Iconic Wisconsin Dells show to close after nearly 70 years


Juggler T.J. Howell performs to a few patrons at the Tommy Bartlett Show Tuesday, July 15, 2008, in Lake Delton, Wis. In a bizarre disaster-in-reverse, torrential rains in June blew a giant hole in Lake Delton’s shoreline. The lake drained away, taking vacation homes with it and leaving behind a muddy moonscape of stumps and puddles. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (WFRV) – A iconic Wisconsin Dells event is closing permanently.

After nearly seven decades, the Tommy Bartlett Show will close “due to the catastrophic loss of business income from the pandemic fallout,” according to a Wednesday release.

In May, the Tommy Bartlett Show shuttered the attraction for its 2020 summer run due to restrictions on large gatherings. The show would normally run two shows daily from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

There was hope that the show would be able to reopen next summer.

Tom Diehl, president and co-owner of the Tommy Bartlett Show, released the following statement:

“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 Tommy Bartlett Show has been the Diehl Family’s life work with Tom being apart of the business for 54 years. While the show was created by Tommy Bartlett, Diehl and his wife Margaret became co-owners with Bartlett in 1975 and full owners in 1998 with the passing of Bartlett. Jill Diehl, the Diehl’s daughter, is executive vice president and general manager of Tommy Bartlett, Inc. She grew up working at the Show and has been an integral part of its operation for most of her life as well.

According to the release, 115 seasonal employees lost their summer jobs when the Tommy Bartlett Show closed for the summer. The permanent closure will not affect the staff of seven year-round employees of Tommy Bartlett Inc.

The Show began in 1952, first as a touring water-ski exposition that traveled to World’s Fairs, on U.S.O. tours and to other cultural exchange programs. It became a permanent fixture on the shores of Lake Delton in 1953 and evolved into a mix of waterskiing and high-speed boating, thrilling stage acts, and comedy.

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