ADVERTISEMENT

May 15, 1905: Wonderland amusement park opens

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • March 14, 2012 - 3:19 PM
 
Thousands flocked to 31st and E. Lake Street in May 1905 for a preview of a new 10-acre amusement park called Wonderland. A Tribune reporter in attendance somehow captured the glittery excitement of the day without getting a single quote from the park’s owners, visitors or employees.
 
Jump to the section headlined “How To Raise Babies” for a description of the park’s most unusual feature, a building where premature infants were on display, along with their doctors and nurses.
 
By 1911, the park had grown to 20 acres, 200-some buildings and a new boardwalk. But the land was apparently worth more than the revenue generated each year. The buildings were razed the following summer, and the land was divided into 99 residential lots and sold. One of the original structures – the Infant Incubator Institute at 3101 E. 31st Street – was converted to apartments and still stands.
 
The park's “toboggan slide” was more than 50 feet tall. Riders plunged nearly 200 feet down into a lagoon. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)

 

THOUSANDS LOOK
AT WONDERLAND

 
NEW AMUSEMENT PARK IS THROWN OPEN TO INSPECTION, AND
PRETTY MUCH ALL MINNEAPOLIS TURNS OUT – EVERYTHING
BEING PREPARED FOR GRAND OPENING ON MAY 27 – WON-
DERS INCLUDE EVERYTHING KNOWN IN WAY OF AMUSEMENT
NOVELTIES.
 
STREET RAILWAY SERVICE
TO BE WHOLLY ADEQUATE
 
Minneapolis people turned out by the thousand yesterday afternoon to be present at the informal opening of the new Wonderland Amusement Park, at Lake and thirty-first streets.
 
The gates were thrown open to the public free of charge during the afternoon, and it is estimated that from 2 until 5 o’clock there were fully 15,000 people who took advantage of the invitation of the management to view the display. Along Lake street from the Minnehaha car line a steady stream of people filled both sides of the street during the afternoon, on their way to the opening of the park.
 
None of the attractions is as yet running but the privilege of seeing just what the new wonderland will be, proved an attraction in itself. Until the park is in operation any true conception of its features will be practically an impossibility but a fair idea was gained by the crowds yesterday of what the amusements will include. A park of this kind so extensive in size and given up wholly to popular forms of amusement can not be understood by any mere description of its features.
 
BIG AS ALL OUTDOORS.
 
The first thing that claims the attention of the spectator as he enters the grounds, and before his mind has had time to grasp any particular feature, is the immensity in which everything is carried out. After the main entrance, which resembles a miniature Washington arch, a huge enclosure greets the eye skirted by structures of every conceivable kind built to accommodate some form of entertainment. The first impression conveyed is that a world’s fair on a small scale is opened before one’s view.
 
The large size of the park makes an appropriate setting for the whole ensemble of buildings. Facing the main entrance, with its extreme height throwing the structure in bold relief against the blue sky beyond, stands the “chutes.” This great “toboggan slide” affair reaches over fifty feet in the air with its majestic incline reaching for nearly 200 feet down into a lagoon. This lagoon, which is in fact an artificial lake, is strung with festoons of electric lights which will give it a gala appearance at night. Along the incline of the chutes lights are hung as well as thickly sprinkled in clusters at the top.
 
COMBINE BEST OF EVERYTHING.
 
The designers of the park seem to have taken one of the prime features of the recent Buffalo Exposition as their model. Appreciating the decorative effect that can be obtained by the aid of electricity, they have utilized electric lighting on a mammoth scale. The complete array of buildings on the grounds will show up resplendent in the evening with the aid of thousands of various colored electric light globes. Every part of the park as well as the outlines of the buildings will be enriched by electric lights.
 
Almost in the center of the grounds the electrical tower will be situated rearing up in all the brilliancy of 7,000 lights to a height of 120 feet. Surmounting this height a powerful searchlight will be installed capable of lighting up the country for miles around. This tower will appear like one great pillar of light with its brilliancy intensified by the marble-like whiteness of the tower itself. The prime element of importance which will do more than anything else to make the park attractive at night will be this wonderful illumination. When the whole group of amusement devices are trimmed with lights, 23,000 globes will have been used.
 
ONE BIG FEATURE.
 
