Crossing Paths with Muncie’s Kiddieland

I’ve been fascinated by amusement parks and rides since I was a kid. Muncie’s not much of a thrill capital like Anaheim or Orlando, but believe it or not, this metal pole is all that remains of a homegrown amusement park, Kiddieland, which operated from 1952 to 1954 on South Madison Street.

The remains of Kiddieland in Muncie. Photo taken January 19, 2023.

Places like Kiddieland were in vogue across the nation in the years following World War II. After the war, veterans returned home from service, married, and began to start families. This surge in births resulted in the baby boom- a population explosion! All those kids had to find something to do, and for a brief period before TV hit its stride, Kiddieland amusement parks were the perfect solution.

Ponies at Sauzer’s Kiddieland in Schererville.

Kiddieland was a generic name used by many small amusement parks that catered to children. Indiana’s best-known was undoubtedly the fifteen-acre Sauzer’s Kiddieland, located near the junction of US-30 and US-41 in Schererville. The park operated from 1949 to 1994 and featured eighteen rides that included a Ferris wheel, a Tilt-A-Whirl, and three roller coasters1. These ponies, depicted on a vintage postcard, grazed in fields along the miniature railway track.

The Star Theatre, now known as the Muncie Civic Theatre. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The story of Muncie’s Kiddieland began in 1949 when the Muncie Theater Realty Corporation purchased twelve lots bounded by Madison Street, East 13th Street, Monroe Street, and East 14th Street on Muncie’s south side2. The company owned the Rivoli, Wysor Grand, and Star theaters at the time3 and intended to erect a new movie palace on site4.

As planned, the brick-and-steel theater cost $225,000, measured 120 by 125 feet, and sat between a thousand and twelve-hundred moviegoers in a single, large auditorium. In 1951, the company even renewed its city building permit but dropped its plans the same year5 due to wartime building restrictions on indoor entertainment venues that remained in effect. The theater was never built.

This advertisement for Kiddieland was featured on page 9 of the May 9, 1952 edition of the Muncie Evening Press.

Instead, the property was rezoned to accommodate a “children’s playground6” until the restrictions were removed7. Kiddieland opened on Saturday, May 10, 1952. Although Gene Keever served as an early manager, the park was the brainchild of Hugh McLachlen. McLachlen was a supervisor for Y&W Management, an Indianapolis-based company that operated Muncie Theater Realty’s Corporation’s properties.

On opening day, the park featured a handful of rides supplied by the Allan Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, New York. Among them were a Sky Fighters airplane ride with gondolas that rose six-and-a-half feet into the air by a hydraulic lift, a self-propelled boat ride, and a full-sized carousel with three rings of animals to ride8. Clarence Brettell Jr., a recent Muncie Central graduate, operated the Merry-Go-Round for two seasons9. The images above come from a 1961 Allan Herschell Company product catalog and are reproduced here courtesy of Bri-Elma-NY under the CC BY-NC-ND license.

This Kiddieland ad appeared on page 5 of the May 30, 1952 edition of The Muncie Star.

It cost nine cents per ride at Kiddieland for children under twelve and fourteen cents for everyone else. The park was open daily from 6pm to 10pm and on Saturdays from noon to ten. The park’s other attractions included a pony ride known as the B-Z Ranch; an eighteen-hole miniature golf course called Sporty Golf; and a refreshment stand that served up double-decker “Twinburgers” and toasted barbecue sandwiches complete with “Yum-Yum Kum-Back sauce.”

The Allan Herschell Model G-12 Streamliner miniature train from a 1961 product catalog. Image courtesy Bri-Elma-NY under the CC BY-NC-ND license.

Kiddieland’s star was its miniature train, a replica of the New York Central Streamliner locomotives that passed through Muncie daily. On opening day, Muncie Mayor Joseph Barclay served as the honorary engineer as he piloted the train on its first official trip around the park’s quarter-mile track. Joining the mayor for the opening ceremonies were kids from the Muncie schools safety patrol, residents of the Delaware County Children’s Home, and members of the Muncie Boys Club. Also in attendance were R.G. Kinney, G.T. Steele, R.W. Costin, and Walter Reed, representatives from the New York Central Railroad, which installed the roadbed, ballast, and track for the miniature train10. The actual train was a production model G-12 Miniature Train manufactured by Allan Herschell.

The Allan Herschell Roller Coaster from a 1961 product catalog. Image courtesy Bri-Elma-NY under the CC BY-NC-ND license.

Some advertisements for the park indicated that Kiddieland had a roller coaster while others didn’t mention it. If Kiddieland had one, it was probably an Allan Herschell model known alternatively as “Roller Coaster,” “Kiddie Coaster,” or “Little Dipper.”

