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    -  -  -  -  -      The Zippin Pippin      -  -  -  -  -   

 

 


  My first impression of the Pippin (as it was originally called) was when I was about seven years old. Our family was enjoying the games and rides of the old Fairgrounds Amusement Park in Memphis, as most families did in local outings during the 1950s. I remember being crammed into one of the cars with others and being told to “hold on the safety bar and do not let go for any reason”. I did not let go. But as time passed and amount of my rides grew, and as I aged and was now going to the park with peers rather than parents, I became more confident in my Pippin ride. Soon, I made my “rite of passage” by riding the entire loop without holding on to anything and with having my hands high in the air.

  Everyone remembers the “clickety-clackety” of the first 70-foot climb, the five seconds of pause around the first curve on top, and then the exhilaration of the “wheeeee-eee” down the 70-foot drop to the ups-and-downs, twists-and-turns, rocking back-and-forth over the next 2,500-feet+ of Pippin Heaven!

  The Pippin opened in Fairgrounds Amusement Park in 1923. The Pippin was designed by John A. Miller, the “Thomas Edison of Wooden Roller Coaster” designers in early 20th century America. Miller designed over forty wooded roller coasters throughout the nation and received over 100 patents for ride technology and safety. Miller made the drops higher and steeper, the turns sharper and the cars quicker with their patented “under friction wheels”.

  Little did I know that when I heard that “clickety-clackety” at age seven that it was a safety feature rather than only a noise-maker installed to build your anticipation on the slow transgress upward to the clouds. I have since learn that it was officially the “safety rachet” and the safety dog chain that prevented the car from rolling backwards, if the chain ever broke. To my knowledge, it never did in Memphis.

  Fast forward to 1976, and the Mid-South Fair converted the old Fairgrounds Amusement Park into Libertyland, and the name was upgraded to Zippin Pippin. Of course, over the years after his popularity had zoomed to astronomical proportions, Elvis Presley would rent out Fairgrounds Amusement Park or Libertyland for his family, entourage and friends after hours for privacy and security reasons. Elvis thoroughly enjoyed the Pippin and the Dodge’em Cars. His last after-hours rental of August 8, 1977 was what to become his last appearance in public in his life, as he passed away eight days later.

  Libertyland was the home to hundreds of youth in the Memphis area for their memorable “first job”. In the past year while being involved with the Remember Libertyland effort, I have heard scores of stories about Zippin Pippin experiences from patrons who thoroughly enjoyed the family amusement park located in the home city, and from former employees with fond memories of the park, like each morning taking that “test ride” on the Zippin Pippin all alone.

  Libertyland last day was October 29, 2005, as economic circumstances made it unaffordable for Mid-South Fair Inc to continue to operate the seasonal park. The Mid-South Fair eventually was vacated from the Fairgrounds and relocated to DeSoto County, Mississippi.

  In 2006, a citizens group named Save Libertyland was formed with hopes of attracting a new operator for Libertyland, while the City of Memphis government was intent on demolition of the property (which had been the home of the Fair and other activities for almost 100 years) for new purposes. Save Libertyland was not able to convince the powers-that-be that the value of a small, regional family-themed for amusement and employment was a more positive economic engine and benefit for the community than what it appeared like on the surface.

 
June 21, 2006 - An auction of the remaining property and equipment of Libertyland was conducted. Bidders from Carolina Crossroads in North Carolina, who originally attended the auction to bid only on the “Elvis” Pippin car, were amazed to win the entire Zippin Pippin structure and all cars for $2,000. Carolina Crossroads took the cars and after several years of inability or maybe even desire to relocate the rather massive structure, they relinquished the rights to the Zippin Pippin structure to Save Libertyland on July 6, 2008.

 
2006 through 2008 - Save Libertyland pounded the drum for the Zippin Pippin, but to know avail and the City commenced demolition preparations and clearing the entire 60+ acres of land, building and walkways from Libertyland, as well as other areas of the Fairgrounds property in preparation for Tiger Lane (a tail-gaiting and new entry area to the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium) under the name of “Greening Of the Fairgrounds”. Fortunately, all of the large trees in the Libertyland property were saved and the area is still a very attractive “green spot” amongst the development.

 
November 8, 2007 - The Zippin Pippin was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, due to the efforts of Save Libertyland and Memphis Heritage.

 
November 14, 2009 - As I was arriving in the afternoon at the Liberty Bowl to work on the Stat Crew for a University of Memphis football game, I noticed that the gates to Libertyland were open. At the conclusion of the game, I ventured through the open gates and wandered around a few minutes looking at several structures before it became too dark. I was in hopes that the gates would be open the next day so that I could get some good photographs in the daylight, and when I returned on Sunday morning, the gates were indeed still open and without any prohibitive signage.

