Indiana is home to 42 officially recognized National Historic Landmarks, only one of which is home to 42 unique wood-carved animals. With thirty-one horses, three goats, three giraffes, three deer, one lion, and one tiger, The Broad Ripple Park Carousel was built in 1917 and has been entertaining young Hoosiers for a century since.
Currently housed in the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the ride is one of the oldest surviving Dentzel menagerie carousels in the world and although significant restoration work has been undertaken, only one of the wood-carved animals is a replacement.
The carousel got its start on the outskirts of Indianapolis on the former site of the White City Amusement Park. White City was a popular early 20th century attraction, but a fire had forced the owners to close down in 1908.
After a few years, The Union Traction Company purchased the park in 1911 and opened it to the public. In 1917, the carousel was added to the restored park. It was put together by the William F. Mangels carousel company but featured animals carved by Dentzel likely dating back to the 19th century.
Decorated with oil paintings and housed in a windowed building by the White City pool, the ride remained part of the fold in 1922, when the Broad Ripple Amusement Park Association purchased (and renamed) the park and was kept operational when the park again changed hands in 1927.
In 1938, the park was purchased by William McCurry, who moved the carousel to a domed pavilion near a children’s playground but kept the ride operational as a concession attraction.
In 1945, the park was purchased by the Board of Parks Commission of Indianapolis, who intended to turn the site into a general-use park. The parks board’s original plan was to destroy all rides that couldn’t be sold…but one carousel managed to escape unsold and unscathed. The park superintendent’s wife ran the attraction for ten years.
By 1950s, the ride was beginning to age and, although the Indianapolis Art League was able to save the original paintings from being painted over with Disney characters, they couldn’t save the ride from itself.
In 1956 the domed pavilion housing the carousel collapsed and it looked like the ride was destined for the scrap heap.
The locomotive was sent to the Indiana Transport Museum and other parts of the ride were destroyed, but the Parks Board had the good sense to preserve the animals. After talks with the Zoological Society broke down, some of the animals were sold to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum in 1965.
Initially, the museum used the animals as exhibits on their own, but before long efforts to restore the carousel were underway. Using old photographs, the museum managed to track down some missing deer at a Christmas Gift and Hobby Show. The museum purchased the remaining animals and rebuilt and restored the ride in 1976.
The mechanics are replacements, but with the exception of a still-missing horse, the original animals remain on display at the museum today.