MPLS History – Wonderland

In doing my research into South Minneapolis in the early 20th century, I read a lot of information that was at least somewhat familiar to me. But there was one story that I had never heard before: the story of Wonderland.

In the early 1900’s, Minneapolis built its own version of New York’s Coney Island right on East Lake Street. The park opened in late May of 1905 and by all accounts the park attracted many thrill seekers. It was called Wonderland and it spanned four city blocks at the intersection of East Lake Street and 31st Avenue. It was connected to the streetcar routes so people from all over the Twin Cities could get there easily. It was open during the summers and featured a large wooden roller coaster, a huge water slide, acrobats, music, theatrical performances and (of course) food. It also featured a light show from a tall steeple. It was quite a sight to behold.

Perhaps the strangest attraction at Wonderland was The Infantorium. It was a small hospital building that treated premature babies. For a fee, park-goers could enter the facility and look at the futuristic glass and chrome incubators where these babies were being cared for. At the time, very few babies were even born in hospitals, so seeing the shiny incubators and tiny babies was worth the ticket price for many curious patrons. According to records, the building was not advertised as “entertainment” but as a “scientific exhibit of the modern method of saving the prematurely born babies.” Similar to how some modern fairs have “technology buildings” where people can check out some of the latest gadgets and innovations, the Infantorium focused on advances in the care of premature babies. Also, the ticket revenue helped pay for staff salaries and equipment since the families of the babies were not charged for their care. Some articles I found implied that this sort of financial structure was not uncommon in the day, but I could not find any other instances of it elsewhere.

Wonderland was only able to stay open for 6 summers. Apparently the summers of 1910 and 1911 were both cold and rainy and the low attendance during those summers sunk the whole venture. The park was dismantled and eventually houses and businesses filled in the large footprint, leaving almost no trace of this large amusement park.

The only remaining structure is actually the Infantorium, which is now an apartment building on the southeast corner of 31st Street and 31st Avenue. I wonder if the current residents know about the history of their building.

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