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Sea horse figure, winner of 1997-98 "Design a Carousel" contest
Sea horse figure, winner of 1997-1998 "Design a Carousel" contest. Courtesy National Foundation for Carnival Heritage

Midway USA: Kinsley, Kansas

Kinsley, Kansas, earned the name "Midway USA" by being exactly 1,561 from San Francisco to the west and 1,561 miles to New York in the east, inspiring a 1939 Saturday Evening Post cover showing two cars, starting in Kinsley and going in opposite directions, both bearing a sign saying "World's Fair or Bust." (In 1939, there were two "World's Fairs": an eponymous one in New York, and the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco.) Kinsley, a small community with less than 2,000 residents, is set in a region of prime agricultural land supporting wheat, corn, soybean and cattle production.

In 1901, Kinsley area farmer Charles Brodbeck, ventured to Hutchinson, Kansas, a journey of almost one hundred miles. There he was fascinated by a small cable-driven carousel, but more fascinated that people would ride a horse a considerable distance and then pay someone a nickel to ride a wooden horse around in circles. Brodbeck traded a quarter acre of land, some horses and cows for the little carousel. Brodbeck at first kept the carousel at his farm and gave rides to the neighbors, but, in 1908, he and his son Fred loaded up the carousel and took it to nearby towns to sell rides. Very soon the family concluded that the little carousel with the wooden horses going round in a circle could make more money than farming. The next year, the family went out with the carousel and offered rides at small town fairs and picnics throughout south central Kansas, and added a Ferris Wheel, one of the first commercial ones in the nation.

Clearly there was money to be made in the carnival amusement business and there was a great need for family entertainment in the small towns of the Midwest. Rides were added, games and exhibitions were added, and soon the traveling carnival became a full-fledged "show." Brodbeck was unable to meet the demands of towns that wanted a carnival, and involved the rest of his family in the carnival business. Each carnival would hire local workers to set up and tear down the shows, and concessionaires to sell popcorn, sno cones, and run penny arcades.

From the early part of the 20th century through the 1970s, the carnivals of Kinsley would travel throughout the Midwest from April to October setting up amusements for the delight of young and old. By the late 1970s, the costs of liability insurance, overhead and finding reliable employees made the operation of the smaller family carnivals difficult. Very large carnival companies began to serve big events like State Fairs and large expositions.

The rich carnival history of Kinsley inspired the establishment of the National Foundation for Carnival heritage in 1991. Bruce White, a nationally recognized wood carver of carousel figures, began working with the National Foundation for Carnival Heritage. Its museum houses a small carousel populated with figures that have been created from the winning entries in the "Design a Carousel" contest. Carnival games, artifacts and memorabilia along with photos of the historic days of carnival and the Carnival Hall of Fame provide visitors a rich experience in learning what family carnival life was like. In 1998, the Foundation purchased an historic two-story carousel platform made by the Heyn Carousel Works in Germany in 1900; Bruce White has been commissioned to carve 32 original carousel animals, two chariots, and four love seats for the carousel, based on old photos and historic records. In Kinsley, the legacy of a man who bought a wooden horse and developed an entire industry in a small Midwestern town is being preserved and built upon for future generations.

The project is documented with a nine-page essay and 22 photographs.

Originally submitted by: Jerry Moran, Representative (1st District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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