Funland of Opportunity

Published online: Nov 13, 2020 Looking Back Jeff Carr, Research by Judy House, Museum of Idaho
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Once upon a time, back in a browline-glasses America, some 500 “kiddielands” dotted the country. These small amusement parks provided adrenaline and visible joy for a nation of kids whose parents could never afford Disneyland. In fact, you could even bike there yourself, fly around, eat a corn dog and be home for dinner once your stomach settled. All but a handful of these kiddielands are long gone, paved over by market forces, but in Idaho, one remains. And not only is Tautphaus Park Funland still there, many aspects have remained completely unchanged in more than 70 years.

When the park first opened in 1947, it had only two rides: a Ferris wheel made out of bridge girders and a wooden carousel made by the preeminent Allan Herschell company. Both have remained in place since then, a point that has not gone unnoticed by the National Carousel Association (NCA). In fact, a look through the NCA database shows that Funland may be the West’s only classic Allan Herschell wood carousel that is both original and verified in its original location.

The database also notes that the carousel is “a well-maintained machine,” which certainly has something to do with Leo Larsen. In Funland’s earliest years, the park’s owners called upon Larsen to fix mechanical problems with the rides. This job required creativity, and it clearly called to him. He was running a garage at the time, but by 1952, he had bought out most of the park’s owners himself. Two other existing rides, the octopus and the airplane ride, soon appeared. The octopus, originally built in 1938 (making it the park’s oldest ride), was bought from the Utah State Fair, while the spinning airplanes came from Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. Of note, those little planes pilotable by your children used to be fuel drop tanks used on real WWII planes.

Larsen eventually added miniature golf and an arcade, and made Funland his full-time job. A kid’s dream. Leo Larson owned the rides and had a lease to operate the amusement park in Tautphaus Park. In 2000, Leo sold the rides and the business to Ann Rehnberg. She had a city lease and operated the Funland until 2019, when the City purchased the rides. Like many amusement parks, Funland was closed this year for the first time ever. However, unlike other parks, this particular closure has a silver lining. The city has set aside funds to restore the park to its original glory. Current plans even call for a central plaza where groups can meet and where visitors can buy tickets to both Funland and the adjacent Idaho Falls Zoo, providing an all-day “kiddieland” experience. Some sensations, especially those tinged with the distant joy and wonder of childhood, can never truly be passed on to new generations, but that one is worth a try. 


All About Old-Time Carousels

Back in 2013, the Museum of Idaho showcased “Carousels: Art and History in Motion.”

The seasonal exhibit celebrated the dedication, precision and talent carousel carvers took in creating the artistry and the detail found in the wooden carousels of yesteryear.

Check out the video at tinyurl.com/carousels2013 

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