Idora Park Experience: Thrill ride into Y'town's past

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Linda Mackovine

appeared stoic as she slowly walked past some artifacts, but as soon as she delved into her memories of what she was seeing, her voice began to crack.

“Oh, my gosh, yes. I grew up with it,” the Austintown woman said Sunday, referring to her relationship with Idora Park, which opened in 1899. “It’s too bad it had to go down; it shouldn’t have had to.”

Mackovine certainly wasn’t the only person dipping into a pot of nostalgia. Hundreds of others were reminded of summer memories from long ago as they took their time looking at and connecting with numerous pieces of original memorabilia during the final day of a three-day open house that began Friday at the Idora Park Experience museum, 4450 S. Turner Road.

Mackovine fondly remembered having visited the iconic amusement park on Youngstown’s South Side with a girlfriend in 1966. Her favorite aspect of the longtime summer tradition was being on the rides – with the Scrambler being at the top of her must-do list, she said.

In April 1984, fire destroyed the Wild Cat rollercoaster and the Lost River boat ride, two of Idora Park’s premier attractions, as well as much of the midway, which led to the park’s closure at the end of that season. A few months later, many of its assets were auctioned off.

Jim and Toni Amey own and operate the private museum next to their home. They also have written a book titled “Lost Idora Park,” which is scheduled for release Aug. 12 and can be pre-ordered by going to .

Also at the open house, copies of the Rick Shale book “Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer,” co-authored by Charles J. Jacques Jr., were for sale.

Mackovine’s daughter Rachelle Plant and grandchildren Kenshin Salus, 6, and Gabriel Miller, 12, are too young to remember the sights, entertainment, smell of french fries, music and fun times the park offered, but that didn’t detract from their enjoyment of seeing artifacts that are part of Youngstown’s history.

“I like to come out and see older rides,” said Gabriel, an Austintown Middle School seventh-grader who posed for pictures with his brother in one of the Hooterville Highway ride cars. “I would go there if it was still here.”

“It’s always fascinated me,” Rachelle added.

Among the items that seemed to fascinate the hundreds of people who visited the museum Sunday afternoon were the rear car of the Jack Rabbit, which opened for the 1925 season and consisted of two trains with three cars each; a yellow two-seat car that was part of the Wild Cat, which had three trains with five cars each but was too fast for all of the trains to run simultaneously; numerous original park signs; and parts of the Scrambler ride.

Also housed at the museum are three other Wild Cat cars, an original Tilt-a-Whirl car, part of the Caterpillar ride, a sign from 1925, old arcade games, original posters and a machine that patrons paid 1 cent each to squeeze to test their strength. Other artifacts include a replica of the Wild Cat, a Skeeball machine identical to those that were at the park and a display case with memorabilia of WHOT-AM, including 45-rpm records and photographs of legendary local broadcaster Boots Bell.

Many attendees also took their time looking through a series of scrapbooks containing old black-and-white Polaroid photographs from the park’s early days, along with more recent color photos of other park favorites, such as the Ferris wheel and the Kooky Castle, Rapids/Lost River Boat, Kiddietrain and Paratrooper rides. Another set of pictures captured a classic-car show June 1, 1980, as well as people’s experiences during the final two years of Idora Park’s existence.

Amey and his wife have spent much of the last 25 years finding, collecting and housing lost artifacts to add to their five-year-old museum. Recently, they bought a recreational vehicle for their travels to find additional park-related items, he said.

Promising to greatly aid in that effort are four volumes of donated Vindicator files they just received that contain a wealth of information pertaining to the fire and auction. That likely will help him identify bidders who bought memorabilia at auctions – especially because some auction houses kept poor records of transactions, Jim explained.

In addition, a local man donated 35 original park signs, on some of which were notices of special events such as German-American Day, as well as large picnics employees of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. and Wean United held, he continued.

“I was scrambling to get those on the wall,” Jim said of the signage. “Picnics made up about 60 percent of Idora Park’s income.”

Jim’s face turned grim, though, when he recalled having learned of the fire while in England serving in the Air Force, then seeing the park’s remains nine years later and desiring to collect as many items as he could before they disappeared.

“I walked through Idora Park in 1993, and it was devastating. It hit me in the chest,” he remembered. “It was heartbreaking.”

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