Garden of Broken Toys, 2012
I spent several days in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this week on a work-related assignment. I stayed at a hotel near the airport, which is something I usually try to avoid because such hotels tend to be in the most desolate of places where no one wants to live because of the airport noise and were the only businesses either cater to travelers or people looking for use car parts or strip clubs.
My hotel was within sight of the giant UPS sorting center and a Ford plant. The view from much of the hotel included vast lots full of new cars awaiting shipment. There were new cars stored in the nearby state fair ground parking lots and in the vast parking lots of the nearby University of Louisville Cardinals stadium.
Fortunately, my room didn’t face a field full of new cars. Instead, I overlooked a large empty parking lot and, just beyond that, an abandoned amusement park. I’m not talking about one of those rinky dink fairs that travels around the country during the summer setting up shop at churches, mall parking lots and open fields. No, this was a full-fledged theme park, its rides quiet, its paint peeling, its gates untended and its parking lots empty and overgrown with weeds.
This place was once known as Kentucky Kingdom and later as Six Flags’ Kentucky Kingdom. The Six Flags company, which at one time operated nineteen theme parks around the country, had a brief run through bankruptcy in 2010 and 2011. At some point during that time the landlord for the Kentucky Kingdom property proposed a lease renewal for the amusement park that the Six Flags people found so untenable that they simply closed the park. During the two years since, rides have rusted, the wooden planks of the Thunder Run roller coaster planks have warped and split and trees and weeds have grown where there were once manicured lawns and gardens. Nothing has been maintained. It’s as if the owners simply locked the gates one night and never came back.
There’ve been several parties interested in reopening the park. But they were all unsuccessful because the city of Louisville and the State of Kentucky would not give them the financial incentives they wanted.
The desk clerk at my hotel told me that a new company—water park operators from over in Indiana—has bought Kentucky Kingdom and plans to reopen the park in 2013 under the name Bluegrass Boardwalk. In the meantime, no happy music blankets the area, no visitors squeal as the roller coaster tears around the curves and down the steep plunges on its wooden track and there is no popcorn or cotton candy. Just a garden of broken toys.
Thunder Run, 2012