The scent of buttered popcorn wafted through the air and lacquered wooden steeds shone in the sun Saturday as the Vineyard Preservation Trust officially unveiled the newly restored Flying Horses Carousel.

Free carousel rides were available from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday.

A crowd gathered at the Oak Bluffs attraction for the grand reopening to catch a glimpse of the work done on the oldest operating carousel in the country, or perhaps to get a chance at catching the coveted brass ring.

Longtime carousel employee Lee Benjamin regaled attendees with some carousel history. The contraptions were first invented in the 1700s, when cavalrymen would practice their aim by trying to run their swords through metal rings.

“Welcome to the world’s oldest operational military simulation,” he said.

Several horses were repaired and repainted ahead of the summer season. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The Flying Horses isn’t quite that old, but still clocks in at nearly 150 years of age. The carousel was constructed by famed carousel manufacturer Charles Dare in 1876 and was brought to the Island eight years later. It was acquired and extensively restored by the Vineyard Preservation Trust in 1984. 

Most historic carousels have been dismantled and sold to collectors, making the Flying Horses a rare breed.

“There aren’t many of these whole left,” said John Anderson, one of the restorers for the carousel.

The Flying Horses opened early this spring, but the grand reopening and official unveiling of the restoration work was held for the holiday weekend.

In addition to a complete reconstruction of the carousel’s wooden platform and several horse legs by local carpenter Myles Thurlow, this new restoration also features two horses with paint restored closely to the original.

Popcorn and cotton candy were on hand for the official unveiling. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“This is how vibrant they were when they first came to the Island,” said Mr. Anderson, noting how years of use had darkened the horses’ protective lacquer. The trust, he added, is currently raising funds to restore the rest of their paint.

Trust executive director Nevette Previd looked ahead to the roughly 300,000 riders that the carousel gets each year.

“The popcorn is always good, the horses are always jolly, and the music will always make you feel good,” she said.

And with that, the riders took their saddles, and the sounds of organ waltzes started up once again.

More pictures.