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Sunday, February 15, 2015

History of the Carousel on the National Mall in Washington, DC

The brightly colored carousel located on the National Mall in the U.S. capital city is a popular destination that attracts many children each year. 


Many people might not know the history behind the old-time carousel that is located in the stretch of the Mall in between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. For the first few years I lived here, I did not until I did some more research.



The carousel was built in 1947 by the Allan Herschell Co. The vintage model has 60 horses (and a later-added dragon) which provides many kids and adults with about 3 minutes of good old-fashioned fun. The classic merry-go-round was brought to the National Mall in 1981 and placed in the vicinity of the Smithsonian Castle.


Prior to its new home so many years ago, the carousel had been located at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, which was in a town near Baltimore, Md. The park was built in the 1890s and opened its gates as "Whites-Only". That policy remained in place for many years, according to an article published by WTOP News.

People decided they didn't want the park segregated.  And kids couldn't understand why their friends at school couldn't go to the same parks after school, according to media accounts. In 1955 things started to change.


"They started having protests at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. They decided, well, if kids could go to school together, why couldn't they go to amusement parks together," said Amy Nathan, author of "Round and Round Together," which documents the history of the carousel.


Disregarding the protests, the owners of the park refused to change its segregation policy. According to WTOP, the protests went on for eight years. In 1963, the family changed its policy two weeks after a large protest took place. Almost 300 people were arrested that day.


"Gwynn Oak Amusement Park dropped segregation on the very same day as the March on Washington, and on that day, Sharon Langley was the first African-American child to go on a ride there," according to Nathan.


The Washington Post reported the carousel was the attraction the Langley family chose for young Sharon to ride. Nine years later the park was demolished by Hurricane Agnes. The carousel survived the storm. In 1981, it was moved to Washington, replacing a 1922 Ripley merry-go-round with 33 gliding animals, according to Smithsonian Magazine

There is a plaque next to the carousel's entrance gate.


Today, children from all over the country and globe take a spin on this historic ride. The carousel is open daily from 10 a.m. -5:30 p.m. and costs $3.50 to ride. Visitors can purchase tickets at a stand located right next to the carousel.

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