Joyland Amusement Park

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City/Town: Wichita
Location Class: Amusement Park
Year Built: June 12, 1949
Year Abandoned: 2006
Status: Demolished
Photojournalist: Emily CowanBilly DixonDavid LindeJohnny Fletcher

PHOTO GALLERY AT THE VERY END

The father and son’s trio of Lester, Herb and Harold Ottaways were amusement enthusiasts and excelled in family entertainment. Joyland was not their first venture into the amusement park business, before there was Joyland there was Playland that opened in the 1940s. Around this time Lester Ottaway sparked up a passion and love for steam engines, building a miniature one in hopes of opening it to the public to ride. This wasn’t capable at Playland so a new location was needed, thus the creation of the first Joyland off of Central Avenue. Despite both park’s popularity they only lasted a few years, Playland was closed first moving all of their rides to the Central Avenue location. The Central Avenue location was closed for good reasons, the Ottaways had collected a number of rides and games and were looking to add bigger and better so a new location was needed.

Thus became what most Wichitans grew up visiting and spending their summers at, Joyland. All rides were moved and work commenced on the giant wooden roller coaster that would be the highlighted attraction of the park upon opening. On June 12, 1949, after a few weeks of delays, the park opens without the roller coaster because a few last touched needed to be made. William Salome, the Mayor, cut the ribbon for the Roller Coaster just a day later in front of approximately 2,000 people. Lester Ottaway passed away in 1953, his sons Herb and Harold and Eddie continued to run the park building its reputation as the best of the best for Wichita.

Joyland was sold in 1975 to Stanley & Margaret Nelson when the Ottaway brothers retired. Margaret had worked at the park when it first opened, she met Stan while working at the Skee-Ball booth. They got married and then took on the amusement park business venture together. During their reign, they were instrumental in improving park/ride safety and adding numerous big rides.

Joyland had over 24 working amusement rides, including:


Roller Coaster/The Nightmare:

Roller Coaster ca. 1985 Wichita Eagle

What was known simply as the “Roller Coaster” was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters Inc. and designed by Herbert Paul Schmeck & John C. Allen in the years before the Joyland Amusement Park opened in June of 1949. Costing a total of $75,000 dollars to build, the wooden coaster was the staple piece for Joyland, soaring eighty feet into the sky and reaching speeds of around fifty miles per hour. With the gigantic ride came a gigantic bill for maintenance, at 52-years-old in 2001, the roller coaster received $50,000 worth of paint, new wood, labor, and love to keep the ride open for many Wichitans to experience the thrill. In it’s later years around the parks closing it was renamed “The Nightmare,” the carts were repainted and the grim reaper was depicted on the front.

“I went there many times as a kid. I remember being scared out of my wits the first time I rode the coaster while going up the hill. It was so much fun though, I ran around to get in line again. It was the first roller coaster I had ever ridden. I can still hear the creaks and sounds of its wooden frame,” said former amusement park enthusiast Jolene Patton. Take a ride on the Joyland Roller Coaster with the video below, the article continues after:

Unfortunately, during the years there have been accidents on the Roller Coaster resulting in tragedy. May 25, 1977, 8-year-old Monty Stovall stood up in the cart at the back of the coaster receiving fatal head injuries and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. August 27, 1998, a 35-year-old maintenance worker Kevin Briley was under the ride trimming the grass when he stood up and was hit by the roller coaster ending in a terrible fate. 

On July 23, 2015, another irreversible tragedy occurred, this time the victim being the Roller Coaster itself. After many issues of trespassing, code violations, fires, injuries, and other the lift being blown down by the wind, demolition crews came in to take down the last attraction standing at the Joyland Amusement Park. A video of the demolition below with the article continued after:


Whacky Shack:

Whacky Shack ca. 1997 Taken by Unknown

One of the most popular attractions at Joyland was the Whacky Shack Ghost Ride but more commonly known as just the Whacky Shack. Debuting on April 25, 1974, the ride takes people through the spooky attraction in moving carts with jump scares, lights, and a water feature. Designed by Bill Tracy as a prototype, after much success other Whacky Shacks were built in other parks. The dark ride was a one-story attraction with one-way standard cars but later when the ride was updated, it featured twisting cars for a period of time. It was due to safety concerns, motion sickness, and maintenance that led to the carts being welded in place.

