Historic Carousel Comes Full Circle, Returns to Memphis Home
On a Saturday afternoon in June 2015, members of the media and visitors to the Children’s Museum of Memphis gathered to watch the once Grand Dentzel Carousel begin the journey to Marion, Ohio inside four FedEx Custom Critical Trucks. A beloved piece of Memphis history since 1923, it would be twenty-nine months before the carousel returned home after undergoing a complete restoration authentic to its original design.
With fond memories of the carousel at its original home in Memphis’ Libertyland amusement park, FedEx Driver Robert Thomas wanted to be part of its return to a new home at the Children’s Museum, by offering to help offload the horses and chariots. “This carousel is a part of Memphis history. My parents took me to ride the carousel, I took my kids to ride the carousel, and will now get to bring my grandkids to ride the carousel.”
During the restoration period, a brand-new Carousel Pavilion & Ballroom was built as the home for the ride. The Pavilion features large circular glass and a sweeping 40-foot high wooden roof patterned after early 1900-era structures designed by carousel creator Gustave Dentzel.
Now open to the public, memories can be relived and new ones created as this historic gem delights future generations of riders.
Carousel restorer Todd Goings shared, “There are very few times in your life that you get to ride a piece of history. Most of the time you go to a museum and you stand behind a fence or gate and look. The Memphis Carousel is a national treasure ready to entertain riders for the next one hundred years.”
A Grand Carousel’s Second Act
November 30, 2015
One of the oldest, rarest and most famous hand-carved Dentzel carousels in the country lives in Memphis, TN. The “Grand Carousel” first began operating in 1909 and delighted children and families for almost 100 years. It last operated in a small amusement park in the heart of Memphis that closed in 2005.
The Dentzel Carousel Company was founded in the 1800s by German-born carver Michael Dentzel. He sent his son, Gustav, across the ocean to Philadelphia in 1850 with a full-size carousel in the belly of a steamer. Gustav established himself as a master craftsman, specializing in life-like, brightly painted, hand-carved animals. He and his sons ran the company and their “menagerie” was in great demand.
Gustav needed two full years to carve the entire Grand Carousel. It features 32 “jumper” horses, 16 “standers,” and two chariots. The rounding boards and sides include jesters and angels and flowered mirrors. The ride was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. There are only a small handful of original Dentzel carousels across the world still in operation.
This national treasure was dismantled several years ago and carefully stowed in trailers hidden away inside an unused coliseum. The Children’s Museum of Memphis (CMOM) has made it their mission to give this special ride a second life. They sent it to Carvings and Carousels, a special restoration company in Ohio, where over the next two years, it will carefully be returned to its original grandeur.
Moving the delicate, dismantled pieces across country and back requires very special, white-glove handling. FedEx Custom Critical has donated shipping services on both ends of the move – first to Carousels and Carvings in Marion, Ohio for a custom repair, and then back to Memphis in 2017 when the work is complete.
Dick Hackett, CEO of CMOM, grew up riding this same carousel. Hackett said that, when finished, it will be housed in a special pavilion at the museum. It will once again joyfully spin smiling children waving to their parents and create generations of happy memories.
“They’ll remember where they were, what they were wearing and who they were with,” Hackett said.