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Storybook Land, Aberdeen, South Dakota

Storybook Land in Aberdeen, South Dakota, is full of nostalgic characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The amusement park is a delightful place to bring your children or grandchildren, but it’s also fun for adults to visit without little ones.

Interpretive signs listing the rhymes accompany some of the characters in the park. However, some of the rhymes have fascinating backstories.

First, we’ll provide basic information about Storybook Land. Then we’ll meet former Aberdeen resident L. Frank Baum, and explain the park’s history. Last, we’ll explore some of the characters’ hidden stories.

Aberdeen hosted me, but all opinions are my own.

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How to enjoy Storybook Land

  • Admission is free. 
  • The rides operate from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 
  • Buy ride tickets, food, and gifts at the park visitors center. Find more food next to the Oz Carousel or picnic on the picnic grounds. We recommend the mini donuts and ice cream cones.
  • Save money on ride tickets by using a coupon
  • Download a park map. 
  • Ride the train first to see Storybook Land and the Wiley Park Zoo. Trains depart from the former Aberdeen railroad depot built in 1881.
  • Prepare for your visit with this reading list.
L. Frank Baum in Aberdeen, South Dakota
L. Frank Baum in his recreated Baum’s Bazaar store at the Dacotah Prairie Museum.

Finding L. Frank Baum in Aberdeen

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum lived in Aberdeen from September 1888 until April 1891. The Baums owned Baum’s Bazaar at 402 S. Main, which failed after a year. The building now houses the Brown County Health Department.

After the store closed, he edited the local newspaper, The Saturday Aberdeen Pioneer, 222 S. Main. He strongly advocated women’s rights. Three22 Kitchen and Cocktails is there now.

Then they moved to Chicago. The family’s life in Aberdeen likely inspired Dorothy’s Kansas experience before she went to Oz.

The Baums lived at 205 Ninth Ave. SE. The current home is private property. They later moved to 511 S. Kline, now Family Dental Care.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Learn more about Baum’s life in Aberdeen at the Dacotah Prairie Museum.

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Rainbow and Storybook Land Castle, Aberdeen, South Dakota
Approach the Storybook Land Castle below a rainbow. The pot of gold awaits you.

Becoming Storybook Land

The Aberdeen Sertoma Club became Storybook Land’s fairy godmother. In 1969, Aberdeen discussed creating a Baum tribute in Wiley Park. The idea stalled until Sertoma adopted the project. They donated $3,575 in 1972. The master plan envisioned 15 fairy tale scenes plus 10 Wizard of Oz figures. 

Local businesses, clubs, and citizens donated funds. The park installed 25 fairy tales in 1980. Aberdeen florist Leo Weber designed and built many of them.

The Sertoma Club decided the park needed a castle. Since its construction, the castle has become Aberdeen’s symbol. 

The club and Aberdeen Parks and Recreation led the community’s efforts. The train and depot, carousel, balloon ride, and visitor center followed the castle.

The park now has more than 60 sets.

 “It didn’t happen overnight. It took 41 years,” club member Tom Agnitsch said in 2014. 

Storybook Land opened the $510,000 Nano Nagle inclusive playground in 2022. It features an autistic dome, wheelchair ramps, and wheelchair-accessible teeter-totter and merry-go-round.

Related: Explore eight terrific places around Rapid City.

Three Little Pigs and Wolf, Storybook Land, Aberdeen, SD
Dare to face the Big Bad Wolf at the Three Little Pigs selfie station.

Meet 15 Storybook Land characters in Aberdeen

  1. The Wizard of Oz
  2. Mother Goose
  3. Humpty Dumpty
  4. Hickory, Dickory, Dock
  5. Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe
  6. Jack and Jill
  7. Jack and the Beanstalk
  8. Jack Be Nimble
  9. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
  10. Mary Had a Little Lamb
  11. Rapunzel and the Prince
  12. Hey, Diddle, Diddle
  13. Goldilocks
  14. Little Miss Muffet
The Wizard of Oz characters in Storybook Land, Aberdeen, South Dakota
Dorothy and company are off to see the Wizard.

The Wizard of Oz

Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, and it stayed on the best-seller list for two years. He eventually wrote 13 more Oz books. The man from Aberdeen, South Dakota, turned his life into Storybook Land.

But was the Oz universe simply a children’s fantasy or a veiled political commentary?

Some scholars believe that the book commented on the 1896 Presidential election

In the book, Dorothy walked the Yellow Brick Road in silver shoes. Farmers (the Scarecrow) and laborers (the Tin Man) wanted cheap silver dollars (silver shoes) to pay for debts contracted in expensive gold dollars (yellow bricks). Precious metals are measured in Troy ounces or oz. Toto is short for “teetotalers” or Prohibitionists. 

