After an absence of more than three years, Burlington’s iconic Dentzel Carousel is about to whirl back into action at City Park – and just in time for Christmas, no less.
The city has announced that on Thursday, December 22, it will crank the carousel back up for first time since 2019, when it shipped the antique amusement off to Ohio to be fully restored at a specialized workshop.
To mark the occasion, the city plans to hold a special event that evening called “Carousel Christmas in the Park.” The festivities are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting and formal dedication of the new multi-million-dollar structure that the city has built to house the newly-refurbished carousel. The city will then reanimate the spinning platform for a ceremonial “first ride” before it parts the ropes to allow members of the general public back on the carousel.
WEATHER UPDATE: On Wednesday, December 21, city officials announced that due to expected rain tomorrow (December 22), all Carousel Christmas in the Park activities are moving indoors.
Free rides on the Carousel will go on as planned within the new, fully-enclosed Carousel House. Thataways Youth Center (1331 Overbrook Road) will host photos with Santa; Carousel ornament decorating; arts and crafts; and cookies and hot chocolate.
The ribbon cutting and ceremonial first ride kick of at 4:30pm. The event goes from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
This forthcoming celebration is, moreover, the culmination of a long chain of events that began with the carousel’s construction in Philadelphia more than a century ago.
A creation of the illustrious Dentzel Carousel Company, this vintage amusement eventually found its way to Burlington when then-city manager W.H. Harper acquired the ride for City Park in 1948. The carousel went on to become one of the park’s biggest draws over the coming decades, although its popularity also put plenty of wear and tear on the antique contraption.
In the mid 1980s, the carousel received a much-needed facelift thanks to a grassroots campaign led by area resident Diane Vaught. Joined by a team of other preservation-minded volunteers, Vaught stripped and repainted the carousel animals and removed the garish decorations from the painted “round boards” that grace the ride’s awning.
The ravages of time nevertheless continued to take a toll on the carousel, and in 2018, Burlington’s city council hired Carousel and Carvings of Marion, Ohio to undertake a complete overhaul of the ride – at a cost of about $1.2 million to the city. In the meantime, the council set aside another $2.8 million to construct a new, state-of-art building for the refurbished attraction at City Park.
Although the carousel was initially expected to return from its custom makeover in the spring of 2021, its homecoming was delayed, first, by the arrival of coronavirus pandemic and, then, by the sluggish progress on the carousel’s new housing, which was delayed by rainy weather as well as supply chain disruptions that occurred in the wake of the pandemic.
It wasn’t until the latter months of the current calendar year that the work on the housing was far enough along for city officials to make tentative plans for the carousel’s reanimation.
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Although contractors were still making last-minute touches to the structure on Wednesday, the city’s leaders felt comfortable enough with the state of the project to announce their plans for the carousel’s return to operation next week.
Among the highlights of next Thursday’s event is the ceremonial ride that’s slated to precede the carousel’s public reopening at 5:00 p.m. According to the city of Burlington, the honored guests will be on hand for this inaugural jaunt will include the carousel’s one-time restorer Diane Vaught as well as Ronnie Cates, the son of a former recreation and parks director, who at the age of 6 months, was the first child to enjoy a ride on the carousel after its relocation to Burlington in 1948.
City officials hope that many more children will get to take a spin on the carousel after its return to action next week. To this end, the city has agreed to waive the ride’s customary fee from December 22 through December 31 – during which time, the carousel will be open every day except Christmas, from 12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m.
On January 1, the carousel will transition to a three-day-a week schedule, with operations beginning at 3:00 p.m. Friday, 10:00 a.m. Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. Sunday – and wrapping up by 6:00 p.m. on each of these days. Rides will cost $1.50 apiece during this period.
The city plans to extend the carousel’s operating hours in March in anticipation of Burlington’s resurrected Carousel Festival in the spring of 2023.