The feature that has been planned to be the most important, and the one that perhaps attracted the most comment yesterday, was the scenic railway. This enterprise, which represents an enormous outlay of money for an amusement affair, is an exact duplicate of the aerial railway which proved a drawing card for the St. Louis fair last summer. The elevated structure, with its weird undulations, extends nearly the whole length of the ten acre tract comprising the park. At one end, which is arranged like the stations of an elevated road, is a small platform from which the start is made. The cars are run two together as a small train and controlled by an attendant whose duty it is to manipulate the brakes in case anyone becomes frightened. The trains are carried by cable up to the highest point of the track, which is about fifty feet from the ground. From there they are released and the force of gravity is relied upon for the motive power.
 
At a tremendous speed these cars whirl up and down the curves, running for part of the time through a series of caves and subterranean passages. These are made in almost perfect imitation of natural caverns. The total distance travelled in a trip around the scenic railway will be over 4,200 feet. At some of the inclines a speed of forty miles an hour is made and thrilling to an extreme. Care of detail and strength of construction have made accidents almost an impossibility.
 
HOME OF FLYING MACHINE.
 
The tower for the flying airships is on the ground and partly set up. This affair which consists of a steel tower, eighty-five feet in height, will have a shaft running perpendicularly through it to the ground to provide power for revolving the cars. Immense arms will project out from this shaft upon which five cars are to be attached. By the aid of a motor a shaft will be turned and centrifugal force will swing the cars until, when a high speed is attained, the cars will stretch out almost level with the top of the tower.
 
The fairy theater will be something entirely new in amusement enterprises. Instead of the audience sitting in an auditorium as in the ordinary theater, the stage is to be viewed from a distance through loopholes in a wall. Each of these apertures will be fitted will be fitted with lenses that will give weird effects to the antics of the people on the stage.
 
The old mill is an attraction without which no summer resort is complete. Although the idea is not new, originality will be attained by the many unique and pleasing features which are to be a part of a trip through the dark passages of the mill. The immense water wheel will drive a stream of water though a maize of dark caverns extending in and out among the rocks for a distance of over a quarter of a mile. The passage will be dark for the most part, but at intervals the traveler will come upon scenes of every description. A faithful reproduction of the Everglades, a village in the moonlight with light and dark effects worked out in detail, a witch’s cave with glittering rocks and variegated stalactite columns reaching to a seemingly unending distance, and a summer aquatic scene are among the many points of interest that the boat will pass in its journey through the winding canal.
 
HOW TO REAR BABIES.
 
The building devoted to the baby incubators will be a source of wonderment to many. There the science of caring for babies too frail to live without artificial aid will be shown in full. The doctors and nurses who will have the children in charge will live upon the grounds. A model nursery will be a part of the exhibit where scientific methods of caring for children will be demonstrated.
 
A mystic maize, an ingenious device which is planned as a stellar attraction as a mirth provoker called “bump the bumps,” a mystic city, and a house of nonsense, are among the features which make a fine external appearance, but which will undoubtedly have to be seen to be appreciated.
 
A creation, which is an outgrowth of the old-fashioned merry-go-round, is a revolving machine, large enough to accommodate several hundred people. Nearby this affair a large dancing hall is situated which will furnish sufficient room for about 300 people. This pavilion is provided with a mirror-like floor which will make it an admirable place for dancing. A complete orchestra will be situated in a balcony in the pavilion to furnish the music.
 
An attraction that will be a delight to old as well as young is the miniature railway. A train of four cars will run on this road, pulled by an engine, which, although a perfect reproduction of the standard type of railway locomotive, stands less than four feet in height. The track runs around the entire enclosure, just inside the promenade.
 
ANSWERS FOR PIKE.
 
This promenade, which is just inside the circle of buildings, will be to Wonderland what the “Pike” was to St. Louis, and the “Midway” was at Chicago. On this wide walk the sightseer may walk around, viewing the crowds and witnessing the many open-air attractions that are to be provided.
 
In anticipation of crowds, that will rival those of the state fair in magnitude, arrangements have been made for the best kind of street car service. Aside from the Minnehaha line, the new Lake street line will furnish the service to the grounds. Cars will run direct to the grounds from each of the lines that cross the Lake street line from Hennepin avenue out as far as the park.
 
In general, the work is practically completed, the remaining part of finishing the grounds ready for the commencement of the season being in the hands of the electricians, decorators, and landscape gardeners. Everything will be in perfect trim on May 27, when the gates will be thrown open for the formal opening with a dozen bands combining with the maize of other attractions to welcome the people of Minneapolis to their latest summer resort.
 
The park's "scenic railway" soared more than 50 feet in the air; cars reached top speeds of 40 miles per hour. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)

 

 
Some babies in the park's Infant Incubator Institute were more premature than others. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)

 

© 2014 Star Tribune