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Joyland’s carousel to take a new turn at Botanica

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at 12:43 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 17, 2014, at 7:23 a.m.

After years of sad reports emanating from Joyland, the joy is returning with the news that the amusement park’s merry-go-round will have a new home at Botanica.

Botanica expects to restore it to working order and house it in a new building.

“It makes me very happy,” Joyland owner Margaret Nelson Spear said Tuesday.

It will be the first time that a remnant of the long-closed, deteriorating amusement park in south Wichita will be resurrected. And not just any remnant – the merry-go-round was the heart of Joyland, Spear said.

“It was kind of the center of the park, and lots of people could ride it,” she said. “Not everybody could ride the roller-coaster or the Tilt-A-Whirl. It’s just a nostalgic thing, I think.”

Botanica director Marty Miller agreed.

“To all of us who grew up in Wichita, all of us have rode on that merry-go-round,” Miller said. “My dad would always take me out there, and it was a treat. Those are my childhood memories.”

The merry-go-round is now in pieces, with some elements in storage and some still at the park, Miller said. He said restoration is expected to cost $25,000, maybe more for a new floor, and he’s considering adding LED lights.

“It all depends,” Miller said. “There are a lot of things we can do.”

Botanica is now raising money to restore the ride and construct a building for it, which is expected to go near the entrance to the Downing Children’s Garden. The building will have restrooms and a concessions stand, Miller said.

Even before the public announcement of the donation of the merry-go-round, $15,000 had been raised, he said.

Spear said that she expects many people will be overjoyed to hear the news about the merry-go-round.

“We’ve heard a lot of parents say, ‘I rode that when I was a kid. Now I can’t take my grandchildren to ride it.’ ”

Joyland opened at 2801 S. Hillside in 1949. Spear and her late husband, Stan Nelson, became involved with the park in 1951 and bought it in the 1970s.

Despite attempts to reopen Joyland over the years, it was last closed in 2006, and vandals, arsonists and thieves have been its only visitors since.

The idea for donating the merry-go-round to Botanica was born in a serendipitous moment last September, Miller said.

He was with Margaret Spear and her husband, Gene, at Botanica during the annual Wichita Area Garden Railway Tour. Gene Spear had donated his garden railway equipment to Botanica in 2012, and the resulting railroad garden named for him was one stop on the tour.

Miller was telling Gene Spear about his visit to Butchart Gardens in British Columbia and about the only family feature he had seen in the gardens – an enclosed merry-go-round. So Margaret Spear leaned over and mentioned that she had a merry-go-round for sale.

“I really did want to sell the merry-go-round,” Margaret Spear recalled. “I thought they might be interested in it.”

But afterward, she said, “I got to thinking and thinking and thinking, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I called him and told him that I would just donate it.”

Miller said he was initially hesitant to launch another fundraiser immediately because Botanica had been raising money for an education center for the children’s garden and is just now getting ready to open its events center (as early as Friday). Ground breaking for a new Chinese Garden will be May 28.

But he decided to go ahead. Margaret Spear signed a letter of intent to donate the merry-go-round in January, Miller said.

“It was quite an emotional thing for her,” Miller said, “because with her husband, Stan, Joyland was their life. So it means so much to have a piece of it preserved somewhere.”

“I know my husband would be really thrilled about it,” Margaret Spear said.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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