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Celebrating 25 years of the Foothills Merry Go Round Festival

For 25 years now kids of all ages have been entertained by the Foothills Merry Go Round Festival, a wonderful Shelby tradition. The festival is back again, on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24.

Allen Langley, Chairman of Festival, said recently he and the festival's volunteer-led committee, consisting of himself, Marie Hendrick, and City Park staff Charlie Holtzclaw, Dee Greene, Lydia Wright and Hannah Mantooth, are all excited to once again present two days of fun and merriment for their beloved city and its people.

Said Langley, "For 25 years, Charlie Holtzclaw has been the Director of the Festival and is one of longest serving members on the committee."

Langley also had a "shout-out" for the City of Shelby, the main sponsor of the festival, for "...without them and the Parks & Recreation staff the festival would not be a reality."

The history of the festival, said Langley, begins with Jim Allen and John Godbold who started the festival.

"The idea was that it would be a week-long celebration. We started out with a homerun derby on Friday and have the awards ceremony on Thursday nights. We even started with music with headliners and found that just was not our market. In 25 years, I believe we have now figured out just what our families want and need for quality entertainment. It was only a few years ago we added Sunday to our festival and the rest is history."

The first festival was held on Oct. 17, 1998 when the Carrousel was first completed, he noted, adding, "Then because of the weather and flowers blooming, and such, we moved it to April."

The Merry Go Round itself, Langley said, is a 1919 Herschell Spillman Carrousel, manufactured in North Tonawanda, NY. "It was a traveling carrousel, bought in 1952 for Shelby City Parks as a gift from First National Bank and Union Trust Company. There are 29 original horses, three of which are hand carved, two stationary, hand-carved animals, a lion and an elephant, and two hand-carved chariots. The estimated value of these pieces was approximately $100,000 each. So, they are quite a treasure!"

According to Langley, the carrousel was taken off-line for 25 years, and individual pieces were stored in different places around the city.

"Along with Tommy Forney, the Friends of the Carousel Committee recognized the value of the Carrousel. The building that houses the carrousel today was completed in 1998 through generous donations from Hoyt Bailey in memory of his lovely wife, Ann Dover Bailey. The carrousel is truly a gem and people from all over the world come here to see it for themselves."

On Nov. 2, 2019, they reached their one millionth individual rider not counting parties, rentals and special events, he said.

City Park has events throughout the year, including the Fourth of July celebration, Carrousel Christmas, and Easter Egg Hunts, but the Merry Go Round Festival is the largest of these events, Langley noted, adding the Park also sponsors many sporting events.

Some of the other attractions at the park are the Rotary Train, Shelby Aquatics Center, which is used for Olympic trials, a 1,600-seat gymnasium, the Royster Memorial Golf Course and the handicap-accessible All-Aboard Playground. All of these are open year-round, he said.

At the end of the day, Langley said, "The Park is all about providing a safe place for the kids to play and learn social skills. There is hardly a time when you cannot hear the shouts, cheers, and laughter of children of all ages enjoying everything that the Park has to offer. It is a place for picnics and ball games, swimming and exercise, fireworks and festivals, and of course, the Merry-Go-Round Festival! With all of this, Shelby City Park has been the number one visitor attraction in Cleveland County for decades!"

For more information on the two-day festival or to view the schedule, visit their web site at www.cityofshelby.com/parks, or call (704) 484-6821.

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