William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska was both the Wizard of Oz and the Cowardly Lion. He gave legendary speeches like the “Cross of Gold” but couldn’t win the Presidency in three tries.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Land of Oz is a large section of Storybook Land, Aberdeen, South Dakota. Look for Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s farm.

Related: Explore Oz in Kansas.

Mother Goose flies above Storybook Land in Aberdeen
Hang on tight, Mother Goose!

Mother Goose

The first Mother Goose may have been Bertrada II of Laon, Charlemagne’s mother. Her clubfoot gave her the nickname “Queen Goosefoot.” John Newberry’s 1765 book Mother Goose’s Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle, shifted Mother Goose from folktales to nursery rhymes. The Goose tales are a large part of Storybook Land in Aberdeen.

Baum wrote his first book, Mother Goose in Prose, in 1897, and Father Goose, His Book in 1899. A Father Goose first edition is worth $8,500. 

Celebrate Mother Goose Day on May 1.

Humpty Dumpty, the Storybook Land roller coaster, Aberdeen, SD
Humpty Dumpty is still sitting on the wall at Storybook Land, Aberdeen, SD.

Humpty Dumpty

Read the nursery rhyme.

Richard III had scoliosis, a spinal curve. William Shakespeare turned the king’s scoliosis into a hunchback. After all, Henry VII had overthrown Richard, and Henry’s granddaughter Elizabeth I was sitting on the throne. Shakespeare’s safety demanded that Richard look bad.

Following Shakespeare’s example, Humpty Dumpty’s egg shape refers to the deposed king’s deformity. During the battle, Henry’s soldiers surrounded Richard and cut him down. The wall would refer to the men who left him alone. No one could stitch his battered body together again. The soldiers who killed him stripped his body and strapped it to a horse.

His fate defines “a great fall.”   

Roxie’s reliable report: Richard III’s fate also inspired the litany “For want of a nail the shoe was lost,” ending with “for want of a battle the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

Hickory, Dickory, Dock
The mouse running up the clock allegedly represents Richard Cromwell.

Hickory Dickory Dock in Storybook Land, Aberdeen

Read the nursery rhyme.

The English executed King Charles I in 1649. Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector. When he died in 1658, he nominated his son Richard as his successor. While the senior Cromwell was a lion, the younger one was like a mouse. Richard’s tenure didn’t last a year. Two years later, Charles II ascended the throne. Richard stayed in France until 1680, then returned to England, where he died in 1712.

Richard’s experience follows the proverb, “What goes up must come down.” The “one” refers to his short tenure; afterward, he ran down.

Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
A ladder sticks out of the back of the shoe house at Storybook Land. Children climb the leader to a slide. It exits through the front door.

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe at Storybook Land, Aberdeen

Read the rhyme.

People believed that Queen Caroline held power instead of King George II. His subjects named him the “old woman.” He could not control the children (members of Parliament). He put them to bed in the House of Commons.

Roxie’s reliable report: At 1743’s Battle of Dettingen, the king was the last English monarch to fight beside his soldiers. He doesn’t seem like an old woman in a Storybook Land shoe.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Visit the Shoe House at the Museum of Wildlife, Science, and Industry in Webster, an hour east of Aberdeen. It’s one of three shoe-shaped buildings in the US and contains 11,000 shoe-themed items.

Jack and Jill Hill
Guests are welcome to roll down Jack and Jill Hill at Storybook Land, Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Jack and Jill

Read the nursery rhyme.

One theory says that Jack and Jill are Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France. They did fall down and lost their crowns – and heads. The Reign of Terror beheaded him first, and she “came tumbling after.” The executioners transported their prisoners in tumbrils.

England used a jack and jill to measure whisky and wine. The jill was double the jack’s size. After Charles I became king in 1625, he decided to cut the jack in half. The decision would provide more sales tax revenue. The jill’s cut “came tumbling after.”

Storybook Land in Aberdeen, South Dakota, invites its guests to tumble down Jack and Jill Hill, but not to lose their heads.

Jack in the Beanstalk
Jack’s companion watches anxiously as Jack ascends the Beanstalk.

Jack and the Beanstalk

Read the story.

Jack has gained a last name in the first written Jack and the Beanstalk version, The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.

The giant’s name is Gogmagog, a legendary giant in Welsh folklore. Other storytellers name the giant Blunderbore, who also appears in “Jack the Giant Killer.”

