File photo The Wichita Eagle
File photo The Wichita Eagle

Local

The comprehensive timeline for Wichita’s Joyland

By Oliver Morrison

omorrison@wichitaeagle.com

April 20, 2017 03:50 PM

UPDATED April 25, 2017 08:03 AM

March 25, 1949: An article claims the new park at 2801 Hillside, which is set to open in May, has a roller coaster built from 250,000 feet of lumber. The 40-acre park was started by Lester Ottaway and his sons Herb and Harold. This will be the third and largest location for the park; it originally opened in the Planeview neighborhood in 1943 but then moved to 1500 E. Central.

May 30, 1949: The opening on Memorial Day touts a capacity for 10,000 people, parking for 1,200 cars and a picnic area with 100 tables. The original Joyland on East Central will continue to operate.

June 6, 1949: The park is set to open without its biggest prize: the 75-feet tall, 36-passenger, 2,980-foot-long roller coaster, “one of the nation’s largest.”

June 12, 1949: The formal opening is delayed because of two weeks of bad weather. They are still trying to finish the miniature train in time for opening day.

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A drone reveals what remains of Wichita's beloved Joyland

Travis White, an FAA-licensed drone pilot in Neodesha, Kansas, recently captured new aerial views of Joyland, an abandoned amusement park in south Wichita. (Courtesy of Travis White/Eagle's Eye Aerial Imaging)

June 13, 1949: The 1,200 car lot is full and the mayor, William Salome, cut the tape on the roller coaster. “The coaster is said to have the steepest drop of any in the country,” according to the article. The owners say they plan to build a dance pavilion, swimming pool, miniature golf course and baseball diamond in the next five years.

April 1950: Margaret Heinzman, 17, begins working at the Skee-Ball booth at Joyland where she meets Stanley Nelson, an Army veteran, who wore suits and ties and had an East Coast accent. They were married in December and eventually buy the park. Heinzman had been fired from her job selling ice cream when the park opened because boys were lingering too long around the wagon.

June 21, 1957: The park hosts “the world’s largest portable Ferris wheel,” 100-feet high, which cost $135,000 to bring to Wichita.

March 29, 1959: The park advertises the 10th annual Easter party, which includes thousands of free eggs and 1,000 free carnations for the first 1,000 women.

March 24, 1964: The park owner, Herb Ottaway, is not happy that the city is taking over the land used by the park’s go-kart track and kiddie railway. “Even if they pay us $100,000 it wouldn’t be enough over 10 or 12 years,” Ottaway said. “We know this has got to be done but why does it have to happen to us? All we want is to be left alone to run an amusement park. But every year or two someone comes along to take some of our property.” This is the third time land has been taken, the other two times were for an interstate and part of a school.

June 8, 1964: A 12-year-old sues for $400 for mouth and teeth injuries she incurred riding a bumper car, when another car hit her and she smashed her face into the steering wheel.

Joyland owners' son shares memories of the amusement park

The Joyland Amusement Park has been shuttered for over 10 years, but neglect, vandalism and weather have taken a final toll on the iconic Wichita landmark. Recently, a large section of the wooden roller coaster was toppled during a storm and most of the other remaining structures have been torn down. (April 11, 2015)

Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

Dec. 15, 1964: The park wins an award for its “Moonlight Swim” promotions, an event co-sponsored with radio station KLEO.

June 29, 1966: Three of the park’s deer escape from the park. One is hit by a car, one dies from a tranquilizer and the other is returned to the park.

Sept. 9, 1966: Bucky, an 8-month-old lion kept as an attraction, “lunged and sank his teeth into” the left hand of Edwin Roach, 36, an employee who was feeding the animal.

July 9, 1968: The park opens a 75-by-175 foot skating rink that cost more than $100,000. It held 600 skaters and include “bright colors” and “decorative lighting.”

April 1, 1970: A conflict between Planeview’s pool and Linwood Park’s pool ended in a compromise with the city considering subsidizing swimming lessons for Planeview children at Joyland.

Aug. 8, 1971: The park hosts five days of the “Wichita State Fair,” which includes country-western music and the Murphy Show’s motorized midway. Performers include Pee Wee King, Stonewall Jackson and Leroy Van Dyke.

June 5, 1972: Joyland is featured in the background of a Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats commercial.

Workers remove Joyland's iconic sign

Workers with Miracle Signs remove the iconic Joyland sign that had lured families to the amusement park from 1949 to 2004. The sign has been purchased by the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County. (June 13, 2014)

Mike Hutmacher The Wichita Eagle

April 25, 1974: The Wacky Shack “Ghost Ride” debuts: “It features illusion effects, psychedelic lighting tricks, a water curtain which stops just as the cars get to it and the usual spills and thrills.”

