A "FUN-FUL" evening in beautiful Kansas


Just back from a weekend trip to Lawrence, Kansas, to see my cousin graduate from high school. We made some stops on the way there and back to give Dad a break and let the kids run around.

On the way home tonight, we stopped for nearly two hours at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas. Independence is a little city of about 10,000, county seat of Montgomery County. Like most Kansas county seats, it is a beautiful town, with tree-lined streets of tidy Late Victorian and Craftsman homes, a stately courthouse, and a downtown of beautifully restored commercial buildings which appear to be fully occupied.

Riverside Park sits on the north side of town, 124 acres above the banks of the Caney River, and features a small zoo, two playgrounds, an antique carousel, a lighted fountain, miniature golf, a miniature train ride, and tennis courts.

Our first stop on entering the park was the big playground near the Carousel. This is where Joe (nearly 7) wanted to spend his time. Visiting the playground is like traveling through time, starting with big metal behemoths probably built in the '50s, through '60s fiberglass bouncy horses, earth-toned climbing equipment from the '70s, up through a plastic play complex from the late '90s.

The behemoths to which I refer are old but very well maintained pieces of equipment which were designed with the assumption of a level of acceptable risk in child play which exceeds that of our safety-conscious age:

  • A 12 foot high platform, providing access to five slides -- two straight and flat, two straight but wavy, and a curly slide -- reached by two steep metal ladders. The platform has a "guard rail" about 18 inches high, just high enough to catch a grownup's feet as he falls off and ensure that he hits the ground head first. The steps of these ladders are wrought iron manifestations of the the words "FUN FUL", which I take to be the manufacturer's name. I only found one reference to such a company on the web, a photo of a merry-go-round ride called an "Ocean Wave", circa 1920. I remember something very much like that in the playground in front of Catoosa Elementary School, and I think I saw one in Seiling Park in Broken Arrow within the last 10 years (no longer there).
  • A twelve-foot high "fire tower" featuring a big hole in the floor (for a fire pole) as well as a straight slide.
  • A six-foot slide platform with metal sheets extending down either side -- the kind that will fry you like bacon on a hot summer day.
  • An antique ladder truck. A real one. Not something wooden and small with rubber bumpers over the sharp edges, not a relic fenced in and out of reach, but a real old fire truck that kids can climb all over. The steering wheel actually turns the wheels, which have real (mostly flat) tires. You can climb all the way back on the ladder. Sadly, the controls to raise, extend, and swivel the ladder have been disabled, probably by order of some safety-obsessed killjoys.
  • A spinning circle -- the kind with the raised elongated bumps at right angles for traction, and bars radiating and rising from the center, then forking out and connecting to the edge. Joe was riding it, having me spin him faster and faster. As he was spinning, and as I was pondering whether, out of appreciation for the City of Independence having the guts to keep this classic play equipment available, I would refrain from filing suit if one of my kids were injured -- as if he could read my mind, Joe launched himself off the circle. His foot was caught by one of the handholds and it seemed he might be dragged around, but the circle stopped quickly. Joe was fine, grinning. He got up, brushed off the sand (that's what they use around all the play equipment -- not hard, splintery wood chips, but nice soft sand). "I intended to do that. I thought it would be cool to jump off!"
  • Big heavy seesaws, the kind that will perform reverse traction on your spine if your partner suddenly scrams.

Katherine (nearly 3) was not all that interested in the playground. She wanted to ride the carousel with Mommy. And she did, probably about 15 times. When it's only a nickel a ride, you can ride 15 times. The carousel is beautifully restored, protected from the elements by a recently constructed canopy.

The train wasn't running -- it's only 25 cents -- and we didn't take time for the mini-golf course which illustrates the history of Independence (only $1 a game). We did stock up on sodas from the vending machines for the ride home -- only 50 cents a can.

The extra carousel rides and time on the playground was in lieu of a stroll through the park's Ralph Mitchell Zoo. The zoo mainly features small animals, and the centerpiece is a WPA-built monkey island, which was once home to astro-monkey Miss Abel. As recently as our last visit, three years ago, the zoo was just part of the park, accessible whenever the park was open. Now there was a tall wire fence surrounding the zoo, and they close the zoo at 8 p.m. My wife asked the lady at the carousel ticket booth what had changed. She said federal zoo regulators required the fence and the 24-hour presence of a zookeeper.

As we loaded up the car for the trip home we could hear the wild cries of the peafowl which roam the zoo grounds.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 27, 2003 1:58 AM.

"It's amazing that it works at all" was the previous entry in this blog.

Ending a segregated academic program at MIT is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]