31 December 2008

Carousel of Happiness

Once upon a time there was a wonderful 17-year-old red-headed boy from Texas who was raised up right so when his country was at war, he wanted to do the right thing. Even though the war was so wrong, he was too young to know that. He didn't want to kill anyone, though, so he joined the Marine Corps and trained in Australia as an interpreter in Vietnamese.

But, just because he had a good heart didn't mean everyone else did. So when he landed in Vietnam, they put a rifle in his hand and sent him into the middle of the Tet Offensive.

He told me later the only way he retained his sanity in the middle of that hell was, at night when he was in the foxholes, he had the mechanical works of a music box in his pocket, and he would play it, and imagine a merry-go-round where the people killing each other across the trenches and their families could come together in peace and enjoy each other and the sunny day, rather than turning each other into hamburger, just so the United States could control the oil in the Indochine Peninsula, or whatever game the big boys were playing this time, using these kids as pawns.

Even hell will end, eventually, and for Scott Harrison, he found himself in San Francisco, volunteering for Amnesty International of the US, where he found his they-broke-the-mold wife Ellen Moore, and together they pursued his dream of an Urgent Action Network to rally support for Prisoners of Conscience around the world who were being tortured or in danger of losing their lives. With pluck and skill, they moved to Colorado, built a house at Nederland, and set about 30 years of work as pioneers in the battle-field of human rights.

But having lived through Vietnam, Scott had his nightmares, his guilt, his need to do something with his hands. And so he began carving. The rabbit was the first, and then .... they came. The St. Bernard. The Ostrich. The Bear. The Mermaid. The little girl dancing for the top. He carved and carved, and they began to emerge from those nightmare foxholes of the late 1960s into his basement, and then into a warehouse, in Nederland. Last count, there were 38 or 39 of them, many sponsored by local folks at $1,000 a pop for their nameplates on their animals. On the world's first "green" carousel -- which will be powered by the sun, in the main, and actually contribute energy to the grid.

For nearly 20 years, he has carved and painted his full-sized carousel. And as he has moved forward, it was the if-you-build-it, they-will-come scenario. The Seagram's Company in Peoria donated first-growth lumber from an old brewery for the floorboards. Scott found the works somewhere in the northwest. A real Wurlitzer has appeared. And so it goes. He's now donated the carousel to a not-for-profit foundation, who has just broken ground on the building where this treasure will live. Before the donation, Scott and Ellen had it appraised by Dewy Smith, a folk art expert, who said it was worth $1.5 million. If you have seen them in person, however, you know the whole kit and kaboodle is priceless.

Now retired from Amnesty, they both move forward, Ellen teaching HUMAN RIGHTS: PROMOTION AND PROTECTION, AN NGO PERSPECTIVE at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and archiving oral histories with the founders of Amnesty in the US. Scott, as with other non-profits, searches for the funds to fund the building and open the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, at the Gateway to the Rockies, for generations of people to enjoy. When I think of heroes, they are two of the first to come to mind.

http://www.carouselofhappiness.org/about.html, for more information, a video and tons of pictures of the animals. (These photos courtesy of Grace Harwood, Images of Amazing Grace, Oakland, California.)