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Iconic Carousel Spins Again At Wichita's Botanica

Wichita’s Botanica begins a new era Friday evening when the iconic Joyland carousel officially opens to the public.

The debut comes on opening night for Botanica’s annual Illuminations light display.

The 40-foot tall ornate carousel, officially called the Khicha Family Carousel, spins inside a new modern 9,000 sq. ft. pavilion that has large glass, garage-style doors. Benches, tables and fire pits surround the building. The pavilion is located near the entrance to the Downing Children’s Garden.

“Restoring a piece of Wichita history is so important to us, and to the city. We’ve had wonderful feedback from the community about this project,” says Kathy Sweeney, Botanica director of special events.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW

The Allan Herschell Company designed the carousel 70 years ago. It was a popular attraction at the former Joyland amusement park until the park closed in 2004.

The historic carousel was stored in a warehouse for about ten years until Joyland owner Margaret Nelson Spear donated the carousel to Botanica.

“When we got the rights to it, it was pretty banged up,” Sweeney says.

Artists, engineers and technical specialists spent five years working to restore the carousel to its previous grandeur.

Local artists Connie and John Ernatt redesigned the carousel with many authentic elements to replicate the original 1949 machine.

Artist Marlene Irvin repainted the carousel’s original 36 horses. Sweeney says the restoration work on some horses took weeks while others took a few months. She says each horse features a unique design.

“You can find one with the Keeper of the Plains, one with butterflies, we have an autumn horse. Every one is painted by hand, and has a really unique touch that is either botanical, Wichita or Joyland related,” Sweeney says.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
Artist Marlene Irvin repainted all of the carousel's original horses. Each horse features a unique design.

The carousel also has two chariots. They were restored, and converted to be accessible for all riders.

Sweeney says the carousel’s motors and mechanics were also restored or replaced in order to bring the machine back to life.

“We’re just so happy to see it all come together,” Sweeney says.

The opening of the carousel pavilion is the first phase of a plan to develop the eight acre area. Sweeney says next spring, construction will begin on what’s called the Koch Carousel Gardens next to the building. A stage, a grand lawn, a splash pad and a natural play area and more will be built in time for the opening of next year’s Illuminations event.

Carousel rides cost $3.00. During Illuminations, Sweeney expects long lines.

“We won’t be able to have everyone ride the carousel within the Illuminations night. We figure about 1,200 rides per evening; a lot of nights we have more guests than that,” Sweeney says. “So just be patient with us, and you’re welcome to come back during the day for a ride.”

Illuminations runs through Jan. 4.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.