After 69 years as one of the leading attractions in the Wisconsin Dells area, the Tommy Bartlett Show announced Wednesday that it would close permanently after losing the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The show, started by Tommy Bartlett in 1952 as a touring water ski exposition, has been a Lake Delton staple since 1953 — even after heavy rains caused a washout that drained the lake in 2008.
When company president Tom Diehl said that he would not open the water, ski, sky and stage show as planned on May 22, he called the decision “horrendous” and said it would be “catastrophic” for the family-owned business, which generates virtually all its revenue between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
It also eliminated 115 season jobs tied to the show.
Diehl said then that he hoped the show could resume in 2021: “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got. We have a wonderful product and we hope things will turn around in the next 12 months and we’ll be able to.”
But on Wednesday, Diehl said in a statement that “It is with great sadness that we announce the Tommy Bartlett Show will not be able to make a comeback in 2021 as we had hoped. After 69 years, we are permanently shuttering the business. From May through September 6, we experienced a complete loss of revenue when we had to cancel our 2020 summer season on Lake Delton due to the pandemic. Each fall, we begin to plan for the next season, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the future of the pandemic and travel, we cannot undergo additional financial risk and investment to begin planning for summer 2021. While we are grateful that we have had almost seven decades of entertaining visitors in Wisconsin Dells, we have no choice but to close the Show.”
The show was created by Tommy Bartlett, and Diehl and his wife Margaret became co-owners with Bartlett in 1975 and full owners in 1998 with the passing of Bartlett. Their daughter Jill Diehl is executive vice president and general manager of Tommy Bartlett Inc.
The company’s year-round attraction, the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, will remain open, and the show closure will not affect, at this time, the small staff of seven year-round employees of Tommy Bartlett Inc., many of whom have been with the operation for decades.
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