Aug. 14, 1974: The owners talk about the challenges the park is facing: “Ottaway noted that it takes more thrilling rides to give amusement park patrons their kicks anymore. People have their water-skiing, snow-skiing, motorcycles and that kind of thing.”

1975: Stan and Margaret Nelson buy the park from Ottaway.

June 5, 1976: Puppet shows announced at the Opera House.

May 25, 1977: A 7-year-old boy dies after falling from the Joyland roller coaster. Monty Stovall was standing up in the rear seat of the car and not holding the bar near the end of the ride and fell off around 9 p.m. It is the first fatal accident in 30 years, according an article.

May 18, 1978: The park hosts a two-day music festival that includes “The father of Jesus Rock” among 40 other groups, including David Boyer, a clarinetist who also sings. 16,000 were expected for the festival, which included free camping.

July 10, 1978: The temperature hits 105 degrees for KFDI’s 14th Anniversary celebration at Joyland, featuring gospel and bluegrass music, watermelons and Frisbees.

Feb. 13, 1979: Margaret Nelson, the co-owner with her husband, Stan Nelson, chairs an international amusement park workshop and credits their success to their faith: “The most exciting experience of our lives has been becoming born-again Christians and our walk with the Lord.”

Aug. 3, 1979: Stan Nelson says water-oriented rides are very popular and hopes to add a water slide to the swimming pool area next year.

Joyland entrance sign moved from storage for preservation

Workers from Miracle Sign Co. move the Joyland entrance sign from a storage building in 2014. Members of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County were at the park to pick up an animated entrance sign and other pieces that they bought and plan to restore. (May 7, 2014)

Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

Sept. 9, 1979: The 30th anniversary passes without a major event. The park is open April through October and includes 13 adult rides and seven kiddie rides, although the roller rink is open all year.

Jan. 27, 1980: Stan Nelson explains that the monster theme parks are built on major highways near major population centers and employ 800 to 1,000 people, so they need massive crowds to survive. These theme parks are having an impact on small parks like Joyland: “People are developing a taste for bigger attractions.” He plans on developing a water ride that people can participate in, “not merely a passive experience.”

Jan. 9, 1981: A 200-year-old cottonwood tree is cut down, after it started dying when the creek near it dried up.

July 3, 1981: Stan Nelson said Joyland is experiencing a resurgence due to the high cost of gasoline and more people wanting to take vacations near home. “Joyland doesn’t pretend to be the park to end all parks,” Nelson said. “It’s simply a hometown recreational facility that draws from a radius of about 100 miles.”

Aug. 24, 1982: Michael King, an employee, is stabbed to death in the parking lot after an altercation with four men, between the ages of 17 and 21, who snuck into the park.

Aug. 28, 1982: Police question the four men from 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and then book them into county jail at 3 a.m. Charges are dropped against two of the boys, but are brought against Dwight Sayles and Victor C. Walker.

Sept. 1, 1982: Between 1 and 2 p.m. the public met Democratic candidates for office and enjoyed free rides.

Dec. 14, 1982: Dwight Sayles pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter. An Eagle article said he would be eligible for parole in four years.

Jan. 5, 1983: Sayles is sentenced to 5 to 20 years for the stabbing and 3 to 10 years for robbing a 16-year-old of a lighter and some game tokens.

Aug. 16, 1996: The new Skycoaster is unveiled to the public a day after the mayor and a city commissioner’s opening ceremony. The ride is described thusly: “There is a sudden drop and the scenery begins whizzing by in a sweeping arc at about 32 feet a second.” Tickets cost $15 to $25.

Aug. 28, 1998: Maintenance worker Kevin Briley is killed when he is hit by a roller-coaster near the first drop. Briley had been using a weed trimmer. Stan Nelson, Joyland’s owner, has said it was not park procedure to work near the coaster while it was running.

1998: Local tourism stakeholders say the city needs a major theme park playing off its farm and frontier heritage.

2000: The Nelsons begin leasing Joyland to David Rohr, who operates the park.

May 2003: David Rohr buys the park from Stanley and Margaret Nelson for around $1.6 million.

Feb. 8, 2004: Founder Herb Ottaway dies at 91.

March 3, 2004: Stan and Margaret Nelson sue David Rohr for missing payments and not paying taxes on the park. The park is still scheduled to open March 13. The lawsuit alleges that Rohr is not properly maintaining the park. Rohr said he had to take a second mortgage on his home to pay Joyland expenses.

April 16, 2004: The park temporarily closes after a 13-year-old girl, Elizabeth Schmitz of Mount Hope, suffers serious injuries to her head, face, leg and arm when she falls 30 feet from the 55-year-old Ferris wheel. Witnesses say the seat holding the girl and two boys was rocking back and forth. Schmitz said later she fell when the restraint bar opened and she reached for it.

