John Stevenson writes with a thoughtful and passionate touch in his account of the former Libertyland, a patriotically themed small, but genuinely immersive theme park in Memphis, Tennessee. Coordinating a detailed work including the arc of a historic theme park and a focus on sharing the experiences of those who loved Libertyland, Stevenson successfully brings the reader to Memphis and helps them understand what was lost following the park’s closure in 2005. Complete with dozens of beautiful images including photos, design sketches, post cards, and myriad facts, amassed in an approachable yet thorough way, Images of Modern America: Libertyland is an excellent read for any enthusiast or history buff.
A thoughtful forward written by Shelby County Historian, Jimmy Ogle, notes the spirit of the author and reflects upon his hard work bringing the book to fruition. Ogle also provided a glimpse into what Libertyland meant to youths who grew up visiting the park (as well as some scary practices those kids would do midride on the park’s wooden roller coaster).
In reading Stevenson’s book, you quickly pick up some excellent facts about the park that make it stand out. With its origins as a permanent installation in Memphis’ large fair grounds in the late 19th century, Libertyland in its final form opened just in time for our nation’s bicentennial on July 4th in 1976 and paid tribute to the history of the United States and its colonial founding.
Libertyland was known in popular culture as well, with none other than the legendary Elvis Presley himself being a huge fan of the park’s famed roller coaster, the Zippin Pippin. Like many historic wooden roller coasters, it went through several iterations, and began life as the Pippin Scenic Railroad by the famed roller coaster designer, John A. Miller. If you’re not familiar with Miller, you may have heard of some of his work, for they certainly appear quite often when reading about the history of roller coasters as he is credited with the design of 146 of them.
Libertyland met its fate as with many other great parks. Due to a lack of profits, it was closed after one final day operating for a private event in October 2005, and eventually demolished. The Zippin Pippin, however, lives on in Green Bay, Wisconsin’s Bay Beach Amusement Park where it was recreated by the Gravity Group and Martin & Vleminckx.
The station for the park’s three quarters of a mile long miniature train was modeled after the Pennsylvania Statehouse in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was approved. In its steeple was a bell sourced from the Warner Brother’s studio in Hollywood, CA.
Libertyland’s large steel roller coaster, an Arrow-designed loop screw called Revolution, now resides at Gloria’s Fantasyland in Dapitan, Philipines.
One of three authentic historic cabins placed at the park came from none other than Branson, Missouri’s Silver Dollar City.
The final thrill ride added to Libertyland was a 90 foot tall drop tower made by Fabbri. Called the Rebellion, it was the tallest structure in the park.
I really enjoyed reading and taking in all the beautiful photos in Stevenson’s book. On a cold off-season weekend, it was a great pick-me-up and I hope you think so too. I would love to ride the Zippin Pippin one day and will surely be thinking of Libertyland when I do.
Images of Modern America: Libertyland does an excellent job at bringing the park to life in the mind of the reader. You can learn more about the book and order your own copy at John Stevenson’s website, Remember Libertyland.
So What’s Your Take?
Did you ever get to visit Libertyland? Do you think that more could have been done to save the park? What books about theme parks have you enjoyed?