Like the rest of the company’s rides, Allan Herschell Little Dipper roller coasters were enormously popular, economical, and portable. They used a chain lift to take a three-car train twelve feet into the air before traversing 280 feet of track full of, well, little dips. Little Dippers were so abundant that a whopping nine parks in Indiana -including Sauzer’s Kiddieland-operated one over the years! Conneaut Lake Park in Pennsylvania still has one. Here’s a point-of-view video of it in action, courtesy of YouTube user Coaster Toaster.

A month after Kiddieland opened, six Belgian visitors to Muncie who were in town to study the productivity of the city’s factories and technical education facilities took a trip to Kiddieland. Ms. Veva Horner, a host of the contingency, remarked that while individual members of the group rode every ride, they took turns watching each other. When Horner asked why they didn’t all climb on at once, a visitor replied, “you’ve got to have a spectator to have a spectacle11.”

This ad for Kiddieland appeared on page 23 of the August 24, 1952 edition of The Muncie Star.

Kiddieland wasn’t just a spectacle for its patrons. Unfortunately, the park became an annoying inconvenience for the people who lived next to the property- they began griping to the city as early as three months after it opened12. On August 6, Muncie’s Board of Works listened to complaints that alleged that the south side of 14th Street leading to Kiddieland was being used as a private curb-service facility for the park’s Car-EATeria in a manner that blocked access to nearby homes. Locals made the board aware that they’d been told that the land would be used for a new theater project, not an amusement park and that they felt they’d been lied to. Furthermore, complaintants alleged the park was a public nuisance because its ponies were harbored inside city limits13.

This Muncie Drive-In advertisement that offered free ride tickets to Kiddieland appeared on page 12 of the May 19, 1953 edition of The Muncie Star.

Despite the grumbling, the park remained open through 1953, when Y&W Management began actively cross-promoting Kiddieland in advertisements for its theaters by offering free ride tickets at the Muncie Drive-In on State Road 32 and at the Ski-Hi at State Road 28. Unfortunately, whether it was due to declining business, local complaints, or its intrinsic temporary nature, Kiddieland didn’t last much longer, and its closure was met with little fanfare.

It seems like the park had closed in March of 1954 when four boxes of golf balls and several clubs were stolen from its empty offices14. The following month, Doug’s Kiddieland, just north of where State Roads 3 and 38 intersected in New Castle, began advertising as Eastern Indiana’s finest equipped amusement center for children15. In May, Muncie’s Kiddieland reported a sump pump, two- or three-dozen golf balls, and a two-wheeled trailer as stolen16. A month later, the newspaper described the park as shuttered when a truck struck the old concession stand17

The remains of Kiddieland in Muncie- a pole. Photo taken January 19, 2023.

Although Kiddieland was only intended to be temporary, the Muncie Theater Realty Corporation never built a cinema on the site after the park closed. Instead, a new A&P supermarket opened there on October 21, 1959. Just like Kiddieland, the mayor -then H. Arthur Tuhey- cut the ribbon along with company officials Leo Demos, Richard Lyons, J.C. Nicholls, and F.H. Bucheer18. Today, the building’s home to Family Dollar. This metal pole, visible on the west side of South Monroe Street south of 13th Street, once supported a crossing sign to alert visitors to the presence of the miniature train’s track.

Page 93 of the 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Muncie shows some of Westside Park’s former attractions.

What happened to the train and other rides themselves remains a bit of a mystery. In 1954, Muncie redeveloped the long-dormant Westside Park, a privately-owned interurban park that closed in 1918 but once featured a dance hall, Merry-Go-Round, and swinging bridge along with what was said to be the largest circular skating rink in the state and a $7,000 side-friction roller coaster called The Figure 819. When the park reopened under municipal ownership on May 30, 1954, it featured a regular playground along with a “Kiddie-Land” with a Merry-Go-Round, miniature train, pony rides, and miniature golf course20. Newspaper photos of the train show a completely different model than the Allan Herschell G-12 that operated at Kiddieland21, but it is possible that some of the park’s other rides were repurposed at Westside. 

Westside Park as it appears today. Note the conspicuous absence of carnival rides. Photo taken December 10, 2022.

It’s more likely that Kiddieland’s rides later became the property of B&M Amusements, a traveling carnival company founded by Jack Brees -a former manager of Muncie’s Kiddieland- and his brother-in-law, Gerald Matchett, in the 1960s. B&M provided midway entertainment throughout Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky at events like the Dunkirk Glass Days22, the Gaston Free Fair23, and the Farmland Street Fair24 until its workers abandoned the show during a carnival in Ossian, leaving the company’s rides and games in the middle of the street. Brees and Matchett sold the business shortly afterwards25.

Kiddieland’s opening day advertisement, on page 9 of the May 9, 1952 edition of the Muncie Evening Press, thanked sixteen contractors and organizations, for their assistance in opening.

If neither of those possibilities were the case, the rides were probably just unceremoniously sold and reused elsewhere. It’s amazing that a single railroad crossing pole is all that physically remains of Kiddieland more than seventy years after it opened. Less tangible but equally important to keeping the park alive are the memories of those who experienced Kiddieland for themselves during the short period it operated, along with memories of the people that collaborated to build the place. Sixteen companies and contractors were thanked in the park’s opening day advertisement!

