Founded in 1873 Kingsley, Kansas is an idyllic agricultural based community with a rich and eclectic history.
It was featured on the cover of the April 22nd, 1939 edition of “Saturday Evening Post”, has the only sanctioned lawn mower racing club in the state and is home to the “National Center for Carnival Heritage.”
A Brief History of the Traveling Carnival
Even before the “1933 Chicago World’s Fair”, Americans have been in infatuated with a good traveling sideshow. Before there were carnies and carnival rides, there were traveling medicine shows that promised onlookers’ cures for everything could be obtained from elixirs that came in little flasks and bottles.
The 1930’s however, saw traveling carnivals begin to hit their stride. Traveling carnivals quickly became a major source of entertainment for rural residents and the normally quiet city of Kingsley was at the heart of it thanks to one Charles Brodbeck.
Brodbeck started his burgeoning carnival empire with a single carousel that he operated in his family field. Rides at the time were a wooden nickel.
From those modest beginnings he grew a carnival empire that spanned decades involved his whole family and expanded his operation to encompass at least 6 different traveling carnival companies.
Brodbeck was in some pretty colorful company at the time and was rumored to have rubbed elbows with other carnival legends such as Col. C.W. Parker and the infamous burlesque dancer Sally Rand.
Brodbeck was in the carnival business from 1901 until the 1980’s. His last traveling carnival company was called “Strate-Midwest Shows.” He retained many relics from his carnival days and with the help assembled them into the only museum of its kind in the nation.
National Center for Carnival Heritage Exhibits
The “National Center for Carnival Heritage” has more distinct and remarkable exhibits than a carnie has tales.
Highlights include a “circa 1900 Double Decker Heyn Carousel” platform that was created by the celebrated German carousel maker Friedrich Heyn. It is the only one of its kind in the United States and one of a handful that remains in the world today.
As the center obtained the “Heyn Carousel” without the original animals and chariots its management commissioned renowned wood carving artisan Bruce White to hand carve 32 animals and 2 chariots for the rare carousel.
Other noteworthy exhibits are early 19th century midway signs, advertisements, Sally Rand posters, a 1914 carousel and countless other pieces of Brodbeck’s distinct memorabilia
Hours of Operation and Admission
The “National Center for Carnival Heritage” is open Tuesday through Saturday or by appointment. Hours of operation vary so it is best to call in advance of one’s trip.
As of 2010 admission to the “National Center for Carnival Heritage” is $6.00 per person. The tour is inclusive of admission to both the museum and the wood carving shop of Bruce White where visitors can watch him hand carve the new “Heyn Carousel” pieces.
Visitors to the “National Center for Carnival Heritage” should plan on allotting a minimum of one hour to view all of the exhibits.
National Center for Carnival Heritage
113 and 200 East 6th Street
Kinsley, KS 67547
Other attractions in Kinsley include the “Edwards County Historical Society Museum”, the “1917 Palace Theater”, “All Veterans Memorial” and a “Civil War Monument.”
The “Edwards County Historical Society Museum” is open from May to September, Mondays through Saturdays from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm and on Sundays from 2:00 pm until 5:00 pm.
Highlights of the exhibits at the “Edwards County Historical Society Museum” include an authentic 1958 sod house, sod cutter, 1881 church, steam engine, and the original Midway U.S.A. Sign. There is also a picnic area, playground and public restrooms nearby for those that wish to enjoy their lunch or a snack outside.
Those travelers who would like more information on Kinsley and the other charming cities in Edwards County should log onto the county’s tourism website.