Monday, May 9, 2011

Looking for Joy in Joyland

No Joy
from Mike Petty on Vimeo.

Daily Mail: At first glance, these desolate images look like they're from the aftermath of a warzone, or a ghost town left behind from the Chernobyl disaster.

But in fact these pictures were taken in the heartland of America - at Wichita's Joyland, an amusement park with the most inappropriate name you can imagine.

In its heyday, thousands of families from across Kansas would flock to the park to scream and yell on the wooden rollercoaster and listen to Louie the clown play on his Wurlitzer organ. But now the loudspeakers stand silent and corroded, the bright yellow big wheel is faded and rusting and the dodgems sit mournfully with no-one to ride them.

Fascinating new images reveal the ghostly desolation of the abandoned amusement park, which opened in 1949 and ran continuously until it was closed in 2003 because of financial problems. It re-opened briefly in 2006, but since then it has been left to rust away. Numerous attempts to revive it have failed because of a lack of interest, as families turn away from the funfair tradition.

Vandals have sprayed every available surface with graffiti, and trees grow through the rides which were among the first of their kind. Beneath the faded Joyland sign, a 'closed for the season' billboard has letters missing, and the famous Wacky Shack looks like a haunted house, its colours faded by time.

A Minute Maid cart has been overturned and left to be covered in weeds, and a reel of faded tickets lies abandoned on the floor. It's all a far cry from when Lester Ottoway and his sons, Herbert and Harold, opened the park to house their miniature steam locomotive in June 1949.

They originally opened the park at 1515 East Central, but quickly moved to 2801 South Hillside, where it rapidly expanded. It is still home to one of the last surviving Philadelphia Toboggan Company rollercoasters, a wooden coaster with an 80 foot drop and top speeds of 50 mph.

The Mighty Wurlitzer, a Mammoth Military Band Organ - one of only two left in existence - still stands but now the roar of a 25-man military brass band which used to resonate through the park is silent.

In the late 1960s, the Ottoway brothers retired and sold Joyland to Stanley and Margaret Nelson, who ran the park for more than 30 years. They added 24 rides including dodgems, a log flume and a Ferris wheel. They also opened a Whacky Shack dark ride, one of the few left in the country.

But as Joyland began to age, rides fell into disrepair and attendance dropped. Eventually the couple ran into financial difficulties, and in 2004 they were forced to close the park.
In 2006, Seattle-based group T-Rex leased it from the Nelsons and temporarily re-opened the park for one season, but demand wasn't high enough to make it pay and since then it has stood derelict.

Fires have broken out several times, and young vandals continually break in, smashing windows and covering the park in graffiti. Wichita residents have made several attempts to revive the park, but so far none have succeeded.

The Joyland Restoration Project aims to recruit volunteers to clean up the park and re-open it as a not-for-profit. But so far an online petition has garnered only 192 signatures out of a 5,000 target.

In 2009, a Wichita businessman asked the city for a $2 million loan to revive the park. At the time he told the Wichita Eagle: 'It is a big project, but we can have people help us. The people in Wichita don't have the money to go out of town to go to these parks.

'If we can make this park work where they can come in, an everyday working person, and come in for $25 to $30 and enjoy the whole evening and day, these people will be there.' Two years on, the park still stands abandoned, a moving testament to a bygone era.

In Mrs Nelson told the Wichita Eagle: 'We're sick. Our hearts are just sick. It's not easy, not easy'

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