Joyland Amusement Park (Wichita, Kansas)

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Joyland Amusement Park
Joyland Wichita Sign 2003.jpg
Entrance in 2003. Sign removed June 2014
Slogan The Southwest's Finest
Location 2801 S Hillside,
Wichita, Kansas USA
Coordinates 37°38′28″N 97°18′14″W / 37.641223°N 97.303880°W / 37.641223; -97.303880Coordinates: 37°38′28″N 97°18′14″W / 37.641223°N 97.303880°W / 37.641223; -97.303880
Owner Margaret Nelson
Opened 1949, 2006
Closed 2004, 2006
Operating season Closed
Roller coasters Roller Coaster (Nightmare)
Water rides Log Jam
Joyland's wood roller coaster (2003)
Joyland's Whacky Shack (1997)
Joyland's Wurlitzer organ with Louie the Clown in front of it (1981)

Joyland Amusement Park was an amusement park in Wichita, Kansas, United States. It was in continuous operation for 55 years, from June 12, 1949, to 2004.[citation needed] It was once the largest theme park in central Kansas and featured a wooden roller coaster and 24 other rides. Today, the site is closed.


20th century[edit]

The park was founded by Lester Ottaway and his sons Herbert and Harold to serve as the home for a miniature 12-inch (300 mm) gauge steam locomotive that Herb Ottaway[citation needed] had purchased in Fort Scott, back in 1933. The train had been part of a defunct amusement park there and was originally built by the Miniature Railway Company of Elgin, Illinois, between 1905 and 1910. By 1934, Herb Ottaway, who worked as a race car builder, had fully refurbished and restored the steam locomotive and cars and began transporting the miniature train to county fairs in western Kansas and eastern Colorado. Ottaway soon built a track for his miniature locomotive around the Manitou Springs, Colorado, racetrack and operated the train there for some time.[citation needed]

The current location of the park came into existence on June 12, 1949, primarily to give Harold’s[citation needed] miniature locomotive a permanent home in Kansas. It was originally located at 1515 East Central in Wichita (between New York and Mathewson streets) but soon moved to its current location at 2801 South Hillside. After Lester Ottaway’s death in the mid-1950s, his three sons, Herbert, Harold and Eddie, continued running it as a family operation.[citation needed]

The Ottaway brothers retired from the amusement park business in the early 1970s and sold the park to Stanley and Margaret Nelson. Stanley died on July 13, 2010, at the age of 87. He and Margaret were the driving force behind the park for over 30 years and a large percentage of its current rides, including the Bill Tracy-designed prototype Whacky Shack dark ride, added in 1974, come from the Nelsons' time as owners. Though there are a few Whacky Shacks still in use across the country today, this classic two-story dark ride was the last known project of Tracy's, as he died in August 1974, just a few months after its completion. In addition, the original miniature train retired with the Ottaways and was replaced with the first-ever C.P. Huntington miniature train. It carries serial number 1 from the factory.[citation needed]

21st century[edit]

Reopening and closing

Due to economical troubles and safety concerns the park had to close for the 2004 season. Interest in it sparked again in 2006 when a Seattle based company, T-Rex Group, leased it to restore and open portions of it. After financial concerns with it, they did not open it for another season. It has now sat since then without any maintenance and continually deteriorates.

2006 Restorations

In 2006 many renovations took place at the park, of which were focused more on its aesthetics than actual ride safety. The roller coaster had $10,000 dollars worth of wood repairs done and was renamed "The Nightmare". The Log Jam, the only water ride, had pumps replaced and systems checked. The noticeable difference to the park after the 2006 restoration was the baby blue and pink paint that covers it.


