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On Sunday, we took our son to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the oldest and one of the largest–if not the largest–establishment of its kind. I didn’t really know what to expect, so I picked up a brochure and had a look.

The brochure recommended either starting or ending the day on the 4th floor, with a carousel ride.We didn’t do either, but we made our way up there eventually. I’ve only ridden on an antique carousel once, about 25 years ago. There’s a carousel built in 1890 (I looked it up) near my dad’s hometown in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

The Indianapolis carousel was built in 1917 by Gustav Dentzel, a carousel manufacturer in Philadelphia. Through a series of unfortunate events, eventually the carousel ended up being rebuilt, restored, and installed at the museum. A series of signs tells the story of this particular carousel, along with a brief history of them. Although some 5,000 carousels were built between 1880 and 1930, only about 175 of them remain.

When we arrived, the carousel was pretty much full, with a line waiting to get on. We stood off to the side and watched–both the carousel and our son. He watched the carousel, and lit up as soon as the carousel started moving and the music started playing. He started laughing, and I don’t think he took his eyes off it until it stopped moving.

At first we weren’t so sure about him riding the carousel, since he’s still so young. We definitely ruled out a ride on a moving animal, but after that reaction, not going for a ride would just be cruel.

So once it stopped moving, we got in line. Fortunately we were able to find a bench in a chariot, big enough for the three of us. He sat in the middle, his eyes huge with anticipation. I’ve never seen him sit patiently for anything before–he’s less than 20 months old–but he was perfectly willing to sit for this. After what must have seemed like an eternity to him, the carousel started moving, the colorful wooden animals started pumping up and down, and the old Wurlitzer organ started playing. It moved faster than I expected, but he wasn’t scared. He just held on and enjoyed the ride.

It must have lasted all of five minutes. But what a five minutes it was.

There’s something timeless and almost magical about those old carousels.

If you’re ever in Indianapolis, go. If there’s an authentic, pre-1930 carousel somewhere near you, go. You’ll never regret it, and they really don’t make ’em like that anymore.

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