Pennies for Ponies

2/1/2011 Highlights Magazine


(published in Newsday as “An old carousel’s new spin” by Bill Bleyer)

A 7-year-old with a cause
Rachel Obergh is crazy about carousels.
“They look really pretty,” said the 7-year-old second grader from Wantagh, whose idea for restoring Nunley’s Carousel has been embraced by Nassau County officials.
She is so smitten by them that her bedroom is decorated in a carousel theme and she visits merry-go-rounds whenever she can.
She began her campaign last spring after reading about it in Newsday.  During a visit to the Cradle of Aviation Museum at Mitchell Field, she persuaded and employee to give her a peek inside a nearby hangar where the carousel’s components have been stored since the county bought it in 1998.
“They were really old,” she said of the 42 animals.  “They were in bad condition.”
So she came up with the idea of getting 42 elementary schools to each raise $2000 to restore an animal.  Her school, the Progressive School of Long Island in Merrick, is already committed.  Eric Jacobson, its director said, “It is a part of our ongoing committment to independent electives to encourage children to create projects.”  Other schools interested in participating should contact Rachel’s mother, Beth Obergh, at

An old carousel’s new spin
Almost two years after the last effort to restore Nunley’s Carousel ground to a halt, Nassau and Hempstead officials are working on a plan to restore it and return it to Baldwin as part of a downtown revitalization project.
While officials have been talking about the new concept for several months, it really only began to gain traction last week, thanks to a fundraising idea from a second grader from Wantagh.
The student, Rachel Obergh, proposed last spring as a first-grader to restore the carousel’s 41 horses and one lion through a “Pennies for Ponies” campaign.  She suggested that 42 elementary schools in Nassau each collect $2,000 in pennies to help restore one carousel animal.  The first 42 schools meeting the challenge would get to name a horse or the lion.  Her school, the Progressive School of Long Island in Merrick, is already onboard.
Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi endorsed Rachel’s idea when he and Legis. Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin) met with her last week at the Mitchell Field hangar where the carousel is stored.  “Rachel’s idea is a great one,” Suozzi said.
Suozzi and Scannell said they are working with Hempstead Town officials.  “We will be announcing a plan by the end of January as to what we are going to do,” Suozzi said.
“We need to raise $500,000 just to restore the carousel,” he said.  “Then we have to figure out a building and a location as well.  We’re going to do it.”
Rachel said: “I want to see it fixed up so everyone can ride on it.”
The carousel, built in 1912 and operated for 55 years at a Baldwin amusement park, was purchased by the county for $854,400 in 1998.  It was moved to a Mitchell Field hangar to await a restoration that has never come because of lack of funding.
In 2004 it looked like the carousel animals with chipping paint would get a new home in Oyster Bay when a local group that included singer-songwriter Billy Joel approached the county, won the backing of Suozzi and raised $500,000.
But last year, Scannell killed that plan by leading an uprising of South Shore officials who wanted the carousel to return to Baldwin, a plan now coming together with bipartisan support.
“It’s moving forward in the right way,” Scannell said.  His ideal site is a strip of stores on Grand Avenue just north of Atlantic Avenue.
Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, who last year had offered Baldwin Park as a home for the carousel, said “to put the carousel in the downtown area on Grand Avenue is an excellent idea.  The town of Hempstead has done a number of streetscapes and facade improvements down there and we’re going to be continuing to create more of a downtown destination.  We will absolutely be a partner in making this a reality.”

Rachel Obergh and Tom Suozzi