Olympic Park was open from 1887 to 1965, and during its height it was one of the most popular amusement parks on the East Coast. In addition to traditional rides like the carrousel, the park also featured the largest public swimming pool in the area, live music, dance halls, horse racing, and gardens.
The park’s closure which resulted in Disney purchasing the carrousel unfortunately had a long time coming. In 1912, the park had suffered a fire that destroyed the opera house and dance hall. The following summer came with terrible weather that severely impacted the projected attendance causing the park’s owners to fall into debt.
In the next 10 years the park underwent a series of changes in ownership, with each change leading towards even more financial ruin. When prohibition began the newest owners turned the establishment into a dry park, and focused their efforts on changing a rebuilt version of the opera house into a fun house, and lowering the price of admission in hopes of attracting more guests. The park’s owners during the mid-1920s had finally found some success, focusing on family-friendly elements like creating an ice cream palace, keeping up with the fun house, and completing the construction of the swimming pool.
At this point, the park had recently been able to purchase the carrousel, which following its extensive refurbishment featured an imported organ from Italy, decorated with a cymbal, brass drum, snare drum, and dancing figures. It was also shortly after the park purchased the carrousel that the Great Depression hit, which resulted in an even more severe blow to the park’s attendance. The park’s financial woes unfortunately continued through World War II, when the owners struggled to maintain the park’s upkeep while scarcely being able to purchase certain food items due to rations, and difficulty in obtaining manufacturing parts to repair or build attractions.
Following World War II, the park’s attendance steadily rose until about 1948 where it leveled off for sometime. New rides were constructed around the carrousel in a Kiddieland area, and additional shows and an expanded park were added to make way for the increase in guests. In 1950, hurricanes with 108 mph gusts destroyed the park’s two flagship (wooden) rollercoasters, which ended up costing $100,000 to rebuild on top of the $125,000 in other damages around the park.
When the park reopened for the season in 1964, a gang of about what was believed to be a couple of hundred teenagers tore through the park destroying everything in their path, and stealing merchandise, food, and prizes from the midway games. When they left the park they broke windows, and caused panic in homes in nearby neighborhoods. This random act of violence and vandalism made attendance slow that year, resulting in limited funds for the rest of the summer.
At the close of that season, the owners announced that the park would not reopen, and that even if the deal to sell it to a realty company (who planned on putting apartments there) did not go through, the park would remain closed. The sale did not go through, and Olympic Park remained closed for the next 13 years, while all of the remaining rides were gradually sold off and refurbished for use in other parks.
The carrousel Disney purchased, at about 60 feet in diameter, is one of the largest ever created by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. The company is also only known to have constructed 89 carrousels prior to the Great Depression. Of the 89, Disney’s carrousel is number 46, and it is believed to be one of only about a dozen left in one piece. As you may imagine given the unfortunate end of Olympic Park, the carrousel underwent an extensive refurbishment before opening to guests in the Magic Kingdom. As part of the refurbishment, the attraction was given a more royal appearance in contrast to its prior classic color scheme while at Olympic Park. 23 karat gold leaf was added to the designs of the horses, making the carrousel more valuable than any of its previous owners would have ever imagined.
P.S. If you’ve caught on to the spelling of “carrousel” in this post, you may notice the extra “R.” (It’s usually spelled “carousel”.) The attraction in the Magic Kingdom simply uses the French spelling!