By Jordyn Grzelewski
In a photo from the Oct. 7, 1984, Vindicator, 5-year-old Sara Davidson, in a pink dress and sandals, smiles shyly.
With one hand, she holds on tight to her ride: a large yellow horse with its mouth agape, part of the carousel at Idora Park.
The moment, captured on camera and treasured by the Davidson family the past 33 years, carries with it a piece of Youngstown history. Sara visited Idora Park that day with her mother to say goodbye to the beloved amusement park.
Although Idora Park closed permanently that year, it wouldn’t be the last time Sara got to ride the carousel. Now 38 and with two kids of her own, Sara (now Sara Turner) recently visited Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn, N.Y. There, the Idora Park carousel has been restored to its original beauty.
New York artist Jane Walentas purchased the 1922 Philadelphia Toboggan Co. model carousel in 1984 and spent the next 22 years restoring it. The restored carousel, located in Brooklyn Bridge Park overlooking the East River, opened to the public in 2011 and has become a popular New York City attraction.
Among the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the carousel each year are many people with connections to the Mahoning Valley.
“We get a steady stream of visitors from Youngstown and the surrounding area. We love it,” said Katie Roth, vice president/director of operations for Jane’s Carousel.
The site even features a special guest book for visitors from the Youngstown area to sign.
“A lot of them have really personal connections to individual ponies, or childhood photos. It’s so important for us to keep that memory alive,” Roth said. “The memories of that ride belong to a lot of people.”
She added staff members especially love when multiple generations of Youngstown-area families visit.
The Davidson/Turner family took just such a trip recently. For Christmas, Sara’s parents, Bill and Edie Davidson, gifted Sara, her husband, AJ, and their two kids, Reagan, 10, and Johnny, 8, with a trip to the Big Apple. The trip would not have been complete without an outing to the carousel.
Not only did the family get to ride the carousel together, but Sara found the exact horse from which the 1984 photo had been taken.
Despite her young age at the time, Sara can recall the important details of that outing with her mom, such as the cotton candy treat she got.
For Edie, the farewell excursion built on many fond memories from Idora Park. She remembers her father surprising her and her siblings with surprise trips to the park, which was not far from their Boardman home. She remembers, too, the scurry as a child to get on a moving horse, instead of a stationary horse or the carousel’s chariot.
“I went there as a child many times, and as a teenager, and we enjoyed the entire park. One thing that really stands out in my mind is the carousel,” she said. “When I had children, we enjoyed taking them out to the park, and when it was closing I wanted to have one last trip to the park with my 5-year-old daughter.”
Edie remembers taking photos of Sara and being approached by longtime Vindicator chief photographer Lloyd Jones, who wanted to take a picture of Sara. Soon after, the family saw the photo on the front page of the pictorial section (Rotogravure). Edie kept the newspaper for all these years, and brought it with her on the trip to New York.
When the family arrived, they excitedly shared their story with the person selling tickets, who was equally as excited to see the 1984 photo and invite them to sign the Youngstown guest book.
After the staff member snapped a photo of the family with the carousel in the background, they turned around to see the horse on which Sara sat as a child directly behind them.
The paint was different, because the Walentas restored the carousel’s horses to their original colors, but the markings were the same. Sara hopped on.
As she smiled at the camera, her 5-year-old self smiled up from the newspaper in her hands.