 
November 15, 2009 - I proceeded to take about a hundred photographs of every angle that I could find of the conditions from the Zippin Pippin to the Funnel Cakes to Skeeball Palace to the Water Slide to the Bell Tavern Snack Bar. Footings from the removed Revolution were evident, weeds were high, leaves everywhere, trash had blown into the park, wooden benches broken – it basically looked like a facility that had been neglected for four years, which it had been. I spent about an hour on the Zippin Pippin structure, as the service walkway up the first climb was safe and manageable, in search of some “exclusive” high photos. I got the photos that I wanted.

 
November 17, 2009 - The Commercial Appeal featured a story of the City’s actions of “sampling” the condition of the wooden coaster structure, which was basically an effort that tore out about sixty feet of the wooden supports on November 16. So, it looks like I was in there on the right day – the last day that Zippin Pippin would ever be “as one”.

 
February 8, 2010 - During the course of the Winter of 2009-10, Steve Mulroy, President of Save Libertyland, was able to attract the interest of the City of Green Bay and its century-old Bay Beach Amusement Park as a future “home” for the Zippin Pippin. On this day, the day after the Super Bowl, a contingent from Green Bay (Mayor Jim Schmitt; Parks, Recreation & Forestry Director Bill Landvatter and Engineer Chad Miller) was in Memphis along with five inches of snow that they said was not from Green Bay.

  I had volunteered myself to Steve to be an extra automobile and camera for the visit, and along with John Dulaney of Save Libertyland, we met in the snow on site and even proceeded to walk partway up the first climb. Then, it was on to Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton’s office to discuss the potential arrangements, time lines and cooperation. It was at the close of a positive meeting that I was able to provide my “MEMPHIS” cap to Mayor Schmitt for a photo opportunity for the Mayors. At the close of the meeting, I was able to ferry the Green Bay contingent to the Memphis International Airport and get more insight as to their plans at Bay Beach Amusement Park. You could tell they were pleased and excited about the visit.

 
March 18, 2010 - The next event I attended was a two-city teleconference (Memphis & Green Bay) from the Ericson Group Inc conference room to the Mayor’s office in Green Bay. On this occasion, an agreement was jointly signed between the City of Green Bay and Save Libertyland allowing Green Bay the “rights to the name, design and configuration of the Zippin Pippin, as well as all salvageable materials after the coaster’s dismantling.” The deal was signed with Mayor Schmitt proudly wearing his “MEMPHIS” cap.

  During the course of March-April-May of 2010, construction crews dismantled the Zippin Pippin with certain pieces (wood, iron, motor, chain, turnstiles, signs, etc.) being sent to several “secret locations” in Memphis for temporary storage, giving Green Bay time to mobilize its efforts and Memphis immediate time to continue on schedule its “greening” of the Fairgrounds, in time for the 2010 college football season.

 
April 19, 2010 - Save Libertyland held a meeting at Memphis Heritage in which several matters were discussed and enacted, including the election of a new slate of officers (Jimmy Ogle, President; John Dulaney, Treasurer & Heidi Knochenhauer, Secretary), the adoption of by-laws, and the disbursement of funds for several projects such as a fundraising project using pieces of the Zippin Pippin wood and track, a possible audio-visual exhibit for a local museum, a documentary film and an historical marker. At the conclusion of the meeting, Save Libertyland officially changed its name to Remember Libertyland.
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May 27, 2010 - At the regular monthly meeting of the Shelby County Historical Commission, the model style, location and text for a two-sided historical marker (Zippin Pippin & Libertyland) were approved.

 
June 18, 2010 - I visited Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I just wanted to see on my own what Bay Beach was like. I found it full of families on a lovely Summer Saturday afternoon (about 6,000 folks). I found a mixture of ages and groups, creeds and colors all standing in line to ride one of seventeen amusement park rides from a Miniature Train to a Ferris Wheel to Bumper Cars to the Merry-Go-Round. The grounds were full of picnickers and the ride tickets were only 25 or 50 cents each! Bay Beach has been in business since 1892, but without a wooden roller coaster since the Greyhound closed in1936. Bay Beach Amusement Park is the ninth oldest continuously operated amusement park in America.

  What impressed me the most about the park was that it was in a public recreational setting, yet without a security fence around the property. Each ride had a safety fence for those queued in line waiting for the next ride. Each ride was a pay-as-you-ride attraction, but the price was “quarters”. My second big observation was the number of families of all kinds sprawling all over the tree-filled grounds overlooking the waters of Green Bay. It was a simple, easy-flowing and friendly place. My “come-away-with” impression was that the Zippin Pippin will be a superstar at Bay Beach Amusement Park for years to come.

