In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin chats with John R. Stevenson all about everyone’s favorite bundle of fun – Libertyland! John just published a book about the park and we dive right into all the weird and wonderful things about this historic Memphis spot.
Everyone has a Libertyland story…
Way, way, way back when John was five, he visited Libertyland. And guess what? The Zippin Pippin was his first roller coaster… which jump-started a major passion for roller coasters.
When the news came that Libertyland was closing, John got very involved with Save Libertyland, which then led to his own memorable project – Remember Libertyland.
Libertyland eventually opened up as a way to increase frequency and revenues at the Fairgrounds. It all began with the Fairgrounds Amusement Park, which opened in the 1920s… with the Zippin Pippin and the carousel being built new in 1923. Libertyland was on the first well-planned amusement parks that featured distinct themes like Colonial Land and Frontier Land… all modeled after Disneyland! You could see elements of this inspiration in rides like the wooden canoes that went around Tom Sawyer’s island, for example.
The Williamsburg-style, colonial architecture, and steam engine gave the park an intensely Americana feel… an homage to its opening around America’s bicentennial. Finally, Libertyland was extremely family-friendly with colonial characters and clowns roaming the park, ready to entertain kids galore.
Just like Memphis, Libertyland was a bit weird, like the fact that women hand-sewed all the uniforms on-site. Or that people received handmade paper flowers (which were a pain to make, apparently!). In the ’80s and ’90s, the park started expanding without following the Americana blueprint as closely, so the park became interestingly eclectic. John discusses various random photos he found while researching the book… some of which were simply explainable!
We also talk about Zippy the Chimp and how aspiring entertainers got their start at the park… sometimes they even got traded out with performers at Opryland! John tells me about Jerry Lawler’s involvement (among others). Go get John’s book and remember your own fond memories of Libertyland!
Other fun things I learned from John? That Memphis’ amusement park was almost built at Shelby Farms’ penal farm! Libertyland was small to begin with and suffered from a lack of room to expand.. so we play the what-if game a bit here! I also learn that he found several photos and press releases about mystery rides that either never opened or disappeared from history. Listen in and share your own Libertyland memories here or on Facebook and Instagram!
Images of Modern America: Libertyland by John R. Stevenson
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