The remains of Kiddieland. Photo taken January 19, 2023.

A metal pole might not be much to remember Kiddieland by, but at least it’s something. That’s more than can be said about Westside Park, where the only remaining indication of its past history as an amusement park is the concrete base for the park’s old swinging bridge26, which can be seen in the river bottom west of the baseball diamond when the conditions are just right. Like that old foundation, Kiddieland’s railroad crossing pole is not as obvious a reminder of the park’s brief existence as, say, a trio of abandoned Ferris wheels on the side of I-75 in the Cumberland Mountains, but it’s that kind of obscure infrastructure that’s supremely rewarding to stumble across, wonder about, and research.

Whew! This wound up taking a lot longer to put together than I originally thought. I could go for a Twinburger with some Yum-Yum sauce right about now!

Sources Cited
1 Potempa, P. (2009, October 14). Northwest Indiana Landmarks Erased and Replaced. The Times [Munster]. p. 1.
2 Real Estate Transfers (1949, June 25). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 6.
3 Transfer Lease of Star Theater (1935, April 9). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 13.
4 New Movie House To Be Ready In ’51 (1949, June 25). The Muncie Evening Press.
5 Renew Building Permit for Madison Theater (1951, December 30). The Muncie Star. p. 4.
6 Lots Rezoned for Children’s Playground (1951, September 6). The Muncie Star. p. 17.
7 Lots Rezoned for Use by Kiddieland (1951, October 4). The Muncie Star. p. 3.
8 Mayor to Officiate at Opening of “Kiddieland” (1952, May 9). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 6.
9 Greene, D. (1953, September 5). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 6.
10 (See footnote 8).
11 Good Time Had by Belgian Visitors Here (1952, June 12). The Muncie Star. p. 14.
12 Kiddieland (1952, August 9). The Muncie Star. p. 6.
13 Works Board Hears Protest On ‘Kiddieland’ (1952, August 6). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 18.
14 Officers Probe Three Burglaries (1954, March 21). The Muncie Star. p. 5.
15 Opening (1954, April 16). The Muncie Evening Press . p. 2.
16 Amusement Park Theft (1954, May 26). The Muncie Star. p. 6.
17 Truck Strikes Building (1954, July 26). The Muncie Star. p. 12.
18 New Store Opened (1959, October 21). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 12.
19 The Passing of Westside Park (1918, June 14). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 2.
20 City Parks Open Officially on Sunday (1954, May 29). The Muncie Star. p. 2.
21 (See footnote 20).
22 Glass Days Guaranteeed Nine Rides (1977, June 17). The Muncie Star. p. 15.
23 Haas, C. (1976, August 14). Gaston Free Fair Will Start With Bang. The Muncie Star. p. 3.
24 Farmland Street Fair June 22-25 (1977, June 7). The Muncie Star. p. 18.
25 Yencer, R (1994, February 8). Bus driver retires after 21 years on job in Muncie. The Muncie Star. p. 3.
26 Owens, E. (1953, October 26). Nothing Remains but Memories. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 4.

5 thoughts on “Crossing Paths with Muncie’s Kiddieland

  1. That was amazing to read. Thanks for sharing this. My husband an I pastored this church in 2011-2016 I beleive . It was in real bad shape inside but we took the money from the sale of another church we owned an redone so many things. A new roof , an expanded pulpit, all new lighting, new gas line ran in back, new carpet on the pulpit, an so much more. We sure had some real good services there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is amazing that nobody ever pulled that ugly pole down during the decades when the property had converted to retail use. I wonder what happened to these kinds of carnival-type parks in general. I remember one on a much larger scale in Fort Wayne in the mid 60’s called the Jack & Jill Amusement Park. It was always a big event to go there, with a roller coaster they called the Monster Mouse. It was gone by 1970 or so, from its site on the southern section of the US 30 by-pass somewhere between the US 30 cloverleaf and Lake Avenue on the east side of the road.


    1. Dad always talked about Jack & JIll Amusement Park and being terrified of the Monster Mouse. Later it was the site of a waterpark called Diamond Jim’s that sometimes distributed tickets to FWCS schools. There’s a Value City Furniture there now.

      The Monster Mouse was another Allan Herschell production model coaster. Beyond that, Fort Wayne’s got an intriguing amusement park history with Robison and Trier parks. I remember being in awe when I learned that Robison Park, which I long understood to be way out of town, was approximately where Canterbury Green apartments are today! I guess it would have been pretty far out in the middle of nowhere in the 1890s.


      1. Robison Park was built as an interurban park to provide a destination so as to increase trolley ridership. My understanding is that a roller coaster or some of the other rides were moved to what’s now West Swinney Park after it closed and run by George Trier, of Trier Road fame. I think most of Trier Park burned down in the early 50s.

        Liked by 1 person

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