Nimble Jack hops over the candlestick
Jack has overcome one challenge and faces two more.

Jack Be Nimble

Read the nursery rhyme.

Jumping over candlesticks was both a sport and a fortune-telling device. Jumping over a candlestick without extinguishing the flame meant good luck.

Black Jack Smatt lived in Port Royal, Jamaica, one of the world’s wickedest cities. He was the original Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean. Arrr!

Smatt often nimbly “jumped over” the authorities who wanted to catch and hang him. Jamaica is a long way from Storybook Land in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Contrary Mary pauses her hoeing.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Read the nursery rhyme.

Queen Mary I decided to return her country to the Catholic faith. Her father, King Henry VIII, had abandoned Catholicism to marry Anne Boleyn. Then he created the Church of England. In her zeal, Mary persecuted and martyred non-Catholics.

The poem criticizes her leadership skills. Her garden may refer to her inability to bear children or how she had filled the cemeteries with Protestant martyrs. The bells and shells seem to be torture instruments. The “maids” may be hanging scaffolds.

Or maybe “Mary” is Mary Queen of Scots. The “silver bells and cockle shells” are decorations on her dress, and the “pretty maidens” are her ladies in waiting.

Mary and her Little Lamb
Mary and her little lamb wait outside the schoolhouse.

Mary Had a Little Lamb in Storybook Land, Aberdeen, South Dakota

Read the rhyme.

Sarah Josepha Hale published “Mary Had a Little Lamb in 1830 under her initials. Mary Sawyer’s actions inspired the poem. Sawyer took her lamb to Redstone School in Sterling, Massachusetts (or maybe Newport, New Hampshire). The lamb would not stay quiet, and the teacher ejected the animal. John Roulston may have been a visitor that day and may have written part of the poem.

Henry Ford moved the Massachusetts school to his Wayside Inn Historic District in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Beginning in 1846, Hale pushed the nation to celebrate Thanksgiving, which only the Northeast celebrated. Her letter to President Abraham Lincoln influenced him to declare “A National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise” in 1863.

Hale was an abolitionist and a historic preservationist. She helped preserve Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, and create the Bunker Hill Monument.

When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph (early record player), he recitedMary Had a Little Lamb” on his first record.

Rapunzel and the Prince
Rapunzel lets down her long hair for the Prince to enter her tower.

Rapunzel and the Prince

Read the story.

St. Barbara of Italy was a stunning beauty in the third century. Her father locked her in a tower to prevent men from courting her. Many asked permission to marry her, but she refused them all. She intended to dedicate herself to God.

Her faith displeased her pagan father. When he drew his sword, she prayed for deliverance. God created an escape hole in the tower, and she fled. However, her escape was temporary. Her father captured and beheaded her. Then lightning struck and killed him.

Roxie’s reliable report: So where’s the famous Rapunzel hair? Apparently, the witch used magic to grow Rapunzel’s hair. Human hair grows half an inch per month. Rapunzel’s hair length would require 150 years.

The cow jumped over the moon
The rhyme Hey, Diddle, Diddle represents constellations.

Hey, Diddle, Diddle

Read the nursery rhyme.

The characters represent constellations. The dog is Canis Minor, while the cow is actually the bull Taurus. The cat is Leo playing Lyra as a fiddle. The spoon is the Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major), but the dish is the Crater.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Goldilocks thinks Baby Bear’s bed is just right.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Read the story.

The original story was about an old lady turned burglar. In Robert Southey’s version, she eats the bears’ food, breaks a chair, and falls asleep on the baby bear’s bed. When they returned, she fled through a window.

In another version, the bears caught the burglar. They tried to burn her, then drown her, but she survived. They finally impaled her on a steeple.

Eventually, storytellers morphed the old lady into Goldilocks, who teaches the messy bears to keep a neat home. And she gave her name to the Goldilocks Principle, keeping our lives in the “just right” zone, not too hot and not too cold.

Little Miss Muffet
Patience Muffet’s father has gone too far with this gargantuan spider.

Little Miss Muffet

Read the nursery rhyme.

Dr. Thomas Muffet studied insects and spiders in the 1700s. Supposedly, Muffet subjected his daughter Patience to his spider experiments. She became terrified of spiders as a result.

More to do in Wiley Park

After you visit the characters, enjoy more of Wiley Park. Download a map first. Play a round of miniature golf at Thunder Mountain. Drive go-carts on Thunder Road. The park also offers sand volleyball, horseshoes, bicycle rental, a softball field, and more. Can’t bear to leave? Reserve a slot in the park’s campground or stay at one of Aberdeen’s hotels.

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