Glen Echo Park | DENTZEL CAROUSEL

Dentzel Carousel building at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

Dentzel Carousel building at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

Glen Echo, Md. Between 1921 and 1935, Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/npc2008011589/)

Glen Echo, Md. Between 1921 and 1935. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/npc2008011589/)


Glen Echo Park Historical Buildings


For those coming to Glen Echo Park as a tourist or National Park enthusiast, there’s not much to do other than look at the old amusement buildings and daydream about days gone by…and take a ride on the Dentzel Carousel. First installed in 1921, this is the only functioning historic amusement ride remaining in the park.

Glen Echo Carousel

Glen Echo Carousel

Glen Echo Carousel (Glen Echo Park Co. Glen Echo, Maryland, 1925, Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/npc2008007581/)

Rides are typically offered from May through September and only cost $2 (2020 prices), which is a great deal compared to for-profit amusement parks. Making it an even greater deal is that the ride lasts a good five minutes. That’s hands down the longest amusement ride I’ve ever been on. Cash is preferred, but credit / debit cards are accepted with a $5 minimum charge. For the latest schedule and prices, see the official Dentzel Carousel web page for Glen Echo Park.

Carousel ticket booth

Carousel ticket booth

The name Dentzel comes from the company that built the carousel, the Dentzel Carousel Company. Started by Gustav Dentzel in 1860, the company produced world class carousels out of Philadelphia until 1929. The Glen Echo carousel is a “menagerie” carousel because it features a variety of animals, which was rare at the time—most only had horses. The outside ring of seats are known as “standers,” for they do not move, but they are the most elegantly carved and decorated because they are the most prominent. The inner rows consist of “jumpers,” the term used to describe the seats that go up and down.

Sasha rides a jumper on the Dentzel Carousel  at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

Sasha rides a jumper on the Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

Girl on Carousel (1939 Library of Congress, Prints &amp Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8a31705)

Girl on Carousel (1939 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8a31705)

Furthermore, the carousel is thought to be the first to use jester heads to adorn the edges of the carousel’s outer canopy (not the building canopy). The center paneling that covers the mechanics is decorated with various nature scenes and cherubs.

Jester heads at the top of the carousel canopy

Jester heads at the top of the carousel canopy

Cherubs on the Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

Cherubs on the Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

Most people choose to ride on the jumpers, so to get people on the standers the amusement park operators came up with the Brass Ring Game. A machine with a long, hollow tube extended towards the carousel and dispensed rings, but only those on the standers could reach it. As you passed by you grabbed a ring from the machine. Most were steel, but if you got a brass ring you were awarded a free ride. The machine is still at the park and has been restored, but it was never in use during my two visits.

Brass Ring Game May 1942 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-011509-D)

Brass Ring Game, May 1942 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-011509-D)

No matter where you are in Glen Echo Park, if the carousel is operating, you are treated to a carnival atmosphere by the Wurlitzer 165 Military Band Organ that pipes its infectious tunes loud enough to be heard everywhere. The organ was installed in 1926, and today only twelve such Wurlitzers are known to exist. The music is created by perforated rolls of paper similar to a player-piano, though the organ is much more complicated because it features bass, viola, saxophone, trombone, trumpet, violin, flageolet, flute, and piccolo pipes, plus a 22-note glockenspiel, a bass drum, snare drum, cymbal, crash cymbal, castanets, and a triangle. The park has a collection of 200 music rolls that contain over 1,900 musical arrangements.

Wurlitzer 165 Military Band Organ at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

Wurlitzer 165 Military Band Organ at Glen Echo Park in Maryland

After Glen Echo Park closed in 1968, most of the rides were sold to other parks or collectors, so the National Park Service had no intention of running the facility as an amusement park when it took over in 1970. The Dentzel Carousel was one of the first rides sold and was destined for California when the local community raised $80,000 in one month in 1970 and was able to buy it back. Another $10,000 was raised to buy back the Wurlitzer. Once done, both were donated to the National Park Service on condition that they be maintained and operated for the public to enjoy. The Glen Echo carousel is one of approximately 150 antique carousels still in operation, and one of the very few that was never moved from its original location.

Both the carousel and the Wurlitzer were in poor condition after decades of use and make-shift repairs. Over the years, every time instruments on the Wurlitzer broke it was modified to bypass them so that repairs didn’t have to be made. The organ was restored to its original working configuration in 1978, but it wasn’t until 1998 that its cabinet was restored.

Restoration on the carousel started in 1983 and was completed in 2003. Each animal took between 150 and 200 hours of work—there are 52 animals. The entire carousel is decorated, so there was a lot more to restore than just the animals. Everything had been painted multiple times, so the newer paint layers were removed until the original layer was found. The colors you see today are the same colors used in 1921. To the best of my knowledge, the work was all done by one woman, Rosa Patton (she also restored the Wurlitzer cabinet).

Horse on the Glen Echo Carousel

Horse on the Glen Echo Carousel

Glen Echo Carousel 1939 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8a31719)

Glen Echo Carousel, 1939 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8a31719)

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Last updated on January 14, 2022
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