Since its closing in 2004, it has been subjected to numerous incidents of vandalism and looting. Nearly every building is covered with graffiti, and the vintage sign from the top of the roller coaster has been stolen. The administration offices have also been destroyed. Park owner Margaret Nelson was quoted as saying "We're sick. Our hearts are just sick. It's not easy, not easy."[1]

Joyland restoration project

The Restore Hope organization got involved to regain support to rebuild the park with an emphasis on a community effort and involvement in the restoration process. The plan is to restore it within the next few years and begin a five step expansion process to help it grow and become an integral part of the Wichita community.[2]

August 2012 fire

On August 4, 2012, a maintenance building in the park caught fire. None of the rides were damaged and the fire was subdued in 30 minutes. Police suspect arson.[3]

May 2014 carousel donation

In May 2014, it was announced that Joyland owner Margaret Nelson Spear donated the carousel to the Botanica in Wichita, and it will be fully restored.[4]

June 2014 sign removal

In the middle of June 2014, the iconic parking lot sign and marquee was sold to the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County. It was dismantled, removed for local storage, and eventual restoration.[5]

February 2015 return of Louie the Clown

On February 19, 2015, the Wichita Police Department announced the return of Louie the Clown, the animatronic clown that used to play the park's Wurlitzer organ. He had gone missing over a decade prior and was found in the home of Damian Mayes, a convicted sex offender and former Joyland employee who was serving jail time for indecent liberties with a child. In 2008, Wichita police received a tip that Mayes, who had maintained Louie and the organ, had the clown, but Mayes denied knowing his whereabouts.[6][7]



The park featured more than 24 rides, including:

Roller coaster[edit]

The park's 1949 era roller coaster, a Philadelphia Toboggan Company one designed by Herbert Paul Schmeck, is one of the last surviving original wooden ones, and is one of 33 surviving ones of only 44 original ones designated as an ACE Coaster Classic. Originally called simply Roller Coaster but for a time was renamed Nightmare, it has a 2,600 ft (790 m) track span, 80 ft (24 m) drop and 50 mph (80 km/h) top speed. It has the distinction of being the only remaining coaster in North America using vintage rolling stock with fixed lap bars. The film King Kung Fu was filmed on location at several locations in the Wichita area, including here. One scene in the film features several minutes of footage shot on it.[citation needed]. It is currently standing but not operating.

Fairground organ[edit]

The park had a Mammoth Military Band Organ, also known as a Wurlitzer Style 160. It was the largest of the Wurlitzer’s early ones. It was built around 1905 by the DeKleist Musical Instrument Works and was sold by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company. It contained 486 wood and brass pipes and used two perforated paper music rolls. It represented the effect of a military brass band of 20 to 25 musicians. It was the largest available one from Wurlitzer at the time, and was designed primarily for the roller rink industry. In 1915, it was taken back to the Wurlitzer factory and modified into a Wurlitzer Style 165. It was sold to W.P. Brown of Coffeyville, who owned and operated the Silurian Springs Bath House, which also featured a roller rink. It was used to provide music for there. In the 1930s it went into storage. It was heavily water damaged and some of its brass parts were stripped off during World War II scrap metal drives. In 1948, Jess Gibbs of Parsons, purchased it and began the painstaking work of restoring it. In 1950 he sold it to the Ottaway family, who installed it in Joyland. They added Louie the Clown Organist, an automated clown who sits before the keyboard and "plays" it. Louie and the Mighty Wurlitzer have been a fixture there ever since. It creates a sound that resonates through the entire park. It is one of only two mammoth ones still in existence and, until the park closed, it was the only one in public view.[citation needed]


The park also features an original Allan Herschell Company designed carousel, which was built in 1949. It has all of the original horses. It is disassembled at the end of every season, which has been carefully done for protection every year for the last 59 years.[citation needed] In May 2014, it was announced that Joyland owner Margaret Nelson Spear donated it to the Botanica in Wichita, and it will be fully restored.[4]


Elements of the park have been captured on the cover of the Andy McKee album, Joyland. The artist was given the theme of an "abandoned amusement park" and used imagery from it specifically, as McKee is a native of Kansas.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vandals Take the Joy out of Joyland". Oct 4, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. 
  2. ^ "Our Vision". Joyland Restoration Project. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  3. ^ "Joyland Fire Likely Arson". 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  4. ^ Reidl, Matt. "Iconic Joyland sign removed". Wichita Eagle. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Woodward, Ted (19 February 2015). "Wichita: Joyland's Missing Clown Found". KNSS 1330 News (KNSS). Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Coleman, Whitney (14 July 2008). "Missing Pieces Could Further Hurt Joyland". Wichita Eagle. p. 1B. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

Archives of former websites (containing numerous photos)