By Sean Barron
Jim Amey fondly recalled spending part of the summer of 1976 working at Idora Park amid plenty of food, attractions and merriment.
Seventeen years and one Air Force career later, however, he spent part of the time at the legendary amusement park dealing with heartbreak.
“I walked through the devastation of Idora Park, but the ballroom was still there,” Amey said, referring to when he and his wife, Toni, saw for the first time what was left of the park after a fire had swept through nine years earlier. “The devastation was really getting to me.”
That was one of several memories Amey shared during Saturday’s “All Idora” program at the Brier Hill Cultural Center, 149 Jefferson St. on the North Side.
On April 26, 1984, an unattended welding torch caused a fire that destroyed the midway, several park offices and part of the Wildcat roller coaster, and led to the park’s permanent closing. A fire March 6, 2001, destroyed the ballroom.
Amey, a 16-year Air Force veteran, recalled that as he and Toni, also known as “Spike,” walked through the ballroom, he wanted to take some items to remember the 85-year-old amusement park, but Toni, who served two years in the Air Force, convinced him that doing so would be equivalent to stealing.
Nevertheless, he began collecting as many Idora artifacts as possible, the first being a porcelain light socket, he told an audience of about 30.
For those with a leaning toward the nostalgic, Amey brought a handful of such items, including a sign from the Jackrabbit ride that read, “Safety first. Buckle your straps,” as well as another that proclaimed in orange and black letters, “Kiddie Land Express,” with a clock that indicated the time of the next train ride.
Amey said his collection also consists of a Tilt-a-Whirl car as well as three cars from the Wildcat roller coaster.
Discussing part of the park’s history was Richard S. Scarsella, an Idora Park historian and president of the William Holmes McGuffey Historical Society.
Scarsella, author of “Memories and Melancholy: Reflections on the Mahoning Valley and Youngstown, Ohio,” noted that when the park opened in 1899, it was called Terminal Park.
The name was changed to Idora Park in 1900 when a teacher won first place during a naming contest, Scarsella explained. Nevertheless, he said, no one knows the name’s true meaning.
The addition of Kiddie Land was a financial boon to the park, which also had an infirmary for employees and attendees who suffered injuries, Scarsella said.
The ballroom hosted numerous big-band names of the day such as Guy Lombardo, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and others, but Howdy Doody broke attendance records, he said.
“They had to lock the gates and call in additional police and security,” Scarsella added.
Also giving a presentation was Charles J. Jacques Jr., who, along with Dr. Rick Shale, co-wrote the 1999 book, “Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer.”
Jacques, who also has written books on other famous amusement parks such as Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh and Coney Island in Cincinnati, recalled having ridden one of Idora’s roller coasters with a camera.
Even though he didn’t grow up in the Valley, Jacques related many fond memories of the park.
Amey also is founder and owner of the Idora Park Experience, a museum set to open April 26 on Turner Road in Canfield on the 30th anniversary of the fire.
“I miss it,” he said of his beloved amusement park. “I feel this is something I’m supposed to do.”
For more information, visit www.theidoraparkexperience.com.