By William K. Alcorn
“I don’t know how I got in those little cars,” said Marilyn Miller, 72, of the Kiddie Land train, one of the displays at The Idora Park Experience, a private museum that is open this weekend.
The museum, “dedicated to everything Idora Park,” is filled with signs, parts from rides and hundreds of other artifacts collected and restored by Jim and Toni Amey of Canfield over many years.
Several hundred visitors went through the museum Saturday and several hundred more are expected to visit today from noon to 5 p.m. at 4450 S. Turner Road off Mahoning Avenue. The entrance fee is $5, with all proceeds going to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
Miller said her family went to Idora a couple of times a year when Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., where her father worked, sponsored a day, and when Aut Mori Grotto had a family day.
“I rode the Jack Rabbit roller coaster but was afraid to ride the Wild Cat,” she said with a laugh.
Riding the Wild Cat was considered a “rite of passage” said Jon Moody, 69, of Akron, who grew up on Youngstown’s East and South sides, and was visiting the museum with his cousin, Rick Briggs, 63, of Huntsburg, Ohio, who grew up in Hubbard and Austintown.
Moody, who initiated Briggs with his first ride on the Wild Cat at 9, said when his family moved to the South Side, the historic amusement park was within walking distance. They could sit in his yard and watch the fireworks.
“Going to Idora as a kid was a great treat,” Moody said.
Briggs said he went to Idora for the concerts, one of which featured Looking Glass, with warm-up bands The Raspberries, formed in Cleveland, and The Eagles.
The Ameys say the primary reasons they spend a lot of time and money on the The Idora Park Experience are the people and the memories the museum artifacts trigger.
Jim, a 1976 graduate of Chaney High School, worked one season at Idora at the football throw, from which he was fired for winning too many prizes on his off time, and then at the Skee Ball, which he said worked out because the girl-watching was better.
On Aug. 31, 1976, he joined the Air Force, taking an early retirement 17 years later. During that time, he met Toni, who also served in the Air Force for a couple of years, and came back to the Mahoning Valley in 1993.
They walked through the devastation that was Idora Park, which burned down in 1984.
“We had five college degrees between us, and we could not find a job, so we moved to the Washington, D.C., area and our careers took off,” Jim said.
“When we started making more money, Toni let me start searching for Idora artifacts,” and the museum is the result, he said.
Toni, a history buff, said she supports her husband’s avocation, but noted it is getting more difficult to find things Idora.
She said The Idora Park Experience has four categories of artifacts: Idora original, that can be proven are authentic; Idora identical, that were made by the same company that made items for Idora but were never in the park; artifacts that are like those that were in Idora; and items they had to buy to get something they wanted that was in Idora.
To add to their own expertise, the Ameys have developed a network of friends and experts to call to determine the authenticity of an item they are considering adding to the collection, and its value.
Some of the artifacts in the museum are the complete Kiddie Train, Wild Cat and Jack Rabbit coaster cars; turtles from the Turtle ride; a Silver Rocket ship; Caterpillar Car and sign, and a chariot from the Kooky Castle.
“Locating Idora Park artifacts has become a very personal quest for me. We’re on a mission to reclaim and share an important part of our history,” said Jim, who spends countless hours repairing and restoring artifacts and improving displays.
“It’s just the two of us and a few volunteers,” Toni said.
“If not for that building, that history might be lost,” she said pointing at the museum.
“We have no end plan except ultimately the museum will transition to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society,” the Ameys said.
To follow the Ameys, visit www.facebook.com/TheIdoraParkExperience.com or their website, www.TheIdoraParkExperience.com.
People interested in a private group tour of the museum or having Jim and Toni speak at a group function, should call 330-774-4107.