Smithsonian National Carousel
History of the Carousel on the National Mall
In 1967, the Smithsonian Institution’s Secretary S. Dillon Ripley planned a series of festivities to make the National Mall more welcoming to all who visited Washington, D.C. and the Institution’s museums. On April 12, a carousel was installed in front of the Arts & Industries Building to kick off the events. That summer, visitors to the National Mall attended concerts featuring the Institution’s antique instruments and the first Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In the fall, as the weather began to cool and festivities died down, the carousel remained.
Over the next 14 years, visitors to the National Mall rode the 1922 Allan Herschell Company designed carousel until the wear and tear of the Washington, D.C. climate required a replacement. In 1981, the Smithsonian located a new carousel owned and operated by a vendor- one that was not only beautiful but that also carried a rich a history befitting the Smithsonian.
The current carousel on the National Mall was built in 1947, also by the Allen Herschell Company. It features horses with hand-carved wooden bodies and aluminum heads, legs, and tails. The horses are “jumpers” with all four legs off the ground and range in colors from turquoise to palomino.
This 1947 carousel was first installed in Gwynn Oaks Park, an amusement park just outside Baltimore, Maryland. As the Civil Rights Movement took hold, Gwynn Oaks Park became a main focal point for desegregation work in the Baltimore area. The first protest to integrate the park took place in 1955. Over the next eight years, led by the Baltimore chapter of the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), black and white activists of all ages picketed, protested, and were arrested in attempts to desegregate the park.
In July 1963, after nearly 400 protestors were arrested over the course of two days, negotiations began between the park’s owners and the leadership of CORE. Led by Spiro Agnew, Baltimore County’s top executive and future Vice President, an agreement was reached that the park would desegregate on August 28, 1963.
When the day arrived, Baltimore and its surrounding areas were quiet. Millions of people had headed to the Nation's capital to attend the March on Washington. Charles and Marion Langley decided to take their daughter, Sharon, to Gwynn Oaks Park, rather than try to bring an eleven-month-old to the March. They spent less than an hour there walking around. Before they left, Charles hopped on the carousel with his infant daughter. The same day that Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech 45 miles away on the National Mall, three children – two white and one black – went for a ride on a carousel together.
Just prior to the pandemic, the owner/operator of the carousel approached the Smithsonian about purchasing this historic carousel. After a series of discussions, Smithsonian and the owner were able to come to terms - thus enabling this important and beloved piece of history to remain on the National Mall for years to come. The next step is for the Smithsonian to repair and refurbish the carousel to its original grandeur.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who owns the carousel?
The Smithsonian purchased the carousel from its previous owners in December 2022. Prior to its purchase, the carousel was operated as a concession through Smithsonian Enterprises, the revenue generating arm of the Smithsonian. The carousel is located on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building on Jefferson Drive S.W. The National Mall is administered by the National Park Service.
Why is the carousel closed?
The carousel closed in March 2020 when Smithsonian museums closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The carousel remains closed until it can be removed for refurbishment and essential repairs.
When is the carousel being removed, and why?
The carousel, which was built in 1947, is being removed for refurbishment and for updates to the surrounding infrastructure. In coordination with the National Park Service, the Smithsonian will begin removing the carousel beginning in spring 2023. The animals will be removed first, followed by the platform.
What updates are needed for the carousel to reopen?
Renovations include repairs to the carousel’s animals, platform and surrounding infrastructure. The carousel’s electrical connections and paving will also be updated to ensure safe operation once the carousel returns.
How long will repairs take? When will the carousel reopen?
Repairs and improvements are expected to take several years. Once the carousel is removed, the Smithsonian will evaluate the platform and animals for repairs. The exact length of time will depend on the state of the carousel and its surrounding infrastructure.
What will the carousel look like after updates?
The carousel will maintain a similar look after it is repaired and refurbished to its original grandeur. The updated infrastructure will not alter the carousel’s appearance.