The Carousel

History of the Broad Ripple Park Carousel

70.1.5, Dentzel Carousel, Gustav A. Dentzel, Pennsylvania, 1909

Originally installed in an amusement park known as White City, on the eastern bank of the White River in Broad Ripple Village, in 1917, the Carousel was a favorite of families for decades. Lined with finely carved and painted horses, deer, giraffes, goats, a lion, and a tiger created by the Gustav A. Dentzel carousel company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and mounted on platform powered by a mechanism built by Mangels-Illions, a carousel manufacturer in Brooklyn, New York, it was the centerpiece of the amusement park.

In 1945 the city acquired what was by then known as Broad Ripple Park and the Carousel remained, continuing to delight youngsters, including those of future Children’s Museum director Mildred Compton and her husband John. But in 1956 the Carousel pavilion’s roof collapsed, damaging its machinery. No longer operational, it was dismantled and the carved animals were stored away.

Acquisition by The Children’s Museum

Its story could have ended there except for Compton’s curiosity about its fate. After becoming director of the museum, she contacted the Indianapolis Parks Department and discovered that the animals—in various states of disrepair—were in storage. Some were used for the annual Christmas display on Monument Circle, the rest were moldering away. So Compton asked the parks department to donate them to the museum. At first she received only two horses, one of which was revived with fresh paint. Both received new tails (actual horse hair tails obtained from a local slaughterhouse, then cured and installed on the refurbished Carousel figures).

Persistent in her effort to preserve the rest of the Carousel’s animals, Compton finally won the support of the park department’s board of directors and most of the rest of the animals were delivered to the museum in late 1969. Over the course of the next few years, as money permitted, all of the animals were professionally restored by a team in Cincinnati. All that remained was to find a place for them in the museum.

Installation on Level 4

Compton turned to the architects working on the museum’s new facility (then under construction) and they agreed they could remove a support girder on the top level to make room for a carousel. In November 1975, an operating mechanism and a new platform were lifted into place by a crane and an antique Wurlitzer band organ was installed. As the restored animals returned from Cincinnati they were attached to the platform. By the time the museum opened its new building nearly a year later, the Carousel was ready to go.

In the years since, not only has it proven wildly popular—First Lady Betty Ford took a spin on it during a visit in October 1976—its historical significance has been acknowledged through its designation as a National Historic Landmark. Today it’s the focal point of Carousel Wishes and Dreams, an exhibit gallery devoted to learning through play.