Lauren Capozzi, 5, plays on the grass of Glen Echo’s plaza while children of all ages flock to the large spinning structure behind her. She came to the park without knowing the ground under her was at one time water with a sandy beach.
“I love walking through the park,” Lauren said, but her mother raises her hand. “I came here for the carousel,” she said, demonstrating the diverse appeal for all ages that Glen Echo Park brings to the D.C. Metro area.
Lauren continues to eat on top of the filled-in Crystal Pool, which was once one of the park’s top attractions in the 1940s. This turbulent wartime period was also when Irene Hurley began to visit the park and dance with soldiers.
Hurley, 83, loves the transformed face of Glen Echo. “I’ve been operating the carousel for 25 years,” she said. Tickets for the Dentzel Carousel have increased in sales from about 400 tickets a week last year to more than 4,000 tickets just on weekends. “I always want to see how fast I can get through my line,” Hurley said, as a large group of campers stepped in line.
DOZENS OF ADULTS, campers and children of all ages picnic under the shade of a grove of trees. As they eat, the carousel entertains an endless line of patrons while playing music from its Wurlitzer organ, lending an air of fantasy and escape from the daily hustle of metro-suburban life.
Such are the sights of the newly restored, 17-acre Glen Echo Park, a 113-year-old national park that has evolved into an eclectic community of arts and culture. Children and adults from across the region enjoy the puppet shows, weekly dances and various workshops and classes.
A 20-year restoration of the intricate details of each horse that adorns the Carousel was recently finished, as well as the renovation of hand-carved designs of the building itself. Having opened for the season on May 3, it is one of the longest running antique carousels in the nation.
With the newly opened café flanking the children’s playground and the Bumper Car Pavilion, families can plan lunchtime excursions with ease. The restored Spanish Ballroom towers over the picnic plaza, while the old Chautauqua tower rises to meet it across the park, a reminder of Glen Echo’s old days.
Micha Harris, director of the Achieving Career Excellence Summer Enrichment Camp from Capitol Heights, brings her summer campers to Glen Echo for historical reasons in addition to entertainment.
“We want to show the kids the historical significance of Clara Barton,” said Harris, whose house is situated immediately outside the park.
DIRECTOR KATEY BOERNER estimates that more than 10 summer camps daily visit Glen Echo from the surrounding suburbs. “Mainly our carousel, in its 84th season, is the main draw,” Boerner said, “We see older residents wanting to share their childhood experiences.”
The park has gone through many eras, ranging from the Chautauqua Movement, which produced the tower, to the widespread amusement park era, where the park saw the birth of the Dentzel Carousel.
The park began as a Chautauqua Summer Resort in 1891, where D.C. residents could visit to learn the sciences, arts and literature, or could prepare for their respective professions. The park is now run by the Glen Echo Partnership for the Arts and Culture and has embarked on an ambitious plan to restore the park.
With the parks visitor numbers growing to more than 500,000 people from 400,000 last year, the 2-year-old Glen Echo Partnership continues its effort to incorporate the dance arts, puppet mastering, pottery, photography and even metalworking into its ever-expanding repertoire of education and fun