Location: 320 South Esplanade in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Cost: The part we went to was free. It’s $1.25 to ride the carousel, $0.25 to ride the mechanical horse, and $6 to visit the pay parts of the museum.
When you approach the river and get close to the train tracks in downtown Leavenworth, you’ll be able to hear the sounds of a carousel beckoning you to the C. W. Parker Carousel Museum. After strolling up the long, twisting ramp to the front doors (or taking a shorter path up the stairs), you’ll enter a basic facility that’s somewhat reminiscent of a garage or community center: there are clean gray concrete floors and areas separated by movable dividers. You’ll have the option of paying $6 a person to visit the upstairs and a separate room on the first floor with some basic displays, but you can visit a small, informative display area with a Leavenworth carousel horse in the process of being carved for free.
On our trip, we stuck with the free parts of the museum. Peanut was drawn to the 1913 carousel like the calliope was a siren’s song. The horses on the carousel are intricately carved and have real horse-hair tails. Each horse’s cantle has a separate, somewhat surprising carving–we spotted greyhounds’ heads, fish and corn on the cob while we were there. There are two rabbits to ride; smaller horses in front of the chariot that are ideal for the smallest riders, as their up-and-down movement is much less and slower than the big steeds; and a cup that you can make spin as the carousel moves by using the wheel mounted on the center pole. (I suggest turning with the carousel–it was not easy to get the cup moving on my own with Peanut!)
The carousel turns surprisingly fast: I can now see why older books and movies reference the carousel as a “wild ride.” If you ride with your children (which you must do if they’re 5 years old or younger), be sure to balance yourself carefully. I found holding on to the pole of the horse next to Peanut’s while having my arm wrapped around my son worked best for balance. Even Efrit had some issues balancing while standing with Peanut on the carousel.
Peanut rode the carousel five times, so I can definitely say it was a hit with my kiddo. He did have some navigation problems on the carousel itself, including missing the edge of the platform and doing an impressive drop-and-roll to the ground. (He was ok, but a bit startled.) Efrit and I are torn on whether or not to recommend the carousel for other blind/VI kids: we enjoyed it, and it was definitely a great family activity for us on a rainy fall day. However, the carousel goes very quickly, and the platform isn’t super stable: I had some problems keeping my balance, and I was able to see where horses and poles were to catch myself if need be.
Although Efrit and I found the rest of the free portion of the museum interesting, there wasn’t anything there that caught Peanut’s interest, and it definitely wasn’t accessible. For us, the main draw and interest were in the carousel itself: the sound and lights drew our son, and the horses are a tactile delight. I think if you went to the paid portion of the museum and explained that one of your party had a vision impairment, the volunteers would work with you to make the museum as accessible as possible in terms of touching artifacts, etc., and the tour I overheard was excellent; not having done this myself, I can’t swear to this, however.