It was one of those picture-perfect October days, late in the afternoon, when we pulled into the parking lot of Storybook Land in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
By Tom & Patti Burkett
“Storybook Railroad closed for the season,” the sign read at the entrance as if to ward off the oncoming disappointment from a carload of children.
From the parking lot, a yellow brick road leads into a landscape of perfectly trimmed trees and manicured lawns. Pass beyond a turn and the land opens up before you, replete with characters from nearly every nursery rhyme you can remember from your childhood, and many of those favorite stories as well.
There are many similar places around the USA, parks with nursery rhyme themes, or faded children’s amusement parks. This one, however, has a story set in more modern times.
The Storybook Land story
Set in Aberdeen’s Wylie Park, it began as a tribute to L. Frank Baum who wrote the Wizard of Oz books.
Sure enough, there are ten characters from the book gathered in one section of the park, where work began about fifty years ago. Local civic groups got behind the project and soon it included figures from more than two dozen fairy tales. Next came Sleeping Beauty’s castle, which contains an outdoor stage, and does double duty to house Rapunzel when approached from a certain side.
As you walk the paved paths, friendly to wheelchairs, baby buggies, scooters, and rollerblades, pass beneath the rainbow into the land of Oz, where you can step into Dorothy’s house, stroll through the talking apple tree orchard, peek into the Lion’s den, and even take a ride on the Wizard’s balloon.
Before you leave, whirl around on the carousel, and size up the munchkins bustling around Emerald City. Take the path outside the train tracks that circle the park and you can see a variety of South Dakota fauna, as well as llamas, sika deer, and a yak.
Storybook Land is the town's pride and joy
Storybook Land has become the public face of Aberdeen, which uses the castle as part of its city logo and flag.
The more than sixty ‘sets’ are beloved by community members, many of whom had a hand in building them and have now enjoyed them for nearly three generations.
“And it doesn’t stop there,” says Tom Agnitsch, of the Sertoma Club, “we’re planning a gravity coaster and giant shade toadstools around the castles and more bridges with surprises underneath.” There’s already a new visitor center and concession area.
There are other similar parks around the country, as you might imagine.
Storybook Land is not alone off the beaten paths of America
One in Egg Harbor, New Jersey is still going strong as a children’s amusement park.
You can poke through the remains of a storybook park behind the Enchanted Forest shopping center in Ellicott City, Maryland.
There are still a few bits and pieces of Story Book Land in Woodbridge, Virginia on US 1, and Story Book Forest is still alive, now part of the much larger Idlewild Amusement Park in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
So keep your eyes open.
You might just run across the crooked little man in his crooked little house or old Humpty Dumpty, either sitting on a wall or busted up at the bottom of it. They’re all out here, off the beaten path.
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