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Museum visitors anxious to share stories about Idora Park

Visitors anxious to share stories about Idora Park

Jodi Mika has a reflective moment about many summer days she spent at Idora Park, while sitting in one of the cars that made up the Turtle, an iconic ride at the former amusement park. Mika, of Parma, visited the Idora Park Experience Museum on Saturday and recalled that the Turtle was one of her favorite rides. Behind her is a large mounted photograph of the Idora Park Ferris wheel. Correspondent photo / Sean Barron

CANFIELD — Simply asking Jodi Mika about her memories of having spent summer days at a longtime amusement park caused the floodgates to burst open.

“I was obsessed with Idora Park. My uncle was a postman, and I came on Postman’s Day,” Mika, 53, of Parma, remembered. “I got my first kiss when I was in eighth grade on the Paratrooper ride, which was kind of like a sideways Ferris wheel. I also sat on the carousel when my siblings rode rides that I was too young for.”

Mika, who grew up on Youngstown’s West Side a short distance from the iconic South Side amusement park, was nostalgic and pensive as she ticked off the many good times she had at Idora Park while visiting the reopened Idora Park Experience Museum, 4450 S. Turner Road. She also became teary-eyed when she noticed a variety of games housed at the museum that provided plenty of entertainment to those who visited the Arcade.

“I saw some of the games I played as a kid,” she added.

The summer memories came flooding back for Mika as she sat in an original green car that made up the Turtle ride, one of numerous pieces of memorabilia on display in the museum, which opened Saturday for the first time in two years.

The museum will be open noon to 6 p.m. today as well as Thursday, Friday, Saturday and July 4.

While riding the Turtle, she made a habit of sitting in the rear car because that one “whipped you around the most,” Mika said, adding that her parents saw many Big Bands perform in the Idora Ballroom, which opened in 1910.

Also waxing nostalgic was Lenny Cavalier, who stood next to one of the original rollercoaster cars.

“It brings back a lot of memories for me too,” said Cavalier, whose family co-owned the park from 1949 to its closing.

Cavalier, who worked as a ride-safety inspector for the state of Ohio, added that he appreciates seeing something new with each trip to the museum.

The park debuted in 1899 and for the first year was known as Terminal Park. Generations of families and others were drawn to its numerous attractions, promotions and concessions, including the Wildcat and Jack Rabbit rollercoasters, Kiddieland, the Midway and Arcade and the homemade french fries, along with numerous special occasions such as WHOT Day that featured the late legendary broadcaster Ralph “Boots” Bell.

The Idora Ballroom hosted many swing groups during the Big Band era of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Guy Lombardo. Later, the park underwent some key changes.

“By the 1960s, most visitors to Idora Park were teenagers, not families. In 1967, Idora charged admission for the first time, inaugurating a pay-one-price that included unlimited rides for $2.50,” Rick Shale, a retired Youngstown State University professor, wrote for the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

On April 26, 1984, a catastrophic fire destroyed the Lost River ride, which was next to the Wildcat, as well as many game booths in the Midway. Even with the losses, however, Idora Park operated for the 1984 season, though that was its last.

Nevertheless, the 7-year-old Canfield museum has four of the Wildcat’s 15 cars that are in varying conditions, along with one of the cars from the Jack Rabbit ride and one of the five from the Turtle.

Another popular original attraction was three games side-by-side in which players paid one penny each and squeezed a lever to discover their “descendants,” such as a fowl or fish. The light moved like a roulette wheel before stopping on one of the animal names.

Others included the Cashiers Cage that was in the Arcade and was solid black, except for the Formica shelf, Jim Amey, museum co-owner, noted.

After the fire at the park, a local nunnery used the cage for various events before Amey removed it from storage and painted part of it blue, he recalled.

In addition to housing many original Idora Park artifacts, the Idora Park Experience Museum has its share of recreations, such as Laffin’ Lena from the park’s Funhouse.

“When I was a kid, my mother pointed to her and said, ‘That’s your girlfriend,” Amey said with laughter.

Amey built a facsimile of the attraction and, after several tries, found a windshield motor that allows the replica to move and change speeds. He also installed flexible piping to help it pivot, he explained.

“An artist from L.A. made the head and face, and I did the rest of it,” Amey said, adding that the museum attraction has the same laughter as the original Laffin’ Lena.

Thanks to a woman from Illinois who had a 10-inch replica of a mushroom from which a pig’s face protruded, Amey was able to make a fiber-reinforced plastic mold of Porky the Pig Paper Eater, the original of which was installed at the park in 1967 or 1968. The idea was to find a fun way to reduce litter and maintenance costs, Amey explained, adding that his recreation has the voice of the original.

“This one was nearly exact to hers,” he said of the pig’s head.

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