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A Century of Wishes and Dreams Come True as The Dentzel Carousel Celebrates 100 years

Monday, July 24, 2017

‘Round and ‘round the carousel critters go...when they’ll stop no one knows. By the sounds of the giggles punctuating the music of the Wurlitzer organ, it’s clear no one wants the magical moment to stop.

The Dentzel carousel at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis started spinning a century  ago and the colorful, handcrafted animals are still bobbing up and down to the delight of 1.25 million children and their adults each year. The carousel is a rare surviving Dentzel menagerie carousel.

A centennial birthday celebration will be held for the national historic landmark that resides at The Children’s Museum on July 25, 2017, which is also National Carousel Day. Free Carousel rides will be offered to all visitors during the daylong celebration on July 25, 2017. That date was chosen as the celebration day for National Merry-Go-Round Day as it coincides with the first United States patent that was issued for the modern carousel. That patent was awarded to William Schneider of Davenport Iowa on July 25, 1871.

A dreamlike setting with fiber optic lighting creates the sense of stars and sets the stage for the 42 handcrafted animals to bound around at the world’s largest children’s museum. Visitors are invited to choose their favorite animal (horse, lion, tiger, giraffe or goat), climb into the saddle and toss their cares away on the kaleidoscope of colored mounts. 18 of the animals are “jumpers”, that is, they move up and down. All of the animals on the carousel (with the exception of one horse) are the original animals recovered from Broad Ripple Amusement Park. 

The major restoration of the animals and the reconstruction of the carousel mechanism happened over a period of years beginning in 1966 and culminating with the opening of the museum’s new building in 1976. The surroundings of the carousel were completely redesigned with the creation of the Carousel Wishes and Dreams exhibit in 2000. Annual and ongoing maintenance and restoration is performed to keep the carousel in working condition. 

“It was important to us to restore this magnificent piece of art to its full glory to preserve a part of history,” said Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO, The Children’s Museum. “I love watching children, their parents and grandparents toss their cares aside and let their imaginations run wild on the animals of the carousel. It’s such a magical memory to share together and we hope they come back year after year.” 

The animals did not always call The Children’s Museum home. In 1900, German immigrant Gustav Dentzel carved the wondrous animals, but it wasn’t until 1917 that the animals found a permanent home in the form of a carousel made by William F. Mangels Co. The Carousel was then moved to the Broad Ripple Amusement Park in Broad Ripple, Indiana. 

The Carousel remained there for almost fifty years before tragedy struck. The pavilion that housed the beloved carousel collapsed in 1956, leaving some of the animals stranded. In the years that followed, Mildred Compton, former director of the museum, began her search to reunite all of the animals and give them a new home – this time in Indianapolis.  

That was not an easy task. In 1975, the gigantic carousel had to be lowered from above and then assembled on the fourth floor of the museum. 

Many famous people have ridden The Children’s Museum’s carousel over the years. Former First Lady Betty Ford was one of the first riders when it first arrived at the museum. Other celebrities aboard have been Jane Pauley, David Letterman, and even Kermit the Frog! 

Next time you're on the carousel, take a peek at your feet! You may find a plaque honoring the donors who adopted that particular animal—and maybe even the name they gave it as well. 

*Carousel rides are always free for museum members and children under the age of two. Non-members normally pay $1 per ride. The proceeds go into the museum’s operating fund, which supports educational programming. 

About The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is a nonprofit institution committed to creating extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences, and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families. For more information about The Children's Museum, visit www.childrensmuseum.org,  follow us on Twitter @TCMIndy, Instagram@childrensmuseum, YouTube.com/IndyTCM, and Facebook.