Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n07)
Random Rippling - The Broad Ripple Park Carousel and its Conductor by Carol Blatter
posted: Apr. 02, 2010
The Broad Ripple Park Carousel and its Conductor
by Carol Blatter
Some call it a carousel,
Some call it a merry-go-round,
So, what's in a name anyway?
Fun, plain old fun,
That's what they come for.
They love the carousel,
And the conductor makes it all happen.
The Carousel Story. 1917. Indianapolis, Indiana. Two brothers named Mangel, immigrants to this mid-west city, brought their carousel from Germany, then later sold it to the White City Amusement Company, the operators of Broad Ripple Park. It was originally installed on a Mangel-Illions mechanism later destroyed in 1956 due to an accident in which the domed pavilion collapsed and rendered the carousel inoperable. And twenty years without a carousel in Indianapolis was so sad for the children who longed for such fun filled rides. Eventually they got their wishes. The carousel had a new owner. The Indianapolis Children's Museum, the largest in the world, purchased and restored the original carousel, including the hand-carved wooden animals from the city's parks department, one of three Dentzel made animal carousels which still survives today, and a 1919 Wurlitzer organ. The carousel was reborn.
The Gazette's crossword clue writer and recipe columnist on the carousel at the Children's museum in 1990 - John S. Hague and Douglas Carpenter.
image courtesy of Elizabeth Hague
The carousel remains the centerpiece of interest and activity at the Children's Museum today. Since 1976, visitors of all ages ride on the newly restored carousel. And, what memories they share and what stories they tell! A day at the museum, with a visit to the Carousel Gallery, is like none other. Just watch the faces of the children, that says it all. So much joy, so much fun, from the very first carousel ride in Broad Ripple Park until now, the glow of children remains.
Broad Ripple Village. The home of the park and the original carousel, is a north side neighborhood, originally founded as a town in 1836 and later annexed in 1922 to the city of Indianapolis. Broad Ripple Village. This is where my imaginary conductor lived and served the carousel's visitors. This is how I imagine he lived his life. This is his story and the story of Broad Ripple Village. Both stories are inextricably woven.
It was a momentous occasion in this Hoosier capital city on the opening day of the carousel in Broad Ripple Park. Children rode on the carousel over and over again. Fun began here. They listened intently to the conductor announce the start of each ride, "Enjoy the ride and let the fun begin," he said, then he turned on the organ music, and cranked up the carousel. And the children admired the conductor. He was the man in charge. He made the rides happen.
Here is how I imagine he came to be the carousel's conductor. As a young adult, he needed a job and as an eighth grade school drop-out, he didn't have many opportunities. The carousel was the perfect place for him to work. And he loved the carousel when it was in Broad Ripple park and he could ride on the horses during his own childhood so many years ago, riding the fake, ornamental horses over and over again. For him, they were the real thing. When he got a little older, he saved up his own money to pay for the rides, a luxury his parents had difficulty affording, along with expenses for his other four siblings. He knew he would need to start working, as soon as possible, so he could provide money to help his family. He was the oldest, he had the heaviest burden. He started by collecting tickets at the carousel. They didn't check his age. He was a tall, lanky, adolescent, similar to Abraham Lincoln in stature, somewhat plain in appearance, and looked older. Just a little facial hair showed when he was interviewed by the carousel's manager. And he was hired. He took pride in his newly acquired, first uniform as ticket collector.
Later, he became the conductor's assistant and then the conductor, after the senior conductor retired. And he proudly wore the uniform he long yearned for: a black suit with gold trimmed sleeves, a gold buttoned jacket, white shirt, black trousers pressed crisply, perfectly creased with precision, and a black hat with a see-through visor. Everyone recognized who he was. Looking through the mirror on his first wearing, he was astonished. He was just who he needed to be.
From sun up to sundown, he worked at the carousel, making sure that everyone who wanted to ride, especially the children, had a chance. Even though he never had a family of his own, he could identify with the delight of the children as they mounted the fake horses, which, in their creative imaginations, were real. He lived near the park so he could walk to it from his small, dark apartment. It was convenient. He worked long hours with few days off except when the carousel closed for part of the winter season.
He liked a definite routine. When to get up, when to get ready, when to leave home, and when to work, when to have his lunch break, and when to return home. It was hardly a colorful life. But it was his life to live, he managed it his way. Change, it was never welcome. He never considered a different place or a different lifestyle. Whenever the possibility of leaving and seeking employment elsewhere crossed his mind, he gave himself every possible excuse not to, and rationalized that his was the best possible way to live his life. He rarely interacted with others, kept a low profile, and preferred pursuing solitary activities. He wasn't one to initiate new ideas or interests. Only circumstances outside of his control resulted in a change of direction and even then, he fought hard to keep things just as they had always been. One might say he was a master of the status quo. And he told himself he was content. Sameness was the theme of his whole life. Others might see him as boring, dull, and drab. When he let his guard down, he could be pretty likeable and occasionally even fun. He tightly controlled this part of himself. It was too risky for his emotional comfort. He was too afraid of being vulnerable. Structure kept him safe. He avoided rejection by others. Even when there was little evidence of rejection, he felt it.
Carol Wechsler Blatter