Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n08)
Random Rippling - The Broad Ripple Park Carousel and its Conductor by Carol Blatter
posted: Apr. 16, 2010
The Broad Ripple Park Carousel and its Conductor
by Carol Blatter
He was a responsible person and a good worker. Whereas others had dreams and goals, he was content to live day to day. To him, that was living. He never had a strong urge to explore life more deeply, to discover what life could be. He was rarely introspective and avoided focusing on thoughts, other than the mundane. A carousel conductor, that's who he was and that's who he would always be. No more, no less. Content with his life, so it seemed. Very little changed within. He lived life in decline. Age happened.
After the death of his last parent, he inherited their small bungalow style home in Broad Ripple, a unique and pleasant neighborhood, bordering on the White River, with the canal running through it. Strollers could be seen on warm spring or fall days, walking along the canal, seeing the ducks, and enjoying the glow of all the lovely green landscaping so typical of this mid-west city. Trees, grass, and plants were in their lush yellow-green dress. Everything was in bloom. Neighborhood gardens were immaculately cared for. It was a place to be proud to live in.
Springtime. The harsh winter weather was no longer, the snow and ice was long melted, and there was a resurgence of outdoor life in Indianapolis. People began to take neighborhood walks. Some thought about the amusement park nearby and when it would re-open for the season. Especially children, they were the most eager to ride the carousel.
Leaving his Broad Ripple bungalow at about 6:30 AM every morning, he walked to work and arrived fifteen minutes later, to get everything ready early, at the carousel. In the spring and summer months, he was often tidying up at 7 PM, or later. Many times he walked home in the dark. Rarely did he have any one to walk home with. Occasionally, he would nod to a nearby neighbor before entering his home. Things were typically quiet at the end of the work day. He spent some time reading the local newspaper and eating a snack before bedtime, then sleeping, to be ready for tomorrow's work.
He proudly wore his grandfather's large, gold watch and used it to keep things moving, always on time, throughout the day and into dusk. He made sure that every carousel ride began and ended on time. No rest time is allowed here, he was known to say. Anyway, not on his watch. He always made the rules. After all, by now he was a senior conductor and senior conductors were given the latitude to make the rules, as long as they complied with safety mandated by the parks department. He was one to go by the rules. And, compliant by nature, his personality was a fine match with the ways he carried out his job. Never mind that he was getting older and tired more easily, occasionally getting winded after just a few rides, he still acted in public as if nothing had changed. The carousel must keep moving. He dedicated himself all these years to that mission, no other.
As in the past, and on each and every working day, he checked his large, gold watch, and made sure the ride began on time. He got impatient when children needed extra attention getting on and off their horses or became frightened or tearful on their very first ride, or needed extra encouragement from older siblings, parents, and grandparents. And he became impatient when older folks took time to sort out their souvenirs and food goodies, including caramel popcorn, cotton candy, taffy, and bubble gum, all for the whole family. Slowly getting seated, they made room on their antique gold and white bench for a very large black and white stuffed teddy bear, with a large gold ribbon around his neck, won by one of their grandchildren. The ride's starting time was about five minutes behind schedule. The conductor worked hard not to show his increasing displeasure. He hated delays and the visitors were especially slow on this very long, hot day. He regained his composure, tried to smile and be pleasant. Being patient was becoming increasingly difficult. Fatigue and shortness of breath were challenges he chose to dismiss.
The conductor adjusted his microphone to address the riders. In his bellowing voice, he shouted out: "Ladies, gentlemen, and children, welcome to the carousel. Remember. No walking around is allowed during the ride. We will stop the carousel and remove the rule breakers. And they will not be allowed on again for a week. Enjoy the ride. And let the fun begin." And at the end of the ride, with an equally bellowing voice, he said, "Do not get up from your places until the ride comes to a full stop. I will tell you when to do so. Have a good day and be sure to come back to ride on the carousel." This was his scripted message for so many hours, days, months, and years. He could say it without reading it from the paper. And he believed he would continue delivering this script forever.
The conductor was in denial. Retirement, he had never thought about it. But the parks department had rules. He had reached retirement age. He would have to pack up his personal work related belongings and leave his job. He was not ready. He felt useless. He felt valueless. He felt unworthy. He felt alone. His sadness was overwhelming. He went into slow motion. He retreated to his bungalow and quietly waited for something to happen, something to offset his loneliness. But nothing happened. He became increasingly reclusive. Occasionally, some neighbors looked in on him. Every one knew one another on his street. Some brought groceries, some helped by preparing meals, some spent time chatting with him, until he was too ill to manage on his own.
One of his sisters arranged for him to live with her. Within a year, the conductor contracted pneumonia and died. His funeral was sparsely attended. A few surviving family members attended. Some neighborhood families came, those who knew him from the carousel. The pastor gave a brief eulogy. He was buried in his garden, near a large shading red maple tree, behind his modest bungalow in the small, white frame family home he grew up in and later inherited. This was his final homecoming.
It was the conductor's finale,
his last hurrah. Au revoir.
The lights lowered, the music stopped.
Rides and riders no more.
He took his final bow
at the carousel.
After a combined seventy-two operational years of carousel rides, or almost three-quarters of a century, from its beginnings in Broad Ripple Park, to its second home in the Indianapolis Children's Museum, the carousel which opened to the public in 1976, is still operational today. The carousel provides the same joy, year after year, from generation to generation. Not only have carousel conductors come and gone, but the city of Indianapolis has grown and changed, as well. From a fairly quiet, quaint state capital and mid-west city, informally called "Naptown" by out-of-towners, especially residents of big east coast cities and Chicago, its large, metropolitan neighbor to the north, it has evolved into a bustling, sophisticated city with many high quality museums, professional theater, upscale restaurants, art galleries, parks and playgrounds. It also takes special pride as a sports capital with a huge downtown sports arena and it is the home of the Indiana Pacers and the Colts. Hoosier spirit cannot be emulated.
And Broad Ripple Village has also changed. It is filled with quaint stores, fancy restaurants, and art galleries. It retains its beauty with many mature trees, black cherry, butternut, blue ash, red maple, and sycamores, and maintains pristine streets lined with pretty, modest cottages and bungalows. Today, the Monon Trail, a walker's delight, winds its way through Broad Ripple and other nearby areas. The White River and the canal help to retain what is beautiful and also quaint here. And people of all ages, from infants to the elderly, singles, groups, and families, come to feed the ducks and have a quiet afternoon mingling with nature and enjoying respite from busy days. Maybe people will leave behind their cell phones, pagers, ipods, and just look at the ducks and people watch. Maybe not.
Today's Broad Ripple Village demonstrates the unique blend of the newer and more sophisticated way of life with the older, quieter, more relaxed lifestyle. It's hard to picture that in this small village, along the White River, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was one of the world's largest swimming pools, a popular and crowded bathing beach, rental boats, and in the amusement park, a mega-sized roller coaster, a water slide, and a scenic railway. And the park maintained the carousel which miraculously survived many years of use, despite adverse weather conditions, was later re-built, and still has the original animals made before 1900. It is a tribute to those great visionaries in Indianapolis who had the foresight and wisdom to save the animals and the remains of the original carousel for later generations of children to enjoy. Fun, plain old fun, that's what they come for.
So much for Naptown and the Indianapolis of the past. The carousel is still a reminder of what once was and continues to be a place of joy for children and families. And may the carousel rides continue while the happy faces of children radiate joy without end.
Carol Wechsler Blatter