On the fateful morning of August 09, 2018, at 4 a.m. a fire broke out at the abandoned Joyland Amusement Park. Crews worked for nearly an hour to try and put out flames at the Whacky Shack unsuccessfully and made the decision to let the flames burn. The entire Whacky Shack was lost to the fire, leaving behind a black charred ground where the building once stood.


Skycoaster:

The Skycoaster and other rides alike have become hotspots for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies, flocking from everywhere to be flung into the air. Unveiling on August 16, 1996, with tickets costing $20 for a single-rider and $12 apiece for more. The Skycoaster was a great investment for the park allowing for entrance prices to stay the same and bringing in some good revenue while providing an unreal experience for guests. A video of the Skycoaster in action at Joyland is below with the article continued after:


The Log Jam:

Log Jam ca. 1997 Taken by Unknown

The Log Jam was added to the park in 1985 and was an immediate hit mixing the thrill and speed of a roller coaster with some lazy river fun. Featuring a “log” shaped rafted that seated four people, The Log Jam was brought to life by O.D. Hopkins, architect, and Stanley Nelson’s vision and finances. As one of the last big rides designed for the park, it brought in great amounts of money on especially hot days.

The flood of 1997 that hit Wichita especially hard left the park flooded and covered in inches of sludge and debris. Making headline news was not only the damage to the park but the two runaway Log Jam rafts that escaped from the park. One was found a few days after cleanup started and the other was allegedly found three years later in the Arkansas River several miles away.

In 2015, long after the park had closed, a few teenagers trespassed onto the property leaving one with devasting injuries. A 14-year-old was climbing on equipment of The Log Jam when she slipped and fell tumbling down the slide and another fifteen feet to a metal support beam below. The teen suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, and damaged her spleen.


Ferris Wheel:

Kids riding the Ferris Wheel ca. 1983
Wichita Eagle

On June 21, 1957, the Joyland Amusement Park debuted it’s hundred-foot tall Ferris Wheel. Manufactured by Eli Bridge Company in 1949 it took $135,000 to bring the bright yellow ride to the park, earning it the nickname “largest portable Ferris Wheel” for its time. Sixteen carriages carried guests high in the sky to reveal an entire look of the park and Roller Coaster and at night a bright blue star lit up the center so that it could be seen for miles around. “I got sick on the Ferris Wheel and told the operator to stop when I was at the bottom but he wouldn’t. He had to dodge my throw up as it plummeted to the ground, he let me off immediately!” said Larry Mazur.

On April 16, 2004, 13-year-old Elizabeth Schmitz was enjoying a ride on the Ferris Wheel with two friends when the restraint bar holding them in unlatched. One of her friends attempted to grab her but was unsuccessful and she fell more than thirty feet off the ride. Elizabeth suffered multiple injuries to the head, arms and legs. Immediately the Ferris Wheel was closed while private and federal investigations were underway to determine that everything was safe and up to code. It was then reopened after proven that the ride was safe for operation again.


DODGEM — Classic Bumper Cars:

Taken by Unknown

The name “Dodgem” was given to the classic bumper cars ride so as to dodge the other cars and avoid collision with other riders. Becoming one of the more popular rides through the 1950s-1960s the park installed another bumper car attraction in an attempt to bring in more money and let more guests ride at once. This second installation was then removed to make way for the Whacky Shack in 1974 leaving the DODGEM bumper car classic building as the sole ride.

In June 1964, a 12-year-old sued the amusement park for $400, the reasoning? It’s Dodgem Bumper cars ride. The girl sustained mouth and teeth injuries when another bumper car collided with hers causing her to slam her head into the steering wheel.

 

 


Frontier Town:

Postcard Image of Frontier Town in Joyland

The Frontier Town section of the park or the “Old-West” was popular amongst those that enjoyed historical reenactments and theatricals. Within the town were including but not limited to: a General Outfitters, Blacksmith shop, Wagon Repair shop, Saloon, General Store, Hotel, Police Headquarters, Hardware Store and a Stockmen’s Bank. Reenactments of the 1800-1900’s gunfights and wild western battles were often on display within the town.

