Fairfax native takes her 67th turn around the Valley Merry-Go-Round

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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When the Merry-Go-Round first began in Fairfax in the 50s, there would be no way of knowing the lasting memories it would create for the community. For 80-year-old Ellen Prickett’s family, the tradition has become a part of the event’s history. 

Ellen may be the only person to have visited the merry-go-round every year since it first opened in 1956. On Dec. 3, she visited it with her husband, Paschal, and their grandchildren, Lily Ruth and Luke Roberts. While there, she took her 67th turn around the carousel. 

“We always try to make it a point to make sure that she rides,” Paschal said. “And we see no reason to stop.”

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Both Paschal and Ellen were born and raised in Fairfax. They have both lived in the mill village their whole lives.

Ellen was only 13 years old when she rode the merry-go-round for the first time. Because it was so new for the community, she said it was wonderful. 

Paschal said at the time, the carousel didn’t have a lot of competition. It was one of the only attractions in the area, apart from the Christmas scenes that the old mills put up.

“It was like heaven,” Ellen said. 

In those days, Paschal said the carousel was located in the ballfield near the mill in Fairfax. He was 15 years old when the merry-go-round first came to town. He said the children could hear the music from the Fairfax mill village. 

“As a kid, you can hear it,” Paschal said, remembering. “You can hear it, and you wanted to go running … You could call it the pied piper.”

Paschal remembered that when it first opened, each person had to get a ticket to ride the merry-go-round. He remembered seeing the rosy cheeks of the kids who had already taken the carousel for a ride and then had run back around to get another ticket and rejoin the line. 

“That was part of the charisma,” Paschal said.

Though he and his wife didn’t know each other yet, they were both there in the line over the years.

However, years later, after they had their three children, Ellen and Paschal continued the tradition with their family and their extended families. Paschal said he remembered fondly taking his nieces to visit the carousel before they passed away. 

Over the years, the family has spread out. Paschal said it’s not as easy to come together to celebrate. But Ellen still made it to the merry-go-round to continue her tradition this year. 

Nowadays, it’s not as always easy to get the family together. At 80 years old, it’s not always easy to get back on the horse so to speak. 

After she rode the merry-go-round, Ellen got stuck on her horse as it made its incline. Paschal said he and Bobby Poer, a city employee, had to push the carousel forward to lower the horse and get her safely off. 

After so many years, it might be easy to let a year pass by here and there. But Paschal said their children and grandchildren have been a big motivation in keeping the visits alive. 

This year Ellen and Paschal made a day out of the holiday tradition. They started the day by watching Lily Ruth and Luke at their Christmas recital at church. Their mother, Ellen and Paschal’s daughter, passed away around five years ago. 

The holiday tradition has remained a magical one for Ellen and Paschal and their family. 

These days, the lines are a lot longer than when Ellen and Paschal were young. He said people like Ellen and him who visited the carousel as kids now return from all around to bring their own children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren to the Christmas event.

“It means more to the grandparents than it does to the grandchildren,” he said.

After riding the carousel, they went home to Fairfax Baptist Church for another recital. 

Paschal said they don’t plan to stop visiting the carousel anytime soon. 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.