As I get older, I find that I am more nostalgic for childhood memories. I have visions of late night creature feature viewings with hostess Crematia Mortem. Surfing through eBay I discover almost every toy I had as a child, including the Green Ghost and Which Witch games. And what childhood would be complete without the memory of an amusement park. For me, just 45 minutes south of my childhood home in Newton was Wichita’s Joyland Amusement Park.
Joyland was a park with a lot of history before I even stepped foot into it for the first time in the early 70s. Joyland opened in June 1949 as a home for a miniature train ride. Herb Ottaway had purchased a 12-gauge miniature train in 1933. This train was built by the Miniature Railway Company in Elgin, Illinois sometime between 1905 and 1910. Upon restoring it, Ottaway put it on the carnival circuit, where it entertained kids throughout Kansas and Colorado. By 1949, the family opened Joyland primarily to give the train a permanent home. However, the train was quickly overshadowed by the now legendary wooden roller coaster.
The coaster was designed by legend Herbert Paul Schmeck. It was one of 44 he built and only 33 still exist. This edition remains standing today, although it is no longer functional. It surely terrified many, both kids and parents alike. I often remember hearing my parents wonder how safe it was. Sadly, it was even the cause of a grisly death when a groundskeeper was beheaded after he looked up just as the coaster came barreling through.
Another key attraction was the Whacky Shack. Oh, for a monster kid like me, this was my favorite ride. This was a classic dark ride and the last designed by Bill Tracy. If you check out the YouTube video from 2006, you get a feel for what it offered. Sadly, I recognize several sections that weren’t working by this time. Reportedly, these rides were a nightmare for the operators as they were prone to breaking down. However, when fully functional, it scared the heck out of me back in the 70s. Now, it’s probably creepier as it’s been vandalized and key pieces have been taken by locals hoping for a piece of this iconic ride.
One of the creepiest aspects of the park was Louie the Clown. He “played” a Wurlitzer organ that could be heard throughout the park. However, the background story surrounding Louie is even creepier. At the end of every season, Louie would be removed and taken to the home of the one of the maintenance men, who reportedly loved clowns. Around 2006, at the time the park was last open, Louie was declared missing. The gentleman was investigated but Louie was never found. Most believe he is in possession of Louie. Considering the organ sat vacant before finally being sold a few years back, it’s safe to say Louie will never see the light of day again. Watch this brief video clip from 1993 and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Pleasant dreams!
The Ottaway family sold the park to Stanley and Margaret Nelson in the late 60s, who ran it until mid-2004. The park was in desperate need of repairs. The roller coaster and Whacky Shack were constantly breaking down. So, the park was quiet until an outfit out of Seattle bought the park in 2006. Grand plans were unveiled to bring the park back to its former glory. However, after reportedly sanctioning underage drinking parties in the park after hours for extra cash, the new owners faced legal action. Financial problems resulting in unpaid vendors shut the park down after only a few months of operation. The roller coaster never did reopen and the park was in even worse condition. The lights would go out before the end of the season and have never been back on since.
Now, some seven years later, Joyland has become an eyesore. The once vibrant neighborhood suffers from being in an older part of Wichita with a higher crime rate. Rides have been sold for what cash they could muster. Some people have stolen iconic pieces for their own memorabilia while others simply break in and vandalize what’s left. Fires are a yearly occurrence now with the most recent in May 2013 causing some $100,000 in damages. YouTube sensation AdamTheWoo, who travels to abandoned houses and parks, just recently visited Joyland. This video gives the best and saddest view of this once vibrant place. A local group has been raising money in hopes of purchasing the park and restoring it. They need to watch this video and put their efforts towards something that can benefit from their hard work. Joyland is dead and is awaiting someone to finally bury it. Mother Nature is reclaiming the park at an alarming rate. All that’s left is nightmares of Louie, the Whacky Shack ride and….Porky the Paper Eater.