In 1867 Gustav Dentzel founded the Dentzel Carouse Company in Philadelphia, PA. In 1905, Gustav’s “Duchess” menagerie carousel opened at Ontario Beach Park where it has since entertained many generations of Rochesterians.
Recently, a debate has erupted concerning one of the ride’s painted panels; two black children—or more accurately, picaninnies—being harassed by a rooster. Stereotypical depictions of black children such as these were intended to dehumanize blacks and provide entertainment for whites at their expense. There’s no debate here. It is what it is. The question is what do to with the panel…
Some have called for it to be removed or replaced with something different. Others believe it should be preserved – either in place, or in another setting where it can be used to educate future generations about America’s history and the pitfalls of racism and bigotry.
Bill Dentzel is the great-grandson of Gustav Dentzel. In a letter to Rochester’s Preservation Board dated August 4, 2015, Bill suggests that the panel may be moved, but should not be discarded as “garbage”…
Dear [Preservation Board, City of Rochester],
I have been made aware of the upcoming meeting regarding your “Dutchess” Carousel, constructed over 100 years ago by my grandfather’s company, the Dentzel Carousel Company of Germantown PA. Although I have never visited this particular machine I did hear of the particular scenic panel under discussion decades ago. Here we are in 2015 taking a very close look at this snapshot of our culture and history.
As we know these were different times when this carousel was built and decorated. I understand the sensitivities and concerns some might feel toward these archaic images. Although I would not consider them “garbage art” as I read in a description published in your local paper. If that was true then one could say all of the art on the carousel, essentially the whole carousel itself, is “garbage art” as it was all made by the same group of people. Fortunately we know this depiction to be misguided; otherwise hundreds, if not thousands, of works of art in museums worldwide would be so condemned.
Removing this specific scenic panel from the carousel and replacing it with one that is stylistically appropriate and noncontroversial is completely understandable and fine in my view only if the original panel under discussion, that with the two black boys, is respectfully displayed in an easily viewed public spot, preferably near the carousel or in a local museum. It should have an informative note as to when it was made and why it was removed. Revising or erasing our collective history is not the appropriate way to handle this. This is not “garbage art” any more than we come from a garbage past, let’s hope this isn’t true, we are an ever growing and evolving species that hopefully learns by its mistakes every once in a while and moves on.
I would like to suggest that the new panel to replace this one to be dedicated to the large and noble land mammals which are keystone species on this planet and under sever and broad attack from many fronts; specifically Cecile the lion and possibly a rhino and giraffe too. It is not unreasonable to assume that it won’t be too many years from now that even these once common beasts will be extinct. I do believe that removing the original panel will underscore the long and serious work many people have been doing to remove and dispel all notions of racism in our society.
I trust your community will make the best decision and get this issue resolved in a timely way.
Thank you and best regards,
William H. Dentzel
Grandson of Edward P. Dentzel
Great-grandson of Gustav Dentzel
Fifth Generation Carouselmaker, Port Townsend WA
Tags: African-American, Bill Dentzel, Charlotte, Charlotte Beach, Dentzel carousel, Dentzel Carousel Company, Edward P. Dentzel, Gustav Dentzel, historic preservation, Monroe County, Ontario Beach Park, Ontario Beach Park carousel, picaninny, preservation, race in Rochester NY, racism, Rochester, Rochester NY, Rochester Preservation Board, slavery, William H. Dentzel
This entry was posted on Sunday, August 9th, 2015 at 9:54 pm and is filed under Art + Culture, Opinion, Reader Submitted Stories, Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Rochester News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.