I have intended to photograph this dinosaur for years. A couple of decades, actually.
The colorful, scaly reptile is a denizen of a long-closed amusement park on the northwest side of Milwaukee – once a roadside attraction featuring miniature golf, possibly go karts, and a giant wave slide of the sort ubiquitous in the early 1970s. I have vague, distant memories of driving past at night and seeing the darkness brightly lit, which means it must still have been in business as late as the early 1980s, when I moved to the city.
In searching for more information online, I came across this photo on Flickr that shows the orange dinosaur in its original setting. And here’s another Flickr photo showing the dino from the opposite angle, a rear view pointing out toward the street, with the original (but by then greatly deteriorated) “Johnson’s Park” sign beyond.
The park remained intact for many years after it shut down, but eventually the slide disappeared and slowly the rest of its installations were also dismantled, until all that was left behind were some dinosaurs and other remnants of the miniature golf course hidden in the encroaching brush.
Demolition of the property started in earnest maybe a year ago. Bulldozers and heavy equipment moved in, and soon it appeared nothing remained. I had waited too long to take my photo. With all traces of this kitschy park erased, there would be no tangible reminder of Milwaukeeans’ cheesy entertainment of an era past.
Then my daughter recently spotted this guy lurking in the bushes. He’s nearly invisible to motorists driving north on 76th Street because of the overgrowth. Because I needed to be on the northwest side of the city today anyway, I took along my camera – finally!
The site of this former amusement park exists in a swath of empty history: abandoned auto dealerships and weedy parking lots along N. 76th Street in Milwaukee. Half a century ago this area was freshly built, the newest construction on the outer edges of the city abutting the countryside. Now it has lapsed into ruin.
Whatever shape this property assumes in its next phase of life, wouldn’t it be wonderful if somehow the dinosaur could be incorporated into its design as a physical link connecting us to who we used to be?