From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Remember your very first visit to an amusement park and the sight of a merry-go-round? The touch, the reflections, and the magic of the animals, the gyrating, oscillating motion, the sound and rhythm of the calliope, even the smell of wood and paint, left an indelible impression. It’s little wonder that this never-ending race among a menagerie of fanciful beasts captured the excitement and imagination of both children and grown-ups This probably explains why my own enthusiasm for a recent acquisition by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) is so difficult to restrain. Dismantled and in storage at a warehouse in Massachusetts for nearly forty years, the accession is one of the largest and finest carousels ever built in the United States. It was made about 1903 in the workshops of the coun­try’s pioneer carousel maker, Gustav A. Dentzel (1840-1909), a cabinetmaker who immigrated to Philadelphia from Ger­many in the 1860s.

By 1890, Dentzel had become well known for specializing in merry-go­-rounds, employing experienced German and Italian wood carvers who had recent­ly arrived in America looking for work. Their distinctive, realistic creations became the standard for what became known as the “Philadelphia style.” G.A. Dentzel and Company became one of the leading carousel manufacturers in the history of the American amusement industry.

The Dentzel Grand Carousel was originally acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in 1966, but it was not restored or exhibited. The PHMC began pursuit of its acquisition six years ago and late in 2002 completed negotiations with the Smith­sonian to transfer the carousel to the PHMC. The State Museum of Pennsylvania is now the permanent repository for the carousel.

The Grand Carousel was designed by Dentzel’s oldest son, William (1876-1928), crowned the “Merry-Go-Round King” by his peers. His masterpiece quickly became his father’s favorite. The elder Dentzel established the carousel as a factory demonstrator and often drove prospective customers from Philadelphia to Woodside Park – built west of the city in 1897 by the Fair­mount Park Transportation Company as a popular destination for its trolley lines to inspect it.

Featuring an expansive menagerie of fanciful animals and trademark details, the Dentzel Grand Carousel is one of very few survivors of its kind in the world. Its immense platform accommodates three rows of fifty-four highly carved horses and exuberantly stylized animals, among them a duo of rabbits, two cats, a pair of pigs, and two goats. The Smithsonian had exhibited a selection of animals from what amusement park enthusiasts hail as “the most joyful carousel in America” at its National Museum of American History.

Now, thanks to The State Museum, the art and craftsmanship of the Dentzel Grand Carousel will finally be accorded its rightful place in history. The museum plans to preserve and interpret the masterpiece, which will relate to its new long­term exhibits exploring the evolution of leisure time and recreation of Pennsylvanians and Americans. Once again, the carousel will entertain and enlighten museumgoers of all ages.

I can already feel the excitement!

John C. Wesley
Interim Executive Director