GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - FunTime USA was a popular amusement park in Gulfport for generations, until Hurricane Katrina shut it down eight years ago. But now, a man with a special connection to that attraction wants to restore one of its signature rides.
Countless coast families and visitors have fond memories of FunTime USA. Ray O'Neal was the longtime manager and then owner of the attraction. His nephew, Rafe, has launched a project to restore the park's classic merry-go-round.
"But that's what I want her to look like when she's done," said Rafe O'Neal, as he showed visitors old photographs of the carousel at his uncle's amusement park.
He wants to rebuild the classic carousel that was a centerpiece at FunTime USA. Three dozen, painted, aluminum horses have been in his shed for years.
"They're all here. They're here and they're ready to come out of retirement," said O'Neal.
He remembers riding the rides for free, since his uncle owned the place. It was also his first job during high school and college. Everyone he talks with, it seems, has a FunTime memory.
"Either been to FunTime or worked at FunTime. My cousin worked at FunTime. It was the greatest summer of my life. And there's such a love for the place, still after all these years. It's something I think we need to preserve as much of as we can," said O'Neal.
The merry-go-round was built in the 1950s by the Alan Herschell Company, a premier creator of classic carousels.
It will take thousands of dollars to restore this ride. O'Neal has turned to the local fund-raising website bee-a-backer.
"And it's for the Gulf Coast and only for the Gulf Coast. But people from the outside can actually donate. So, this is like a net over the entire Gulf Coast to help everyone raise funds for what they need," said website spokesman Mark Spain.
Countless Gulf Coast families and visitors have fond memories of the old FunTime USA, which once stood near Cowan Road and Highway 90 in Gulfport. O'Neal says he hopes to tap into that nostalgia.
"Most of FunTime was lost in the hurricane. And my uncle, very methodically, saved nearly all the merry-go-round that was at FunTime for over 30 years. It's been sitting in storage ever since Katrina," he explained, "And I just think it's time. We've lost so much. I just think it's time to bring a little joy back."
If you'd like to contribute, or just learn more about the fundraising campaign, visit: http://gulfcoast.beeabacker.com/campaigns/save-funtime-usas-merry-go-round/