A ride on the Parx Liberty Carousel in Franklin Square is really a ride through a rich but relatively unknown part of Philadelphia’s past. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Philadelphia was the carousel capital of the world. Three of the most sought-after manufacturers had their headquarters here where they designed and manufactured some of the most colorful, elaborately carved, exquisitely detailed, and highly sought after, carousels.
From its founding in 1904 through the end of the Great Depression, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, one of the premier manufacturers, created 87 carousels which were shipped all over the country. The G.A. Dentzel carousel company originated on Germantown Avenue when its founder, Gustav Dentzel, branched out from his cabinet-making business to create some of the most exotic carousels in the country. At the D.C. Muller & Bro company, Daniel Muller, who trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, carved animals so highly detailed that they were in demand all around the world. The three companies dominated the carousel industry and soon the “Philadelphia Style” which was marked by large, strong and realistic figures, dominated the industry.
When planning the restoration of Franklin Square, Historic Philadelphia, Inc. (HPI) continued the local tradition commissioning the 36-foot Americana-style carousel that is one of the park’s highlights. Named the Parx Liberty Carousel for its sponsor, the carousel is a menagerie of 30 Philadelphia Style animals including an eagle, sea dragon, lion, elephant, seal and chariots for younger riders and those with accessibility needs. Two of the horses even celebrate local racehorse heroes; the likenesses of Afleet Alex (winner of the Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes) and Smarty Jones (winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes). And look closely at the interior and you’ll see scenes of Philadelphia topped off with a glorious traditional lighted finial and beautiful night time lighting.