April 20, 2004: The Eagle learns there is no city, state or county agency responsible for ride inspections and Kansas is one of the few states that does not regulate rides. A House bill in 1999 required inspections but the Senate changed bill so only insurance was required. “We have an excellent safety record,” said Daivd Rohr. “Nothing like this has ever happened since I’ve owned it.”

July 2004: The park closes in mid-July after what David Rohr said is a dispute with the park’s insurance company.

July 24, 2004: A group from Via Christi shows up with 17 cancer patients and 60 family members but has to go to All Star Sports instead when an employee finally comes out and gives various reasons for the park’s closure.

July 30, 2004: Stan and Margaret Nelson sue David Rohr for the second time for missing payments on a $1.6 million loan. They hope to foreclose.

Aug. 8, 2004: Employees say that they have not received their checks or their checks have bounced. The IRS places a tax lien against Rohr Enterprises for about $185,000.

Dec. 16, 2004: The Nelsons repurchase the park at a sheriff’s auction, for a bid of around $1.3 million. It was the only bid, as the Nelsons used the collateral owed to them by David Rohr rather than cash.

Oct. 28, 2005: The Nelsons announce they have sold the park to out-of-town owners who want to remain anonymous.

2005: Thomas Etheredge conceives the idea to build a $15 million western-themed amusement park in Wichita. Etheredge had previously operated the successful Prairie Rose Chuckwagon.

Feb. 14, 2006: Michael Moodenbaugh of Tacoma, Wash., and his business partner announce plans to renovate and reopen Joyland on April 16.

March 29, 2006: Moodenbaugh and his partner begin renovations. They plan to spend between $3 million and $5 million. But they had trouble getting the city to provide security for their Easter egg hunt and mowing a nearby intersection. If the park can attract 350,000 to 400,000 customers they will buy the park outright. Otherwise they hope the park can be rezoned for apartments.

April 2006: The park opens over Easter without rides but is closed again in May for renovations.

May 18, 2006: The Nelsons get an injunction to prevent Moodenbaugh and his partner from entering the park. The partners want to tear down old buildings, the Nelsons claim, and have missed utility payments. The two business partners claim to have already spent $300,000 on renovations.

May 19, 2006: The two sides settle and the new park operators go back to work.

May 27, 2006: The park is open from 2 to 9 p.m. daily, including all the rides except the roller coaster. The operators say they are still planning on renovating the booths and bathrooms.

Dec. 28, 2006: Michael Moodenbaugh says he exercised an option to buy out the Nelsons. He was planning on refinancing his debt but some creditors had filed suit asking for money owed. The park made enough to operate but not enough to pay off the debt, according to Moodenbaugh.

May 5, 2007: Wild West World opens in Park City: “$30 million of rides, arcade games, restaurants and entertainment venues on 24 acres that owner Thomas Etheredge calls ‘the finest family attraction ever built in Kansas.’ ” Etheredge said he expects 500,000 visitors the first year and says he has already sold $2 million in season passes and corporate bookings.

July 9, 2007: Wild West World closes and never reopens.

July 7, 2008: The Nelsons sue Michael Moodenbaugh and his partner again for $248,000 in unpaid rent and $200,000 in missing or damaged property. The partners plan to counter-sue, though they admit to owing $100,000 to various creditors in Wichita.

Oct. 14, 2008: Margaret Nelson says she will not rent the park anymore. She tries to sell it for $2 million. For the first time Nelson says she would be open to it being developed into something other than an amusement park. The park is now totally derelict: “Weeds have grown up in concrete cracks. The wind whistles through buildings with no windows and through the ghostly skeleton of the roller coaster, now silent.”

Jan. 6, 2009: Joyland has been closed since 2006 and the park starts getting vandalized, most recently by paint-ballers in December. The “Last Warning –Do not Stand Up – Sit Down” sign is stolen off the top of the park’s iconic wooden roller-coaster.

April 14, 2009: The Opera House, which used to host puppet shows and classic movies, burns down. Nelson apologizes for all the damage, graffiti and stolen metals: “I can’t be there all the time. We’re out there most of the time, but they seem to get in there when we’re not there.”

July 15, 2010: Stanley Nelson, longtime owner and operator, dies. According to the article: “The park’s best days were before television and air conditioning. It offered fried chicken dinners, a swimming pool and steam-powered engine shows.”

July 29, 2011: A rock concert is planned by the group, Restore Hope, which wants to generate money to purchase and reopen Joyland. Tickets cost $10.

March 2014: The city of Wichita claims in municipal court that Joyland has become a nuisance and that the Nelson family failed to maintain the premise in a secure condition.

April 11, 2015: The Nelson family begins to demolish Joyland.

A drone reveals what remains of Wichita's beloved Joyland

Travis White, an FAA-licensed drone pilot in Neodesha, Kansas, recently captured new aerial views of Joyland, an abandoned amusement park in south Wichita. (Courtesy of Travis White/Eagle's Eye Aerial Imaging)

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison