The Right to Ride a Carousel

The first of the vanished posts, originally published in fall of 2012.

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The Glen Echo amusement park, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC, originally barred African Americans. My father tells a story of going to Glen Echo in 1960 and seeing picketers in front of the park, protesting the exclusion of African-Americans. What my father remembers most vividly was a picket sign that said something along the lines of, “Hank Aaron would not be allowed here.”

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I’d heard the story at several points in my life, so when I saw that the National Park Service (NPS) was conducting a tour of Glen Echo focusing on those protests, I decided to go. I got the time wrong, however, and missed the tour. But I did get the chance to wander around Glen Echo, so I’m going to show you the pictures and tell you its story anyway.

The twin Baltzley brothers, Edwin and Edward, had made their fortune in the late 1800s inventing a reversible egg beater for left-handed people. They decided to take their money and invest in real estate. Big mistake. Looking for a hook for their Glen Echo residential development, they created a Chautauqua program at Glen Echo. Chautauqua (after the location of its first site, Lake Chautauqua in New York) was…is…it still exists…an adult education program that brought lectures and lessons in art, music, and philosophy to rural settings. Having the program didn’t help and when a hoped-for trolley line from DC to Glen Echo didn’t materialize, their development failed. An 1891 stone building and tower, now housing artists’ studios, is the only structure left from Glen Echo’s Chautauqua era.

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 The trolley line made it to Glen Echo in 1897, too late for the Baltzley brothers but not too late for subsequent owners, who turned the property into an amusement park in the early 20th century. 

On June 30, 1960, a group of African American college students protested the racial restriction by trying to ride the carousel and were arrested. The picketing that my parents saw was the result of the arrest. Whites in the community bordering the park, founded by post-WWII Jewish immigrants who had been prohibited by race from buying land in other areas of greater DC, joined the protest. The efforts were successful and the park integrated the following year.

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The amusement park closed in 1968.

The Glen Echo property opened again in 1971, though not as an amusement park. The nonprofit Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture runs arts education programs on the property for its owners, the National Park Service (NPS).  The only amusement park ride still in operation is the 1921 hand-carved Gustav Dentzel carousel, the one that the protesters were trying to ride when they were arrested. The carousel was sold with the rest of the rides when Glen Echo closed but citizens mounted a campaign that successfully bought it back.

Some conservation trivia: In 1983, an artist specializing in carousel restorations began the process of removing the layers of paint that the park had laid over the original. The intent was to simply varnish over the original paint, and allow the carousel to go back into commission. They realized, however, that doing so would expose the original paint to damage during rides. So after the original paint was uncovered and varnished, the conservator covered the whole animal with a white base coat and new paint job in the original colors. There is a small piece of the original paint left exposed on the inward facing side of all of the animals, so that each rider can see what it looked like originally.

The carousel runs only through the summer, at hours that differ by day and month, so consult the park website if you’re planning a ride. I was there early on a Sunday morning and it didn’t open until noon. Yes, I would have ridden it if it had been open.

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4 Responses to The Right to Ride a Carousel

  1. Good post. I like the idea of making a fortune for inventing a left handed egg beater!

  2. I remember this post. I’m sure I commented though. I suppose the comments were lost too. I read about someone else who had lost a handful of posts. I wouldn’t know if I had!

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