Tigers and reindeer and hares, Oh my!

Text and photos by Deb Holmes

This Dentzel carousel horse, circa 1921, has 85 percent of its original paint. It can be admired, but not ridden. Eventually all the carousel animals will be restored to their original colors.

It's a cool and rainy Sunday afternoon, but at Glen Echo National Park in Montgomery County, Maryland, the mood is festive.

An antique Wurlitzer Military 165 band organ lures kids of all ages to the park's beloved showpiece -- a 1921 carousel, manufactured by the famed Dentzel Co. of Philadelphia.

This is no ordinary park -- and no ordinary carousel. The hand-carved animals are individual masterpieces of woodworking and painting.

Ordinary carousels feature brightly painted ponies. And while there are plenty of equines on the Glen Echo carousel, you can also choose to ride an ostrich, zebra, hare, reindeer, giraffe or a tiger. Brass poles gleam under the light of thousands of white bulbs. Riders are reflected in antique mirrors surrounded by plaster angels.

The entire marvelous machine is housed in a turn-of-the-century stone and wood shed restored in bright Victorian colors.

Glen Echo's priceless Dentzel carousel is housed in this vintage Victorian shed.

The carousel was nearly lost to the park in 1968, but was saved by a group of citizens who cherished its memory. For 50 cents, you can be transported back decades in time, to when this park, perched high above the Potomac River in Maryland was a popular amusement park.

A young rider holds tight to a giant hare. In the foreground, a riderless tiger.

A restored Wurlitzer organ, original to the 1921 carousel, beckons riders.

Fanciful beasties, including tigers, giraffes, and reindeer offer rides. This tiger was restored in 1999. Although original to the 1921 carousel, historians think the tiger was once part of an 1890 carousel.

Watching the carousel is almost as much fun as riding it.

Next page: More photos, the park's past ->