Historic Preservation, Saturday Soundtrack
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Echoes of the past

On a picture-perfect spring day, the treasured Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo Park — fresh off celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2021 — opened today for another summer of joy, laughter, and memories, as it has done for generations of Washingtonians. We were there to welcome the carousel on the first day of the new season.

As we approached, that familiar sound of the Wurlitzer organ could be heard in the distance.

Installed in 1921 by the Dentzel Carousel Company of Germantown, Pennsylvania, the Glen Echo Park carousel is one of only 135 functioning antique carousels in the country and one of the few still in its original location. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the carousel is truly a Washington area treasure! Known as a “menagerie carousel” because of the variety of its animals, the Glen Echo Park carousel includes 52 animals: 40 horses, 4 rabbits, 4 ostriches, 1 giraffe, 1 deer, 1 lion and 1 tiger. It also features two circus chariots. With its playful animals and striking ornamentation, the carousel has been an iconic symbol of the Park throughout the site’s amusement park years and into its current phase as an arts and cultural center for the past half-century.

Glen Echo Park

We were there with local friends, three of whom had been in the same Sacred Ground class, an Episcopal Church film- and readings-based dialogue series on race, grounded in faith. One of our friends, Lacey Gude, had memories of riding the Dentzel carousel as a child, and she had told the study group of its role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The class decided that a field trip was in order!

Picketers, including future Maryland State Senator Gwendolyn Greene Britt, stand outside Glen Echo Park in 1960. (Photo source: National Park Service)

In the summer of 1960, Howard University students led protests at the Park along with local residents. The students rode the carousel and were arrested for doing so in violation of the privately-owned amusement park’s segregation policies. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Their continued protests under the heat of the summer sun – and the active engagement of community members in the fight – led to the amusement park’s desegregation, opening the venue to everyone for its 1961 season and beyond.

Glen Echo Park
Lacey (center) with DJB and Candice in front of the 1921 Wurlitzer Organ
Candice and DJB take a turn on the carousel.
Parents helping their young charges prepare for a ride…as they have done for generations.

Carousel of Memories is an excellent 2021 production from Maryland Public Television that covers much of the history of the carousel, from its installation to the work to desegregate it in the early 1960s, from the preservation effort to save it from being sold to a collector (the last gift coming in anonymously on the afternoon of the deadline) to the loving, 20-year restoration.

Lacey, Candice, and Linda at the Glen Echo carousel

It was a lovely day to recall echoes of the past, remember those who put their lives on the line for democracy at another time that it was threatened, and to hear the laughter of children making memories.

More to come…

DJB

Image: Ticket for the 2022 season at the Dentzel carousel, by DJB

This entry was posted in: Historic Preservation, Saturday Soundtrack

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I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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