Excelsior Amusement Park
by Jennifer Claybourne, Digital Projects Assistant, University of Minnesota
Think Like a Historian
Observe a Primary Source Item and Record Your Thoughts
- What is happening in the photograph or letter, diary, etc.? What just happened, or what is about to happen?
- Describe the people you see in the image. How do they relate to each other and to the photographer? If there are no people in the image, what is the subject of the photograph?
- Look for details that show when the photo was taken – time of day, season, and year. Do the people in the photograph look different than people today? How are their clothing, shoes, and hair styles different? Also look for differences in things like transportation, housing, equipment, and general infrastructure.
Think about the Creator, Audience, Context, Relationships
- What is the author/creator's point of view? What was the author's purpose?
- Who is the intended audience for this primary source material?
- Explain how the source tells its story.
- What was happening locally, regionally, or nationally when this primary source material was created?
- How does this item relate to other content in this Primary Source Set and/or the rest of the Minnesota Digital Library collection? Compare and contrast two resources.
Finally, using the clues you have observed, try to figure out why the source was created. By asking these questions, you have begun to understand the what, who, where, when and why of the primary source material – and ultimately, the story it tells.
Discussion Questions & Activities
- Look at how many photographs have the Roller Coaster ride in them. The roller coaster at Excelsior was ½ mile in track length and reached a height of 65 feet. Do you think it deserved the nickname “King of the Midway”? Do you think Roller Coasters are still big attractions at today’s Amusement Parks? Would this one seem thrilling or scary to you today? Why or why not?
- Look at the aerial photographs from 1925, 1943, and the photograph dated 1960-1970. One of the reasons given for the Park’s closing in 1973 was limited space and no place to expand. What are the biggest changes you notice over the years? Do you agree or disagree with the reason of limited space to expand?
- Excelsior Amusement Park was a “Free Gate” park vs. a “Pay Gate”, which meant that there was no admission fee to get into the park. People pay per ride and for any food from the concession stands. Entertainment acts were usually free. A “Pay Gate” has a fee at the gate but then the rides and entertainment are all free. Food, however, is usually still an extra cost. Why do you think Excelsior was a “Free Gate” park? Can you think of any parks today that are “Free Gate” vs “Pay Gate” parks? Which do you think is better for the parks and the visitors? Why?
- The Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company (TCRT) was looking for a way to get more economic benefit from their rails. Entertainment destinations at the end of lines were a popular idea. How did these “destinations” help the railway companies? Can you name at least one end of the line destination for the light rail train system in the Twin Cities today?
- The Excelsior Amusement Park survived the Great Depression and remained open to visitors. What do you think contributed to their continued success despite general economic hard times of the 1930s?
- What do you think happened to all the rides after the park closed? What would you have done?
- Research the other amusement parks that have operated or are still operating in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Pick a park and try to find more information about it to share with the class.
- Research roller coasters. How have they changed since the early 1900s? How have the stayed the same? Design your own roller coaster.
- Design an amusement park. If you were going to build an amusement park today, what would you include? What would you skip? Where would you put it?
- Think about the rides and the shows you might have seen on a typical day at the Park. Think about what you would have done if you had visited the park in the 1940s or 1950s. Write a diary entry or a letter to a friend about your day at the Excelsior Amusement Park.
eLibrary Minnesota Resources (for Minnesota residents)
- "Coney Island." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 24 Oct. 2008. https://school-eb-com.content.elibrarymn.org/levels/high/article/Coney-Island/25145. Accessed 7 Feb. 2018.
- "Roller coaster." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 26 Nov. 2014. https://school-eb-com.content.elibrarymn.org/levels/high/article/roller-coaster/396635. Accessed 7 Feb. 2018.
- Kelley, S. Allyn. “Old Fashioned FUN.” Boys' Quest, vol. 15, no. 1, June 2009, p. 34. Middle Search Plus, EBSCOhost, Accessed 7 Feb. 2018.
Additional Resources for Research
- “After 49 Years, Excelsior Park Forced to Close” Austin Daily Herald, 3 Mar. 1973. Newpaper Archive, access-newpaperarchive-com.ezp1.libm.umn.edu/.
- “AMUSEMENT PARKS.” St Louis Park Historical Society, slphistory.org/amusementparks/
- “Arson Suspected Excelsior Fire” Albert Lea Tribune, 9 July 1973. Newpaper Archive, access-newpaperarchive-com.ezp1.libm.umn.edu/.
- “Coney Island.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Mar. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coney_Island.
- “ELMHS.” ELMHS, www.elmhs.org/.
- “Historical Questions and Answers about Lake Minnetonka | Lake Minnetonka.” Community Life Magazine, lakeminnetonkamag.com/historical-questions-and-answers-about-lake-minnetonka.
- “Plan.” Luna Park in Coney Island, lunaparknyc.com/plan/.
- Van Gompel, Greg. Excelsior Amusement Park: playland of the Twin Cities. The History Press, 2017.