Perhaps one of the more popular additions within the town was a genuine authentic Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe caboose from 1927 that was added to the park in the 1960s. On July 29, 2015, the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County was on site of the abandoned amusement park with a cran from Belger Cartage Service to remove the 47,000-pound caboose from Frontier Town. The caboose was moved to a storage facility where restoration of it will begin and protect it from further amateur “artists” with spray paint. Below is a video of the caboose being removed with the article continued after:


Porky the Paper Eater:

Taken by Unknown

Porky the Paper Eater was the most unique trashcan at Joyland as a fun play on keeping the park and our planet clean. While there are other Porky’s that exist in the world some known as “Porky the Litter Eater” some in houses, some in mushrooms, and some in brick houses. Porky was a fun addition and popular amongst the children being as he had the ability to quite literally suck the trash right out of your hands. Children would run all over the park to see who could get the most trash to feed Porky. He inhabits a mushroom with a “brick” interior and a picket fence gate that is open.

 

 


Louie The Clown:

Louie the Clown ca.1981 Taken by Unknown

Louie the Clown was known as the mascot of Joyland, his picture plastered on things all over the park. He is also featured in his own exhibit sitting at a Wurlitzer Style 160 organ “playing” the park’s theme music. It was rumored to be one of two Mammoth Military Band Organ’s of that model in existence, the Ottoway’s bought it and created the Louie the Clown character in 1950. Louie was sewn his own wardrobe of different outfits throughout the years. An employee at the time, Damian Mayes, would be trusted to take Louie home during the park’s closed seasons and give him a fresh coat of paint and make him new clothes and accessories.

In 2005 Louie mysteriously went missing from the park and was added to a growing list of items either stolen or damaged. Mayes did news interviews about his love for Louie and his time spent with the clown often giving his theories as to where the clown was being hidden. Stating he hadn’t seen the clown in years. But after an anonymous tip almost ten years after his disappearance, police showed up at the former Joyland employee Damian Mayes’ door. There they found multiple stolen items from the Whacky Shack and Louie the Clown. All items were recovered and returned to the Nelson family after proof of ownership. Below is a news clip with the article being continued after:


Carousel:

Joyland Carousel Taken by Unknown

The Carousel was an enchanting experience for children and adults alike. Original to the park, the Allan Herschell Company ride was made especially for Joyland and has been around since 1949. All thirty-six horses were hand-painted to perfection which was cause for careful deconstruction every year during the closing season.

Sitting in the center of the park until 2014, the Carousel has found a new life at the Botanica in Wichita. Owner Margaret Nelson Spear donated it to the Botanica Wichita Gardens in order for it to be fully restored and opened again for the public to enjoy for many more generations to come. Artist Marlene Irvin spent 100 to 500 hours on each of the thirty-six horses. The Carousel finally made its first public appearance in three years on November 28, 2019.

 


Pool:

Bumper Boats ca. 1983 Wichita Eagle

With the rise of water attractions and the Ottaway’s expanding to just about anything and everything “family entertainment” that you could think of a swimming pool was added in 1955. Being as the park was open during the hottest days of the year the pool was a big hit amongst guests. The high dive offered almost the same adrenaline as other rides while the snack bar provided all sorts of summer treats and refreshments, you could even buy a pair of Joyland swim trunks! It also featured a tall metal slide that trickled water down it. “We used to go to the KLEO Midnight Swim where they would give away 45’s. I remember swimming in the pool and summoning up enough courage to not only jump off the diving board but the really high diving board!” remembered Susan Baty. The pool closed in 1973 due to municipal and city pools becoming more affordable and sometimes closer. After it’s closure as a pool it was turned into what was called the Bumper Boats that featured bumper cars on water. A fun new attraction that was popular at the park throughout the 80s but was eventually discontinued. The pool was then drained and sat empty for many years.


Miniature Train:

With their fathers passing and their retirement also came the retirement of his miniature train that he built for the park. Stan Nelson brought in a new C.P. Huntington train to run the track.

