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Vietnam, PTSD and the Carousel of Happiness

There’s a very special story in a small Colorado mountain town outside Boulder about a Vietnam Veteran, PTSD and a Carousel of Happiness.

It goes something like this.

Scott Harrison joined the Marines straight out of high school. In fact, he enlisted while still in school back in 1966 and entered the service immediately after graduation.

Wide photo of carousel with elephant in foreground, dragon, dolphin and lion in the background.
Elephants, dragons, lions, oh my. You name it, it's probably there on the Carousel of Happiness. **

He’d hope to become an interpreter but the Marines needed bodies to fight. He was assigned as a machine gunner and found himself in the heart of the battles on the border between North and South Vietnam.

While there he received what would become a very special care package from home. Inside was a tiny music box mechanism sent by his sister. It wasn’t an entire music box, just the mechanism that plays the music when it’s wound.

The music coming from that tiny mechanism was so faint Harrison could only hear it if he held it directly beside his ear. So he would.

He’d hold it there, close his eyes and imagine himself in a large meadow far from the horrors of Vietnam. And, rather than that tiny mechanism in his hand, he pictured the music coming from a beautiful carousel, filled with children, spinning around in that meadow.

Photo of carved gorilla on carousel, sitting on a bench with open seat beside for passenger.
Hop onto the Carousel of Happiness and take your seat by Mr. Gorilla. **

Harrison would be wounded in a siege along that Vietnam border, evacuated by helicopter to a military hospital and eventually discharged back home to California. His backpack, along with the music mechanism that comforted him, were lost when he was evacuated.

His experience resulted in severe PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder.

He tried alcoholism. He tried drugs. Neither worked.

He did come to realize if he kept himself busy, really busy, it distracted him enough he could deal with the memories.

He went to college and earned a degree in geography.

He built a boat and took off sailing in the South Pacific.

He began working for a human rights organization specializing in treating victims of torture.

He met his wife there. They married and moved to Nederland, Colorado, in 1983 to have and raise their children.

Photo of several different carved animals including a lion, giraffe, polar bear, monkey and sea gull.
Just a few of the creatures Harrison created that our displayed around the Carousel of Happiness room. **

Nederland is a beautiful mountain community 17 miles west of Boulder. It winds through forests, mountains and canyons and will take you a half an hour to get there.

Harrison continued to work for the human rights organization and began building the couple’s house, himself, by hand.

All that time, from earning his degree, sailing the ocean, getting married, building a house, he never forgot about that carousel of his imagination.

So when that house was completed in 1986 he began carving carousel animals. He’d never carved before. There wasn’t YouTube or anywhere else he could really go to learn how to do this.

He’d never even ridden on a carousel at any time in his life.

He just started. He picked up a knife and just started. He walked to his garage every night and carved.

It’s started with a panda and soon others followed until his garage became a menagerie of all sorts and sizes of creatures.

Photo from the carousel looking back at the creatures behind including a dragon, lion giraffe and rooster.
Dragons, roosters, giraffes, they're all here. **

So many animals he needed to find them a new home, a carousel.

He connected with the National Carousel Association, it’s a thing, and even traveled to the national conference in Michigan.

Shortly thereafter he learned someone in Utah had a carousel dating back to 1910. They’d stripped the animals from it and were going to sell what was left for salvage.

He had his carousel.

He brought it home. His card playing buddies joined in, forming a 501c3 organization so they could accept donations.

They presented the idea of making the carousel a community attraction to the city council. The council loved the idea. The community soon joined in on the effort, raising more than $700,000 for the land and building in which the carousel resides.

On Memorial Day, 2010, the Carousel of Happiness became a reality.

In all, Harrison created 50 different animals, 35 of them a part of the actual carousel with others displayed around it.

You can now join countless others who pay $3 for a ride and hop on board. Don’t worry if you don’t have any kids, adults are welcome to reclaim their youth and join in the fun.

What began as a former soldier’s way of dealing with the horrors of war now brings happiness to hundreds, young and old, every year.

Take a ride along on he carousel:


**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address,, or a link back to this page.


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