(originally published 4/9/20)
I’ve written several pieces about amusement parks in Kansas City on both sides of the state line, but mostly turn-of-the-century parks, including one of the so-called Negro parks, Pastime Park. Kiddieland in Waldo is the only park I’ve written about that I imagine anyone who reads this might possibly remember. But the one I’ve never written about, but inevitably comes up in conversation, is Fairyland Park.
I’ve intentionally avoided writing about Fairyland Park. It’s a well-documented story, and a place that many readers remember vividly from the 60s and 70s, right before the park closed for good. I remember going once when I was very young, but mostly I remember my dad saying he and his brothers sneaked in through a back fence in the late 1920s. They lived just behind the park on a street now buried under Interstate 49. For him and other long-gone members of his generation who knew the park as it is depicted here, reflecting on youthful adventures at Fairyland evoked a wistful smile. But not everyone felt that way. Except for one day a year, Fairyland was a segregated park, in keeping with those regrettable times. As a result it became a symbolic battle ground for racial integration in the early 1960s.
I couldn’t imagine anything I could add to that story that I hadn’t already heard. But as usual, while looking at the 1940s Tax Photos for a recent post, I found unusual photographs that gave me a view of the park I hadn’t found elsewhere. The 1940s Tax Assessment Photos were intended to take a picture of every taxable structure in Kansas City. Since there was usually only one main structure on each parcel, there was only one picture. In a few relatively rare cases, there might be two, if the property included a sizeable outbuilding. For Fairyland, there were 10 photos extant, and no doubt as many as 20 at one time – many within the set of tax photos were lost in storage long ago.
I’m not sure why Fairyland was an exception, but apparently the photographers, erring on the side of the tax revenue, took photos of all the main buildings on the park site in 1940. Then, I found a detail on a 1925 map that showed the layout of the park. The park first opened in 1923, so the map is a fair representation of what the park looked like from the beginning. Judging by the 1940s photos, it hadn’t changed much by then, either. The big changes would come later, in the 1950s on. Most of those who do remember the park remember it from that period. The double-sized Olympic pool had closed. More roller coasters and a giant Ferris wheel were added.
So today we’re piecing together a view of Fairyland Park as it was in its earlier days, a time almost beyond remembering. This is purely about the park’s architecture and layout, as a glimpse of what the park experience might have been in its golden age.
This map is from the Tuttle-Ayers-Woodward Atlas of Kansas City, Mo., and Environs, 1925. Not shown on this map, but included in the 1940s photos were two small, ramshackle homes. Their tax ID numbers indicate they were a part of the same parcel that held all Fairyland’s property, likely in the northeastern area of the property, where houses abutted the backside of the park.
The numbers in red on the map indicate the location of the remaining park pictures included below:
1) Park Entrance: The park’s main gate at the southeast corner of 75th and Prospect faced northwest across a triangular shaped greenspace. Today, this area and most of the north side of the property is occupied by Alphapointe, an agency supporting the visually impaired.
2) Park Entrance Tunnel: Once through the main gate, the long dark tunnel heightened the effect when the visitor emerged from the tunnel into full view of the park. The picture on the left shows that tunnel exit.
3) Funland: Funland, directly east of the main gate, the kiddie park rides. Some accounts claim that when Kiddieland in Waldo closed in the early 1960s, some or all of those rides were brought here, but this is only anecdotal.
4) Skyrocket: Located next to Funland, Skyrocket,, a wooden roller coaster, was the original signature ride of the park. In the 1960s, the Skyrocket was replaced with the Wildcat, a more modern, but still wooden coaster.
5) Scooter: Next to Skyrocket was the “Scooter.” On the map it is marked as “Dodge ‘Em,” but both names apply to bumper car rides. Next door to “Scooter” is a staple of the midway, a shooting gallery.
6) Concessions; The man holds the ID plaque in front of the concession stand, represented by a tiny square on the map. It’s unclear whether he’s identifying the concession stand or the building labeled “Booths” on the map.
7) The Merry-Go-Round: The pavilion features a row of glass windows to illuminate the interior, but sadly, not enough to be able to see the carousel figures inside.
8) Crystal Pool: The entrance to the Crystal Pool, perhaps the most popular attraction overall, especially during the heat of summer. The pool itself was said to have been twice the size of a regular Olympic pool, or roughly ¼ of a football field. The photo also shows tracks of two other rides. Just outside the entrance to the Crystal Pool was the miniature Railroad. Inside the train’s loop was the “Mill Chute,” a water flume ride.
9) Auto Polo: Depicted on the map is another attraction inside the railroad loop, “Auto Polo.” I was unfamiliar with Auto Polo, but a quick-apedia research yielded Depicted on the map is another attraction inside the railroad loop, “Auto Polo.” I was unfamiliar with Auto Polo, but a quick-apedia research yielded this photo not from Fairyland Park, but somewhere in New York state. The sport only lasted from the late 1910s to the late 1920. From what the picture shows, it’s hard to imagine guests participated. Perhaps it was only a spectacle event. Eitherway, it’s no small wonder that the Auto Polo “ride” did not last long.
The park’s first catastrophe hit just three years after the 1940s photos when a fire burned most of the south end of the park. There were fires before then, and there would be fires later, as well as a tornado in 1977 that bent the Ferris wheel in half. The park faced too many costs and the competition of modern parks like Worlds of Fun, and closed by the 1978 season.
The pictures help capture some of the park’s early days, but there is no real way to capture what the experience was like. Then again, if you’re a fan of roller coasters, you might try this link to the Wildcat (see video link below). The replacement coaster to the Sky Rocket, the Wildcat was the park’s signature ride in its last half. When Fairyland closed, the Wildcat was sold to an amusement park in Oklahoma City. Since this video was made, the Oklahoma City park has closed. While the course was slightly modified to fit the space in the new park, the video otherwise gives you a pretty good idea of what the ride was like.
Just remember to raise your hands in the air as you go down that first drop!
(Feature Photo): This high angle partial shot of the park shows generally the park in its early to mid-life, as covered here. The photo was on a Facebook page called We the Italians, (see link below) posted by a member of the Brancato family, who built and operated the business during its entire life, from 1923 to 1977. The article tells the backstory of the Brancatos.
We the Italians: Fairyland Park