Back in August 2013, I published my first article on the rapidly decaying Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita. That article would then be published in the second issue of the Basement Sublet of Horror magazine last fall. Then, back in February, I gave an update on the discovery of the long-lost Louie the Clown. Now, it’s time for the final chapter in the Joyland saga as the park is finally being torn down.
Piece-by-piece, Joyland has been disappearing for years. Arson has destroyed several buildings, theft has robbed it of memorabilia and Mother Nature has reclaimed the rest. The park has become an eyesore and a danger to the local community. For years, a group reportedly attempted to raise money to purchase Joyland but had no success. Joyland had become too dilapidated and the cost to purchase it was too astronomically high. Factor in the costs to actually restore it and you had a money pit the size of Godzilla. In the end, it was a combined effort from Mother Nature and the Wichita courts that put the final nail in the Joyland coffin.
Since March 2014, the Nelson family, owners of Joyland, and the city of Wichita have been in the municipal courts in a case that ultimately decided Joyland’s fate. On March 31, Margaret Nelson Spear pleaded no contest to failing to keep the premises free of litter and leaving a structure open to unauthorized access. Sentencing will occur on June 2 where Margaret will likely be fined.
So now, the demolition has started. Many had hoped Joyland would reopen but those looking at the park without nostalgia clouding their vision have known for years that it was a dream never to see the light of day. The Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County has purchased many pieces of the park and just recently purchased the front of the legendary Whacky Shack. They are also in negotiations to purchase some of the roller coaster cars and track.
On April 3, a severe storm hit Wichita, leaving behind much damage. For many years, people were afraid of the roller coaster toppling down due to years of neglect. Sadly, that is just what occurred. Thankfully, nobody was injured. But it was symbolic of the end now facing Joyland. Personally, I think Joyland could have been saved when it was shut down in 2004 but the selling price was beyond reasonable. You had members of the local community willing to work for free to help restore Joyland but Margaret Nelson Spear wouldn’t think of it until she sold the park. In the end, that greed has left her family on the losing end of a court case. After paying the high costs of demolition and for clearing out the property, they will ultimately receive a lot less for the land itself as its not prime Wichita real estate anymore.
For many Wichitans, time has taken away another part of our childhood. I have fond memories of Joyland during school outings and family trips. My favorite was always the Whacky Shack, proving that I’ve been a monster kid most of my life. Yet, I also remember the sadness when I saw the state of the park in the summer of 1998 when my family attended the annual KFDI event. I am glad the end has finally arrived. Joyland has been robbed of its dignity for years. Now, the voices of the past can finally rest.