AUSTIN (KXAN) — A handwritten letter from Carol Burnett greenlighted part of a project to revive an old Texas carousel coming to Austin.
The Magistery, a 1917 carousel from San Antonio, last went ’round in 1980—over 40 years ago. It’s getting new life in Austin with plans to reopen later in 2023.
Carousel owner Damon Jones said his vision for the remodeled carousel was to inject some Texas life into it with horses honoring famous Texans. One of those horses will be modeled after Carol Burnett and her legacy.
The idea for the Carol Burnett horse came with the carousel. Jones said he inherited a letter from her team in support of earlier carousel restoration work.
“So I sent her a letter,” he said. “Because you write her a letter—that’s how you communicate with Carol Burnett…via the Postal Service—then I did not get a reply.”
After a second letter, he got a handwritten letter from the famed actress last September. Jones said he was “over the moon excited.”
Dear Mr. Jones,
You have my permission to design a horse representing me.
Thank you!Carol Burnett
“I grew up watching Carol Burnett on TV, on the big screen, and she personally just had a big influence on me and my childhood,” Jones said. “It’s like my way of doing what I can to share her legacy with the generations to come.”
Burnett, who turns 90 Wednesday, was born in San Antonio, where The Magistery carousel once lived. The horse has several nods to Burnett’s life and career, including a green curtain dress, “I’m so glad we had this time together” lyrics and a nod to her famous ear tug.
Burnett’s horse is still to be named — Jones said they’re leaving that up to Carol herself.
The carousel’s history
The carousel opened in San Antonio in 1917 at the now-closed Playland Park. After the amusement park closed in 1980, a local surgeon bought it with the dream of reopening it and preserving its history.
That’s until Jones took on the project a few years ago after connecting with the late surgeon’s son. The idea started when Jones’ mother-in-law visited Austin and asked where they take their children to go on a carousel.
“I was like ‘We don’t really have one like that here,’ so that’s kind of where it got stuck in my brain,” he said.
When Jones got ahold of the carousel, the project was at least 15 years into restoration work. Now, a group of artists are completing the project with painting and jewel-adding and other details so people can get back in the saddles.
“I’ve met people, lots of people from San Antonio, who were like, ‘I rode on that carousel, my daughter rode on it, my granddaughter…people are really excited about it,” he said. “They also say that the carousel is the first and the last park ride that you can be on. From baby to old person…everybody can ride.”
The carousel’s future
The 52-horse carousel will have many of the original wooden horses but also feature “a little Austin personality” with horses honoring Texans like Burnett, Willie Nelson, Christopher Cross, Gina Chavez and others. New fantasy and folklore-based horses will also be added.
“We are going to be able to inject a little Austin personality into it and make it a little different,” Jones said.
An animatronic horse band will also be part of the carousel, Jones said. The horse robots once belonged to Alamo Drafthouse’s owner before Jones took on the project to restore them. The horse band trio will bring live music to the “Live Music Capital of the World.”
The carousel is anticipated to open in late 2023 pending a lease agreement. More information about the carousel and the project is online at www.themagisteryaustin.com.
A special honoring Burnett’s life and career, “Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love,” will air on KXAN at 7 p.m. Wednesday.