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MMD > Archives > October 2000 > 2000.10.30 > 01Prev  Next

Smithsonian Carousel and Band Organ
By Matthew Caulfield

Joyce Brite asked in the 001014 MMD about the Wurlitzer 153 band organ
at the merry-go-round in front of the Smithsonian Institution's
castle-like administration building.

I can tell you a little about that, but first I should say that I doubt
Jack Anderson's column "Washington Merry-Go-Round" refers to anything
except to the whirl and the wind of politics.  That syndicated column
was started by Drew Pearson long before there WAS a merry-go-round on
the Mall, and it was taken over in 1969 by Jack Anderson, Drew's chosen
successor, after Drew's death.

Now, the Mall merry-go-round.  One day long ago (in the early 1960's?)
Jim Wells, the Fairfax VA collector and dealer, was approached by
Smithsonian Institution management about the feasibility of putting a
merry-go-round in front of the castle.

In the early 1960's Jim used to bring his big Wurlitzer 165 band organ
to the Mall and play it for the public on the steps of the Smithsonian's
Museum of American History (or maybe it was the Museum of Natural
History; I don't recall exactly).  I don't remember now whether that
was before or after Jim was approached about a merry-go-round by the
Smithsonian; but they certainly knew that Jim was the right man in the
D.C. area to talk to about their idea.

Jim must have immediately recognized the potential bonanza in running
a merry-go-round on a site like the Mall, where every tour bus in the
MD-DC-VA area is dumping off a fresh load of potential customers
hourly, day in and day out, year 'round.  So he entered into an
agreement with the Smithsonian Institution allowing him to set up
a machine there which he would own and operate.  It must have been
a concessionaire's dream, getting the rights to set up in that mother
of all ride locations, with no competition within miles!

The merry-go-round now on the Mall is the second one Jim Wells
installed there under his arrangement with the Smithsonian.  It is a
1947 Allan Herschell half-and-half (Jim claimed it was the last one
Herschell made).  He moved it there from Gwynne Oak Park, Baltimore, to
replace his original one, an all-wood ca. 1910-1915 Herschell-Spillman
machine which was moved to Wheaton Regional Park in Montgomery County,
MD.   One source says the swap was made in 1975, another says 1981 or
1982.  Bette Largent probably knows better than anyone, since she has
been investigating the history of the Wheaton merry-go-round.

At any rate, the Wurlitzer 153 band organ which was on the
Herschell-Spillman stayed on the Mall and did not go to Wheaton with
the merry-go-round.  The exchange of machines was probably partly due
to the fact the Mall location does not offer an enclosed and secure
building, leaving the machine exposed year-round to the elements and
the public except for the protection of canvas drop awnings and a
four-foot-high metal fence.

Some time in the late 1980's or early 1990's, Jim sold the
merry-go-round and his concession rights to Stanley Hunter, of
Vienna VA, who now operates it every day of the year except Christmas,
weather permitting.  For many years the band organ was in the center of
the merry-go-round and playing.  Then a year or so before the National
Carousel Association's 1996 Washington, D.C., Convention, it was
removed for restoration.

Mr. Hunter had it back and running for the convention, but for the last
couple of years at least it has been as Joyce Brite found on her visit
-- no band organ, but a sign saying it is under restoration.   A call
to Hunter Concessions, Inc., in Vienna, Va., probably will get an
explanation of who is doing the restoration and when the organ will be
back and playing.

Matthew Caulfield

(Message sent Mon 30 Oct 2000, 20:23:22 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Band, Carousel, Organ, Smithsonian

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