After a 12-year absence, horses from a 108-year-old carousel will soon be galloping back into the public eye, aiming to enrich the memories of multiple generations.
After more than two years of restoration, the Children’s Museum of Memphis is wrapping up installation for the return of the Memphis Grand Carousel, a historical piece of art and amusement in the Bluff City.
“The carousel is a magical attraction not just for children, but for grown-ups as well because they rode it when they were young,” Randy McKeel, Children’s Museum’s chief financial officer, said. “It’s a city icon, and we wanted to bring it back to life.”
The carousel was first hand-carved by Gustave Dentzel in 1909 and brought to the Mid-South Fairgrounds in 1923 by the Memphis Park Commission. In 1976, the carousel was the centerpiece of Libertyland, a new amusement park at the time.
When the park closed in 2005, the carousel was put away in the Mid-South Coliseum until 2014, when the Children’s Museum signed a 25-year lease with the city of Memphis and took on the task of restoring the carousel to its former glory.
“Through the efforts of a lot of Memphians, we’ve been able to save the carousel for future use and future memories and reviving old memories,” Jimmy Ogle, a Shelby County historian, said.
Saving the Memphis Grand Carousel took a lot of painstaking work and attention to detail. Through years of operation, damages had accumulated on the carousel along with decades of various paint layers. Each piece of the carousel had to be taken apart, closely examined and compared to original renderings. After 29 months of stripping paint layer by layer and replacing broken fixtures, the carousel has finally been restored to its original 1909 appearance.
Although the carousel’s horses have proven to be its main attraction, Todd Goings, owner of Carousels and Carvings (the company employed to restore the carousel), said there are many more intricacies involved in putting the carousel together.
“There are so many different aspects of it,” Goings said. “Most people focus on the animals, but there’s a huge amount of engineering and mechanisms that have to be taken care of.”
The Memphis Grand Carousel will include 48 horses, 1,350 lights, educational opportunities and a newly added chariot. The Children’s Museum aims to provide a magical and exciting experience for its upcoming riders, according to Art Davis, Children’s Museum’s chief operating officer.
“I think the grand opening is going to be a very exciting time for everyone,” Davis said. “After we have the ribbon cutting, and we open up the stable doors, adults and children are going to be overwhelmed. It’s going to be great to see the smiling faces and the excitement in their eyes.”
The grand opening is scheduled for Dec. 2 at 10 a.m. in the Children’s Museum’s new Memphis Grand Carousel Pavilion and Ballroom. More information can be found at www.memphisgrandcarousel.org.