Keeper of the Plans

Film about Joyland, Wichita’s now-abandoned amusement park, will air on TV

The old Joyland site on South Hillside is a shell of its former self.

The amusement park at 2801 S. Hillside, which closed in 2006, has seen its fair share of vandalism, arson, theft and all sorts of no-good shenanigans in recent years.

But for many decades it was a source of community pride, the backdrop to many childhood memories — both good and, in some cases, scary.

A new documentary exploring “the epic story of the rise and fall of Wichita’s most famous amusement park” will premiere on KPTS-TV (Channel 8) at 7 p.m. Monday, June 10.

The hour-long film, “Joyland: Reliving the Memories,” features archival footage and photography from the park from its earliest days in the 1940s and through the decades.

Bryan Ramsdale, a former reporter for KAKE-TV, produced the documentary for the PBS station.

“I like to still kind of keep my feet wet when it comes to journalism,” said Ramsdale, who now works as a social media manager with Visit Wichita. “It’s not what I call a profession anymore, but I still love storytelling and filmmaking.”

Ramsdale interviewed more than 20 people for the documentary, including all of the living former owners of the park — including the Ottaway family and Roger Nelson of the Nelson family.

“I wanted to make sure all of those voices were included,” he said. “And from there, it was just gauging who had interesting stories or angles. It really flourished from there — all of a sudden I started hearing all these interesting stories.”

The film features more archival footage and shots of the park’s glory days than it does gratuitous shots of vandalism and the rubble at the park today, Ramsdale said.

“I tried really hard not to make this piece about what Joyland is today, because it was something much more than it appears when you see all the buildings that are leveled and vandalized,” he said. “When we talk about the decline of Joyland, we really try to focus much more on what’s being done to preserve what’s left of the park.”

Jim Grawe, executive producer at KPTS, said the genesis of the documentary came after seeing how often Wichitans reminisce about Joyland on Facebook.

“Ever since I moved to Wichita in 2006 — that was about the time Joyland closed for good — I’d heard people talk about Joyland,” Grawe said.

A short segment about Joyland for the network’s “Positively Kansas” show last year was expanded and became a full-length documentary, he said.

KPTS has recently produced a few feature-length documentaries about local history — including “The Lost Theaters of Wichita” in 2016 and “Brown v. Board of Education Mural at the Capitol” earlier this year.

“There’s a lot of great history in Wichita, and there’s a lot of great stories to be told,” Grawe said. “There’s no better way to tell them than on public television in a longform documentary.”

During the film, there will be breaks where viewers can make a pledge to the station and receive gifts including a DVD of the film, Joyland T-shirts, lithographs and tickets to Botanica’s restored Joyland Carousel.

After Monday, the film will screen again at 8:30 p.m. Monday, June 17 on KPTS.

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Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.
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