Old Indiana Fun Park [Thorntown]
Description: Former Amusement Park Location: 7000 North 350 West, Thorntown, IN Condition: Disassembled, some buildings standing Originally Photographed: February 2001
On Thursday, August 11th, 1996, 4-year-old Emily Hunt was paralyzed from the chest down and her 57-year-old grandmother, Nancy Jones was killed after the miniature train ride at the Old Indiana Fun Park derailed and overturned as it approached a curve. The two victims were crushed under the weight of the cars . Upon investigation, the train was traveling much faster than its design speed of 12 miles per hour.
The ride operator claimed to have applied the brakes as the train neared the curve, but it was discovered that many of the ride’s brakes were either broken, missing, or not connected, and that most of the anti-derailment devices were missing. The speedometer was broken, along with the governor, which limits the speed of the train. The track was littered with broken ride parts.
Unbelievably the ride passed two state inspections in the 3-month period prior to the accident – before the safety inspector admitted that he was not qualified to inspect amusement rides. A state review of the park’s own records showed that the train had derailed 79 times in the 2 months prior to the accident, and as many as nine times in a single day.
It wasn’t the first problem at Old Indiana – in 1996 the park was fined for 77 violations of child labor laws. There were also reports in the Indianapolis Star of animals, including a tiger, being treated inhumanely.
The owners of Old Indiana Fun Park admitted negligence, but denied knowing anything about the condition of the ride prior to the accident. They have since declared bankruptcy, and most of the rides ath the park were auctioned on February 22, 1997. For example, the park’s log flume ride now sits in storage at Idlewild park in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
The park originally opened on June 29, 1985 as “Middle Country USA”. They gradually added rides until 1996, but remained mostly a picnic area and campground with a few attractions. A group of investors had planned to open the “Heartland Festival Entertainment Complex” in 1999 – but those plans appear to have never materialized. The land is now owned by the Six Flags company (formerly Premier Parks)
In fact, Six Flags began purchasing rides from other parks, and had several of them shipped to the site, including the “Screamin’ Delta Demon” from the now defunct Opryland USA theme park. These rides sit today rusting in the Indiana sun along with the remaining unsold rides from the Old Indiana Fun Park.
The net result of this tragedy, besides the bankruptcy of the Old Indiana Fun Park, was a law that toughened the regulation standards for amusement park rides, appropriately named “Emily’s Law”. The Emily Hunt Foundation holds “Emily’s Walk” each year to raise money for spinal cord research.
The park is a little difficult to find now that all of the signs along the freeway are down. There is a large, painted-over green sign that still stands by the road as you travel south along I-65 – if you look to your right behind that sign, you’ll see the park. To the north of the park there is a defunct camp ground that is guarded by a large, black, hungry dog (at least in early winter 2001).
As you approach from the south, you’ll first see what appears to be a large, grassy field, until you notice the streetlamps dotting it and you realize it is actually a large, overgrown parking lot. To the north you’ll see a few remaining buildings, including the ticket windows, a red barn, the remains of a stage, and some support sheds. All of the rides are on the ground, disassembled into parts and neatly stacked. As you travel west, you can view almost all of these rides right from the road.
In the distance are visible remains of other rides and attractions, as well as parts of an old campground adjacent to the facility.
What will become of the old place? Very hard to say. The location is a fairly good one – it is a little farther from Indianapolis than would be ideal, but the land is zoned properly, there are good utilities, and it is very close to the interstate. If the location can overcome the stigma associated with it, this park might rise again. But with each passing month, the Indiana prairie will reclaim more and more of what once was the Old Indiana Fun Park.
Six Flags bought the property shortly after this original story was written, but let it sit for six years without taking any action, except to use it as a storage facility for rides they hoped to one day install in a new park.
In July of 2002, the property was purchased by Trevor Grey, who owns an Indianapolis-based tanning bed and suntan lotion company named ETS (http://ETStan.com). He planed to create a nature preserve, and constructed a tall wire fence completely around the property. The majority of the smaller structures on the property, like the ticket booth above, are now gone.