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