 
June 21, 2010 - Having been a speaker at an American History Teachers Collaborative meeting in Urbana, Illinois and visiting Lake Superior for the first time, I figured that I could carry a seven-foot-long, wooden Station Brake from the Zippin Pippin to Mayor Schmitt’s office in Green Bay in between. On the morning of June 21, I popped into the Mayor’s Office reception area holding the brake and stating that I “was Jimmy Ogle from Memphis, Tennessee and I was here with a surprise for Mayor Schmitt”. Needless to say with a seven-foot-tall, wooden Station Brake pedal in my hand and saying the magic word “Memphis”, I was well received by the Mayor’s staff. We sat at his conference table where he had a spread of pictures that I had sent him detailing the volume and variety of the Zippin Pippin materials that were in storage in Memphis since the dismantlement in the Spring, awaiting for Green Bay to pick up.

 
August 4, 2010 - I met with Tom Marshall in the Fairgrounds in the middle of the peak of the construction of Tiger Lane. It was a hot and dusty Delta day for sure. Originally, we were anticipating placing the historical marker at the old East Parkway entrance into the Fairgrounds. The relocation of the historic granite gates and widening of the area for Tiger Lane, and a new road cut through the former Libertyland acreage (connecting Young Avenue with Early Maxwell Boulevard) on a limited use basis, made it an easy decision to place the marker at a more appropriate “stand-alone” site two hundred feet south of and away from the madness of Tiger Lane, nearer to the true historical location of the Zippin Pippin (Libertyland and Fairgrounds Amusement Park) – the northeast corner of East Parkway and Young Avenue. Tom was very accommodating and Zellner Construction agreed to dig the hole, pour the concrete and stabilize the marker pole for Remember Libertyland.

 
October 19, 2010 - Dan Lardinois was sent from Green Bay with a 12-foot truck and 18-foot trailer to pick up materials (wood, iron, chain, turnstiles) from the three Memphis locations. Needless to say, we spent the entire day loading up a good sampling for the future display and use in Green Bay. I was sore at the end of the day.

 
November 1, 2010 - At 12:00 noon, the Historical Marker was unveiled in a brief ceremony covered by several local media outlets on a beautiful sunny day. Speakers for the occasion were:

AC Wharton – Mayor, City of Memphis
Ed Williams – Shelby County Historian
Robert Nichols - former General Manager of Mid-South Fair/Libertyland
Steve Mulroy – former President, Save Libertyland & Shelby County Commissioner
Jimmy Ogle – Emcee & Narrator

  The Zippin Pippin side was revealed first as members of Remember Libertyland stood all around it and the text was read, followed by the revealing of the Libertyland side.

 
May 7, 2011 - Opening Day for the Zippin Pippin at Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

As a conclusion, I would like to mention the citizens of the community who have given time and effort to the cause:

Remember Libertyland - Steve Mulroy, John Dulaney, Mike McCarthy, June West, Amy Mulroy, Heidi Knochenhauer, Nicole Perugini, Foster Bunday, Jimmy Ogle, David Early & David Upton

Save Libertyland - Denise Parkinson, Misty White, Sarah Stramel, along with several members of the above-mentioned Remember Libertyland group

Other community leaders and citizens to be mentioned are:

City of Memphis - Mayor AC Wharton, Mina Becton, Robert Lipscomb, Cindy Buchanan
O.T. Marshall & Associates - Tom Marshall & Richard Davenport
SBOX - Chris Folk, Melissa & Terry (in the office)
Iron Workers Local Union No. 167 – Greg Crouse
Wagner Construction & Zellner Construction
Shelby County Historical Commission (Lee Millar, Chairman)
Ed Williams (Shelby County Historian)
Robert Nichols (Libertyland/Mid-South Fair Inc)
John Ogle (assisting in placing the 110-lb marker on the pole on October 31)
John Stevenson – Upkeep of www.rememberlibertyland.com, a site that John maintains solely out of his own interest in Libertyland and the Zippin Pippin. Remember Libertyland does not have an official web site at this time.

*** UPDATE ***

In May of 2012 the Zippin Pippin received the Best New Attraction award from the National Amusement Park Historical Association.
The Zippin Pippin is one of several historic rides preserved by NAHPA, including the second Tilt-A-Whirl ever manufactured,
the only Teeter Dip in existence and one of the last remaining Venetian swings rides.
Congratulations Bay Beach Amusement Park and Green Bay, Wisconsin!



www.zippinpippin.org.

 

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