Stanley Nelson next to the new train. Taken by Unknown


Other rides/attractions that were included around Joyland were:

  • Round-Up — a circa 1960 Hrubetz High-Speed Circular ride
  • Zumur – A Chance Rides Wave Swinger!
  • Paratrooper
  • Scrambler
  • Tilt-A-Whirl
  • Dune Buggies
  • Horse Drawn Carriages
  • Bulgy the Whale

Closing & Reopening:

The Nelson family grew, owned and cherished the Joyland Amusement Park up until its last day in 2004 after a year-long financial battle with David Rohr. David Rohr started leasing the park from the Nelson’s in 2000 before buying it for $1.6 million in 2003. But it seems he bit off more than he could chew, it wasn’t long after that he started falling behind on payments and taxes for the park. He was sued twice by the Nelson’s and the park was put up for auction, it was bought for $1.3 million by the only bidder, Stanley Nelson. But after the financial turmoil and staggered attendance over the last decade, the park remained closed.

Selling the park became a whole other challenge for the family. Theives and vandals had rendered the place a dump site and stole much of the electrical and equipment. Artifacts of Joyland are still lost to this day as some are worth thousands of dollars. But the next year in 2005 they rented the park to Michael Moodenbaugh from Washington. Michael M. and his business partner envisioned an updated amusement park, renovations started and it was temporarily reopened for an Easter event but closed again to continue work. New signs for rides are put up and in May 2006 the park reopens with all rides except the roller coaster. Again it closes and money is owed resulting in the Nelsons suing Moodenbaugh.


Fires:

Another reason Joyland was and has been so hard to sell is the amount of arson it has experienced over the years. Before the devasting fire that took the Whacky Shack another important building was lost. On April 14, 2009, a fire ripped through the Opera House of Joyland leaving it in charred ruins. The Opera House hosted puppet shows, classic movies and other entertainment. Although the WFD didn’t release the cause of the fire it is suspected arson. In the past decade, the Wichita Fire Department has been dispatched to around twenty fire-related calls at Joyland, a testimony to the neglect it has faced. Amongst the wreckage and ruins, parts of the Old Frontier Town were burned as well.

Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

Galleries Below




The video below takes you through some of the rides mentioned in the article:

Bibliography

“16 Apr 2001, 3 – The Manhattan Mercury at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/425629536/?terms=joyland%2Broller%2Bcoaster.

“25 May 1977, 5 – Council Grove Republican at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/344280995/?terms=joyland%2Broller%2Bcoaster.

“26 Apr 2004, Page 1 – The Hays Daily News at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/3222885/?terms=ferris%2Bwheel%2Bjoyland.

“28 Aug 1998, 2 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/636476322/?terms=joyland%2Broller%2Bcoaster.

360Wichita.com. “The Story of Joyland.” 360Wichita.com, 26 Nov. 2016, www.360wichita.com/blog/Local/Joyland-Amusement-Park.html.

“9 Jun 2019, B6 – The Wichita Eagle at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/666785673/?terms=joyland%2Broller%2Bcoaster.

Eckels, Carla. “Wichita Artist Brings 1949 Joyland Carousel Horses Back To Life.” KMUW | Wichita Public Radio, 21 Apr. 2017, www.kmuw.org/post/wichita-artist-brings-1949-joyland-carousel-horses-back-life.

“Fire Destroys ‘Whacky Shack’ at Old Joyland Amusement Park.” KAKE, www.kake.com/story/38847144/fire-destroys-whacky-shack-at-old-joyland-amusement-park.

“Girl Falls 15 Feet from Old Joyland Ride.” Https://www.kwch.com, 28 Nov. 2017, www.kwch.com/content/news/Girl-falls-15-feet-from-old-Joyland-ride-460625923.html.

“Wichita’s Joyland Carousel: Restoring Childhood Memories.” KSN-TV, 13 Feb. 2019, www.ksn.com/news/local/wichitas-joyland-carousel-restoring-childhood-memories/.

https://www.kansas.com/news/local/article29411611.html#:~:text=The%20caboose%2C%20which%20sat%20at,County%20now%20owns%20the%20attractions.

https://www.kansas.com/article145805939.html

https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article145843284.html

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