Monday, September 9, 2013

DC carousels

I've always been somewhat obsessed with carousels. The shellacked animals, the strung lightbulbs, the mesmerizing carnival music. And now that I have a little person in my life who still can't quite climb all over a jungle gym but has, quite frankly, mastered the art of sitting, these are perfect weekend destinations. Lucky for me, the DC metro area is chock-full of some beautiful, historic, refurbished carousels that cost next to nothing to ride.

The National Zoo has the Speedwell Conservation Carousel, with 58 different species to ride. The Smithsonian Carousel sits on the Mall, with some of the best people/tourist-watching views around. And Clemyjontri Park has one as the epicenter of its playground (though I can't vouch for anything but how adorable it is, since the operator is not one of those souls who would wait twenty seconds to start the last ride of the day for a mother running full speed for the carousel-entrance with her twenty-one pound boss on her hip in the 95 degree heat). 

But I think one of the more hidden gems in this area is Glen Echo Park's carousel.

After its inception in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly, which taught the sciences, art, languages and literature, GEP became a full-fledged amusement park in the early 1900s. After a successful sit-in by student civil rights activists in 1963, the park ended its policy of segregation in 1964 until it ultimately shut down in 1968. In 1971 the federal government obtained the land, and the National Park Service tried to collaborate with local arts organizations to return to its original Chautauqua spirit. Today it's managed by the Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture and hosts various classes, from pottery to calligraphy to glass blowing. 

It's hard to wander around the grounds and not feel as though you've stepped out of a time machine into the past. For starters, the park's buildings are all charmingly Art Deco, from the cafe signs to the first aid clinic.

But then there are the children squealing in delight on the playground, against the backdrop of carousel music that literally comes out of a restored organ.  Seriously, look at this organ. It's a Wurlitzer Style 165 Military Band Organ, which sounds full of gravitas, but all I could think of the entire time watching it play was that eery boardwalk where Zoltar the fortune telling machine made David Moscow turn into Tom Hanks overnight.

Anyway, one of the old centerpieces of the park that they haven't restored is the bumper cars arcade under an open-air pavilion. Bumper cars! You may be able to take the girl out of Jersey, but you can't take the Jersey out of the girl. Who do we need to talk to to get this feature reinstalled at Glen Echo? Chris Christie himself?

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