PERRY, Mo. -- Ralls County residents will gather Saturday night to raise money to buy and preserve a colorful piece of Perry's history.
An auction of more than 150 donated items will begin at 7 p.m. at the Junction Lounge to benefit the Friends of the Perry Carousel. The not-for-profit group struck a deal in May to buy the 121-year-old merry-go-round that was a popular attraction at Fourth of July picnics in Perry from 1942 until the early 1960s.
The old-fashioned carousel -- the oldest in Missouri -- featured two dozen galloping horses and four elaborate chariots on which passengers could sit while riding.
But then around 1966 the merry-go-round left Perry. Over the years it popped up in several different communities by a string of different owners until it was finally placed in storage nearly 20 years ago by its owner -- the Faust Park Foundation in St. Louis.
Then one day around 2010 or so, Ron Leake, president of the Ralls County Historical Society, learned that the carousel he rode as a child was sitting in storage, going unused. So he approached a Faust Park Foundation official and told the person: "It would be fantastic if we could bring that merry-go-round back to Perry."
Leake's request that the carousel be loaned indefinitely to the city of Perry was approved several years later -- on the condition that Perry would provide adequate care and insurance for the historic contraption, built in 1898.
So in 2014, a group of Perry residents drove a caravan of trucks and trailers to Faust Park to pick up the dismantled carousel and bring it back to Ralls County. The pieces were taken to a barn a couple of miles outside town to be cleaned, painted, repaired and assembled.
Then on July 4 of that year, the revived carousel was set up in Perry's Bill Trower Memorial Park for the town's Independence Day picnic. Local residents warmly welcomed it back home.
Since then, the carousel has been kept in storage and brought back out for the annual July 4 picnics -- as well as for Perry's big sesquicentennial celebration in 2016.
Earlier this year the Friends of the Perry Carousel decided to make an offer to buy the merry-go-round. After some haggling, a deal was struck. So now the organization is conducting a major fund drive to complete the purchase of the merry-go-round and to build a permanent structure to house it.
Saturday's auction is a key part of that effort.
"This has really snowballed into a major event," Leake said.
In addition to the auction, the Friends of the Perry Carousel also is seeking donations from supporters. Those who make significant contributions will be recognized by having their names engraved on individual plaques of various sizes that will be hung on the wall inside the new carousel storage building once it is built.
"Several large donations have come in already," Leake said.
Leake said the carousel project has received strong support ever since the historic merry-go-round was brought back to the community five years ago.
"This carousel has a connection with Perry," he said. "It's got an interesting history, and we want to make it a highlight of the community."
More information is available on the "Perry Carousel Benefit Auction" Facebook page.