What a Ride

"Grand” is a word certainly befitting Memphis’ Grand Carousel. For decades it was housed on the Mid-South Fairgrounds, served as the centerpiece of Libertyland amusement park, and was a glorious piece of art and history. Then, for several years it was stored away, waiting for its next grand appearance. On December 2nd, another generation of Memphians will delight in riding the completely restored grande dame as the Grand Carousel Pavilion and Ballroom opens at the Children’s Museum of Memphis.

The Carousel was built in 1909 by Gustav Dentzel, and was originally installed at ForestPark Amusement Park in Chicago. Since 1923, it had been a part of the Mid-South Fairgrounds and then moved 60 feet to Libertyland. When Libertyland closed in 2005 and other assets were sold, the carousel was saved. In 2009, it was moved out of the elements and put into storage at the Mid-South Coliseum. “The museum has spent the last three years restoring and preserving one of Memphis’ finest treasures,” said Randy McKeel, CMOM Chief Financial Officer. “The Memphis Grand Carousel is a city icon for all our children to enjoy. The museum’s board and staff are happy to give this gift back to the community. Memphis can be proud it has one of the rarest, most precious Dentzel carousels left in operation. It’s now back and ready for new and magical memories!” The Grand Carousel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Only 24 of the magnificent Dentzel carousels are still in operation today. Weather and time took their toll, as well as the high value of each hand-carved figures encouraged owners to break apart the carousels and sell the pieces to collectors. But our Memphis Dentzel original is even more prized because it is one of only four or five all-horse Dentzel carousels still in existence today. The Grand Carousel features 32 “jumpers,” 16 "standers,” and two chariots. The horses saddles are exquisitely carved, and the decorative designs are often the entire length of the horses’bodies. All moveable parts original to the Carousel were also restored, and 1,350 lights illuminate the carvings. While the two original chariots have both been restored, it is very important that everyone has an opportunity to experience a ride on the Grand Carousel, so an ADA-compliant chariot has been substituted for one of the originals. It too is hand-carved and a replica of the original, but allows wheelchair access. The original chariot, not being reinstalled, will also be housed in the Pavilion as a photo opportunity. The Children’s Museum was an ideal location for the relic, and in 2014, Jimmy Rout III led the charge for restoration. For the past two years, the Carousel has been in Marion, Ohio, getting a complete refurbishing at a cost of $1 million. While the restoration of the Carousel was the catalyst, it was only one component of the project. The 100+ year-old ride needed to be housed in a climate controlled space to protect and preserve the investment, and in 2016 construction began on the Grand Carousel Pavilion and Ballroom. The $4.5 million, 20,000 square foot building is adjacent to the CMOM facility, and is a beautiful space for weddings and parties, as well as enjoying the Carousel. Much of the funding has been from generous
donations from FedEx, the Plough Foundation, the Nineteenth Century Club, and over 50 other individuals, making this project a reality. Chances are very good, if you grew up in the Bluff City you once rode atop one of the opulent horses. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Children’s Museum of Memphis and other visionaries and supporters, you can revisit this childhood treasure and take a spin on Memphis’ Grand Carousel. For only $3, you can ride the Grand Carousel, and is independent of a visit to CMOM. Rides are free with a CMOM membership and also to school groups. The Grand Carousel and the Children’s Museum is open daily, 9am-5pm.