Adrian Benepe, Parks Commissioner and Carousel Aficionado

benepe carousel Adrian Benepe, Parks Commissioner and Carousel Aficionado

Horsing around. (Billy Farrell Agency)

At last week’s opening of Jane’s Carousel, perhaps the only person more excited than the legion of children and Ms. Walentas herself was Adrian Benepe, the city’s Parks Department Commissioner. “I guess it comes with the territory of being a conservator of carousels,” Mr. Benepe told The Observer, finishing off the last of his bag of popcorn. By Mr. Benepe’s count, there are now at least 10, perhaps 12, carousels in the city, depending on how you count them. With the exception of one at Coney Island, all are found in the city’s parks.

More than half of these whirling horses are under Mr. Benepe’s purview: Central Park, Prospect Park, Flushing Meadows, Forest Park, the Bronx Zoo and Willowbrook. The others are located in Bryant Park, Riverbank State Park and Hudson River Park, with one under construction in Battery Park City and another planned for Steeplechase Park, a new city park at Coney Island. “It’s interesting that all of our newest parks have carousels,” Mr. Benepe remarked.

“This joins into the pantheon of great carousels. The stable, if you will.”

He said he greatly admired the giant acrylic home Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel had erected around the carousel. “The shed is a work of art in itself,” he said. “It’s airy, not dark, like so many carousel sheds.” Mr. Benepe knew from carousels, and not simply because of his three decades working at the Parks Department. There were also the fond memories of growing upo in the city, and riding the mechanical horses at Central Park. He marvels at how popular they all remain.

“It’s amazing to see in my job, that over the decades, carousels still spin magic, not only for kids but also adults,” Mr. Benepe said. “In a digital age, of computers and video games and smart phones, it’s still enchanting. I think it’s because we don’t have experience riding horses. This is the closest thing most New Yorkers get to riding a horse.”

It is this pastoral longing, mixed with our mechanical dynamism, that might help explain New York’s unique standing in the world. “I think it’s a guess, but New York may have the most carousels of any city in the whole country, if not the world,” Mr. Benepe said. The Observer attempted to verify this later, and with the possible exception of Orlando, Fla., Mr. Benenpe may just be right.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC