I’m pleased to bring you a guest post by John Stevenson on Libertyland today. Even if you spent your childhood at the park, this post is sure to bring back lots of memories. Or if you’re like me and didn’t get to Memphis in time to truly experience the park you’ll get a small taste of what a wonderful little place it was. Please be sure to leave your own memory of the park in the comments at the end of the post!
Do you remember your first visit to Libertyland? Or are you too young or too new to Memphis to even know what Libertyland is? Sadly, the latter group seems to be growing with each passing year.
From 1976 until 2005, Memphis was home to Libertyland, a modest amusement park located at the Mid-South Fairgrounds. Growing up as a roller coaster enthusiast, Libertyland was my favorite place in town. I recall begging my parents to take me to the park — even though I was too scared for most of the “big kid” attractions.
Opening during America’s bicentennial, Libertyland was patriotically themed from top to bottom. Each of the park’s three areas represented the nation in a different period: Colonial Land, Frontier Land and Turn-of-the-Century Land.
More than 13,500 people visited the park on opening day, July 4, 1976. Special guests were on hand as well, like Barbara Bonifield, the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of second president John Adams. She fittingly rang the park’s own replica of the Liberty Bell.
Libertyland wasn’t the biggest or greatest amusement park. But its quirky and historical charm was distinctly Memphis. And it offered something no other park could claim — Elvis Presley’s favorite ride.
The Zippin Pippin wooden roller coaster originally opened as the “Pippin” at the Fairgrounds Amusement Park (the precursor to Libertyland) in 1912. Or 1915. Or 1917. Or 1923. No one seems to know for sure. Some say it was originally built at the short-lived East End Amusement Park (near the Overton Square area). Others believe the East End roller coaster was unrelated.
Various issues of the Commercial Appeal tell conflicting stories about the Zippin Pippin. A severe storm supposedly damaged the roller coaster so badly in 1928 that it was rebuilt — “higher and longer” — just a few months later. Regardless of when it opened or in what form, it was undoubtedly one of the oldest operating roller coasters in North America when it closed in October of 2005.
You probably remember your first ride on the Zippin Pippin quite well. Although it was notorious for giving wild and “out of control” rides, the coaster was safe — its wooden structure was replaced in sections every seven years.
Libertyland was quirky, indeed. At one time, there was a dolphin show inside the park, as well as a seasonal ice-skating rink (the skates for which are now used at the Memphis Zoo’s rink).
The park was also home to an assortment of unassuming historical knick knacks collected over the years — like the 26-foot-tall, hand-carved totem pole brought from the Northwest by a vacationing E.H. Crump. There was also the old-fashioned, dogtrot-style log cabin that was moved to Davis Manor Plantation in December 2006. And who could forget the rustic train caboose that sat near the front of the park?
Some of these historical gems were sold in a June 2006 auction of the park’s assets. Others vanished or have been locked away in storage. The historic 1909 Grand Carousel was dismantled and is currently in storage at an undisclosed location. The full-size replica of the original Liberty Bell now sits in a warehouse in Tunica along with other park memorabilia.
Sure, Libertyland wasn’t Disneyland. It wasn’t Six Flags. But it was Memphis. It was a piece of the mosaic that makes Memphis such an incredibly unique city. And while the amusement park is long gone, I hope that the memories of Libertyland are able to live on. And perhaps pieces of the park, like the Grand Carousel, will someday return to entertain future generations of Memphians.
Leave your Libertyland memory in the comments below! For more on the park, stop in at www.rememberlibertyland.com.
[If you believe any of the images posted here infringe on your copyright, please email us memphistypehistory(at)gmail.com]
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