportunities to help run the carousel and the gift shop. To learn more: http://engagekingsport.com/kingsport-carousel/

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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