A flock of wild turkeys strolled outside a storage building at Joyland on Wednesday morning as the Louie the Clown sign saw the light of day for the first time in years.
Piece by piece, the process of finding new homes for nostalgic items at the iconic amusement park continued.
A day after it was announced that Joyland owner Margaret Nelson Spear had donated the merry-go-round to Botanica, a local historic preservation group began taking possession of six items it had purchased from her.
That included the clown sign, which greeted visitors at the park’s entrance for decades before Joyland last closed in 2006.
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Once animated and flashing with neon lights, the sign now has badly chipped paint. Louie’s face needs a bath and more.
Greg Kite, president of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County, plans to restore the sign and the other pieces.
“We’ve gathered up these artifacts to preserve them,” Kite said. “We don’t want them to be scattered across the country.
“But you can’t preserve and show what you haven’t saved.”
For now, though, it was a matter of moving most of the items from one storage building to another.
Crews began transporting pieces from the park to the Garvey Public Warehouse, a collection of eight buildings with 740,000 square feet of storage space near Hoover Road and 55th Street South.
Besides the clown sign, the alliance also purchased the park’s entrance sign on Hillside, a red bumper car, a stagecoach, the 18-foot-high Mother Goose shoe and the original roller-coaster ticket booth that still includes the 35-cent ticket price.
The Hillside sign will be taken down sometime next week, Kite said.
The preservation alliance’s ideal plan would be to display the Joyland items along with other historic pieces it has purchased at a yet-to-be established museum, Kite said. The group even has a name picked out – Lost Wichita.
Another option would be to put the items on a traveling display, Kite said.
Many of Wichita’s historical items have already been destroyed, lost or shipped to other parts of the country, Kite said.
Since the alliance began operation in 1993, he said, the group has been able to preserve a number of items, including two Wichita trolleys, exterior tile section from the old Allis Hotel and marquees from the Orpheum and Crest theaters.
Like their new Joyland companions, the items are in the Garvey warehouse awaiting a place to be seen again.
The alliance bought the Joyland pieces in 2010 for $22,000, Kite said.
“We intentionally delayed removing them to give another group the opportunity to raise funds and reopen the park,” he said.
That hasn’t happened, although Spear said two groups are still showing some interest. Eventually, she said, she hopes to sell the 40 acres of land.
Meanwhile, Spear decided it was time to start moving the items out of her storage and the park.
The shoe, which has remained in the park, is deteriorating from weather and the destructive hands of vandals, she said.
“It’s horrible to see that,” Spear said.
A lion with its body and head smashed by vandals sits in the storage building. The Whacky Shack remains outside, although all of the displays inside for the fun house ride have been stolen.
Outside, the wooden roller coaster maintains a dominating presence – despite its fading white paint – as it looms over the park. You can almost hear the screams and squeals from years past.
“I’d like to find a place for it,” she said.
Spear recalled hearing about a similar roller coaster being dismantled in the South and taken to Pennsylvania where it was reassembled.
“So it’s possible,” she said.
Joyland was more than a business to her.
“It was our life,” she said.
Joyland first opened in 1948 near Hydraulic and Central. Spear began working at Joyland as a teenager a year later, when it was moved to its current location in the 2800 block of South Hillside.
She met her late husband, Stan Nelson, at the park in 1950. They were part owners from 1968 to the mid-1970s before they took over sole ownership.
Like other kids, their four children spent hours playing at Joyland, especially enjoying the park’s miniature golf course.
Now all that remains are numerous calls from the police about vandalism and fires. That’s been been hard for her.
But this week she’s smiling. First the merry-go-round, now a home for the Louie sign and the rest.
While other Joyland pieces – such as the train – have been sold off over the years, this is the first time there’s a plan in place for the public to see at least some of the items again.
“This makes me happy,” Spear said as she watched crews wrestle with getting the clown sign out of the building.
It also thrilled Sam Nance, a member of the preservation alliance’s board who came to help. Like so many other Wichitans, he came to Joyland as a child.
“This was our vacation,” he said. “We didn’t have much money.”
A local TV station used to give away tickets based on school grades – so many for an A, a few less for a B.
“That was a big deal,” Nance said. “It’s the only way I could come.”
Kandi Piatkowski, another alliance board member, worked at Joyland as a teenager in the 1980s.
“It’s an end of an era,” she said. “We want to save as much as possible.”