Since 1923, the Memphis Grand Carousel has been part of the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
1921 – Forest Park Amusement Park was destroyed by fire and the Carousel was sent back to the Dentzel factory for repairs, done by William Dentzel.
1923 – The Memphis Park Commission (through their third party park manager, the Tri-State Fair) purchased the Carousel from Dentzel for inclusion in the city amusement park on the Memphis Fairgrounds.
1974 – The Carousel was dismantled, moved 60 feet and partially restored.
1976 – Libertyland opens to the public with the Grand Carousel as a centerpiece ride.
1980 – The Grand Carousel named to the National Registry of Historic Places.
2005 – Libertyland closes to the public and the Carousel is saved from being sold.
2009 – The Carousel is packed up for safe keeping and stored in the Mid-South Coliseum.
2014 – The Children's Museum of Memphis signs a 25-year lease with the City of Memphis for the Carousel.
2015 – James Rout III, the Carousel's premier "historian," joins the museum's team as a volunteer to help raise the funds for the new building as well as insure the integrity of the restoration. The Children’s Museum has the Carousel shipped to Ohio for restoration.
2016 – Construction began on a brand-new $4.5 million facility to house the Memphis Grand Carousel.
2017 – The Memphis Grand Carousel opens in a brand-new facility located next to The Children's Museum on December 2.
The Story of a Grand Carousel...
Unfortunately, Memphis has allowed many of its treasures to fall by the wayside. Many historic items have been forgotten or lost to make way for progress or because of lack of funds or interest. Fortunately, The Children’s Museum, along with generous donors like FedEx, the Plough Foundation, the Nineteenth Century Club, and over 50 other individuals, are out to show that Memphis’ historic treasures are worthy of being saved and brought back for future generations to enjoy! By bringing the Grand Carousel back, we can provide experiences that will allow millions of Children to create memories for their lifetimes, as well as give the museum the opportunity to teach Children about historic preservation and tell them the story of our National Treasure.
Memphians can be proud knowing they own one of the nation’s finest, original, hand-carved Dentzel carousels and one of only four or five all-horse Dentzel carousels left in existence. The Carousel started its life at Forest Park Amusement Park outside Chicago in 1909. After a park fire in 1921, the Carousel left Chicago and went back to the Dentzel factory in Philadelphia for repairs. It was then leased by the Memphis Park Commission (through their third party park manager, the Tri-State Fair) in 1923 for inclusion in the city amusement park on the Memphis Fairgrounds. It stayed there until it was dismantled in 1974, moved 60 feet east, partially restored and reopened as a centerpiece ride for the Libertyland Amusement Park in 1976. When Libertyland closed in 2005, after much community discussion, local supporters were successful in saving the Grand Carousel from being sold as a park asset. In October 2009, the Carousel was packed up for safe keeping and stored in the Mid-South Coliseum. In 2014, The Children’s Museum signed a lease with the City of Memphis, and it was finally sent off for a $1 million restoration in June 2015. It is currently being restored and will open back up to Memphis on December 2, 2017.
The Grand Carousel features 32 jumpers, 16 standers and two chariots. The rounding boards feature jester carvings with collars and hats. These alternate with mirrors that have small angels carved under them. The main column has mirrors that reflect down onto the ride and above the mirrors there are ornate carvings. The machine has over 1,300 lights that provide an elegant illumination of the fabulous hand-carvings. The horses’ saddles are quite decorative and the carvings often extend the length of the horses’ bodies.
Of the many carousels produced by the Dentzel family from 1837 to 1928, only about two dozen are in operation today. Many ceased to exist due to the ravages of use, weather and time, without adequate support systems. Because of their unique style and high value, others have been put out of operation because of the removal of their hand carved figures by avid collectors.
Of the eight nationally accredited Children’s museums, of which Memphis is one, only two have operating carousels - ironically both Dentzels. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has a 1917 Dentzel Carousel and the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia has a 1908 Dentzel Carousel, a sister carousel to ours. We now all look forward to the day the horses, cherubs and smiling jesters of this historic treasure will once again move round and round, waltzing to the distinctive carousel music right here in Memphis. The history of this Grand Carousel is in Memphis. Its history is YOU!