30 years after devastating fire Idora still holds grip on Valley

Thirty years ago, a devastating fire sucked the life out of Idora Park. Thirty years later, memories of that amusement institution on Youngstown’s South Side continue to burn brightly in the hearts of tens of thousands of Valley residents.

Many can still feel the jerky thrills of the Wildcat roller coaster’s high and twisting hills, hear the sounds of musical acts as diverse as The Glenn Miller Orchestra to Blue Oyster Cult or relish the smell and taste of the park’s signature french fries.

To be sure, the flames of April 26, 1984, presaged the park’s permanent closing later that year, but they did little to extinguish our collective memories of the sensational sensory experiences the park produced.

And even though time and circumstance make rebuilding Idora Park and restoring it to its glorious heyday an impossible dream, Valley residents who share a passionate and uniquely Youngstown bond with Idora now have a tangible fix.

Thanks to the efforts of Idora aficionado James Amey, a monument to the greatness of the treasured urban amusement park has risen in Canfield.

Elements of original rides and attractions from the park fill the newly opened Idora Park Museum on Amey’s property. His collection of more than 500 items started with one small light fixture. More than $200,000 later, his showplace proudly displays Jack Rabbit seats, a bumper car, a Wildcat seat, an antique Hooterville Highway jalopy, a silver rocket ride and so much more.

Five hundred miles to the east, the spectacular Idora Park carousel rides again, fully restored in Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, thanks to the long and tireless restoration efforts of Jane Walentas.

To be sure, the short ride to Canfield or the longer haul to New York City would be well worth the effort for Idora Park devotees. The park’s lasting allure, however, transcends its treasured physical remnants. Most importantly, Idora endures as a state of mind.

Youngstown at its finest

It is a state of mind of Youngstown at its finest. The growth of the park matched the growth of the city and its kingpin steel industry. The growth of the park mirrored the growth of Youngstown’s highly diverse ethnic cultures, many of which partook in festive annual picnics at Idora. Over the decades, its midway, rides and amusements became the backdrop for many strong friendships and lasting relationships. As such, the park emerged as a priceless jewel for which time has not tarnished its luster.

Truth be told, even though the fire 30 years ago dealt the park its most devastating blow, the handwriting of the park’s eventual demise was on the wall long before April 26, 1984. In many ways, the park mirrored the rise and fall of Youngstown. At a time when tens of thousands of steel jobs had disappeared and when smaller urban amusement parks found it increasingly difficult to compete with the Cedar Points, Kings Islands and other mega fun parks, Idora Park simply could no longer compete, let alone thrive.

Even in today’s increasingly revitalized Youngstown, chances are slim that anything closely resembling Idora Park could rise again on the fringes of Mill Creek Park. Its primary residence will remain fittingly but firmly locked in the hearts and minds of the legions who can still celebrate the slew of sensory thrills this iconic piece of Youngstown’s proud and storied past produced.

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