Armitage Herschell Carousel
After 20 years of sitting idle, Greenville’s 1901 Armitage Herschell Carousel is once again open to the public. The Delta Children’s Museum and the Greenville Junior Woman’s Club have worked closely over the last three years to bring “Greenville’s Treasure” back home. The Carousel is housed in the Delta Children’s Museum Pavilion in E. E. Bass Cultural Arts Center in Greenville.
It was 1934, seven years after the great flood, and Greenville was grappling with the lingering effects of the Great Depression. The average Greenvillian felt the economy was getting better based on the fact that it couldn’t get any worse. Rebuilding was slow, but their were some positive signs of recovery. As one walked down the main streets of the city, people were excited to see the foundation being laid for Greenville’s first skyscraper – the Greenville Hotel. It was the talk of the Delta – a beautiful new brick monument to small town success and glamour.
Eli Wineman’s beautiful Carousel located on Broadway was now showing signs of wear and and tear. The Carousel had lost a little of its luster with the paint fading and most of the beautiful hand-painted art decorations had worn off. Mr. Wineman was in bad health and in 1934 he sold his beloved Carousel to a trusted friend, Harry Crockett. Mr. Crocket was born in Vicksburg in 1868 and moved to Greenville before the turn of the century. He was married to the former Mary Smith and had three daughters, Henrene Crockett, Myrtle C. Robinson, and Gwendolyn C. Wilson.
Harry was a landowner and farmer and was one of Greenville’s first black entrepreneurs. Harry Crockett owned a hauling company with teams of mules/horses and wagons. One of Harry’s most successful business ventures was that he had the “hauling” contract for all building materials for the Greenville Hotel. His daughter, Gwendolyn, recounts her father always talked about growing up in Vicksburg and how much he loved having horses as a youngster. Her sisters and she were always begging their father to get some horses for their family which they could ride since all they had were the “work” mule teams. She remembers how excited she was the day in late 1937 that her father came home an exclaimed “You remember when you asked for horses? Well, I got you some horses today!” Gwendolyn and her sisters were overjoyed and yet a bit perplexed. It turned out that these were some very special horses. It was that very afternoon that Harry Crockett had purchased the 1901 Armitage Hershall Carousel from his aging good friend Eli Wineman. Gwendolyn remembers her dad taking all of his workman to Mr. Wineman’s house. It took days to dismantle the Carousel and they watched with wonder as it was transported to their home on Walthall Street. It was then stored in the family barn. Harry built a special little house just for the steam engine beside the barn.
It was there on Walthall Street in the family barn, that Mary, his wife, took on the job of restoring the fading Carousel. The first thing Mary did was to hire a local Black artisan to repaint all the wooden support parts, refurbish the chariots, repaint all the horses, and try and resurrect the musical calliope. The local artist not only replaced the entire canvas top but added storybook characters and nursery rhymes to decorate the middle section that covered the mechanical center workings that made the merry-go-round turn.
The Carousel was powered by a steam engine and came with a calliope with a “big whistle” and even a ticket booth. Harry hired Mr. Tom Hicks as the engineer who was responsible for firing the boiler and operating the merry-go-round. The carousel was officially named “Crockett’s Merry-Go-Round” and was set up on Harry’s Delessep’s Street lot. Gwendolyn fondly remembers all the sisters piling into their father’s truck and riding through the neighborhoods using bullhorns and screeching “Come to Crockett’s Merry-Go-Round – only a dime a ride!”
When the “steam was up” and the Carousel was ready, the “big whistle” would sound and could be heard all over Greenville and people would come and ride. The Carousel was so much fun for kids and adults. They loved the horses, the carriage sleighs, and the “lovers tub.” Mary Crockett was pleased with the restoration she had conducted except for one big disappointment – the bellows on the calliope could not be repaired or replaced. A record player was used instead and the popular tunes of the day were played as the, once again beautifully restored, Carousel turned. Gwendolyn’s older cousins worked collecting tickets and selling treats. Ice Cream, soda pop, and roasted peanuts were sold. As Gwendolyn and her sisters got older, they assumed the responsibility of operating the Carousel. They would rent it out for private parties, birthdays, and church events. On holidays or special occasions, Harry would pitch a big tent, hire a chef, and sell bar-b-que, fish sandwiches, watermelons, and all kinds of goodies.
Mississippi was legally segregated at the time. Harry was approached about having separate nights – one for blacks and one for whites so that people could ride segregated but Harry would have none of that. He said “No, let everyone ride together.” And that’s exactly what happened. Crockett’s carousel was one of the only integrated activities in the city of Greenville at that time. Harry said “my Carousel is for all Greenvillians to enjoy.” Harry died in 1952 at 83 years of age at his home on Walthall Street. Mary, his widow, then sold her Carousel to the Junior Women’s Club of Greenville. The Greenville Mississippi Club of Chicago paid tribute to Crockett’s Merry-Go-Round during their 2002 annual reunion by commemorating it on their T-shirt along with other fond memories of Greenville.
Gwendolyn said, “Crockett’s Merry-Go-Round was fun, entertaining and provided recreation for everyone. Even today, it inspires and brings back wondrous memories for all of our family who remember our very own Carousel.” Gwendolyn lives in Detroit with her family and visits Greenville on occasion. Greenville’s own Harry Crockett, well known and highly respected retired Greenville Public School administrator and teacher, is the great nephew of Carousel owner, Harry Crockett, and was named after him. Harry and his wife Mildred, also a retired educator from the Greenville Public Schools, reside in Greenville and have two grown children, a daughter Harriett and a son Harry.
The long restoration process began after the Carousel was closed down in 1988. The Delta Children’s Museum purchased the Carousel with its $80,000+ remaining debt from the Junior Woman’s Club in 2005 to become its fourth owner. The Museum and Woman’s Club together joined ranks and on February 17, 2007, the Carousel was officially opened in the E.E. Bass Cultural Arts Center. Soon after the Carousel opened at E.E. Bass, the E.E. Bass Foundation took over the debt and was able to pay off the restoration in 2010.
In 2012, the 1901 Armitage Hershell Carousel was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in Washington D.C.