Idora Park was indeed a working class amusement park. In a comment to a previous post, someone said that Idora Park was their idea of amusement parks–no one in his era (or mine) would have dreamed of going to Disney World. I don’t think I even became aware of the bigger regional amusement parks like Cedar Point until high school and my first time at Cedar Point was in college. Idora Park was my idea of an amusement park growing up.
The park was opened on May 30, 1899, the same day as Kennywood Park near Pittsburgh. Both were at the terminus of trolley lines and Idora Park was originally known as “Terminal Park” and operated by the Youngstown Park and Falls Street Railway Company. The park was located next to Mill Creek Park and near scenic Lanterman Falls. The idea was that urban dwellers, many working and living near the steel mills and other industries would take the trolley out to what was then mostly rural land on the South Side of Youngstown–and escape from the dirt and grime to a park-like fantasy world of rides, a dance hall, a midway and more–a glimpse of an idyllic life before returning to the workaday world. Youngstown Sheet and Tube, one of the big steel companies, would host company picnics at the park and as many as 20,000 workers and their families would come out on those days.
I remember my parents talking about going to dances at the Idora Ballroom with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and other big bands of the time. In my generation, rock groups like the Monkees and the Eagles played there as well as lots of local bands. There was always a big name band playing there on WHOT days, when you could get passes from the radio station to ride the rides all day.
My first memories of Idora Park were wide-eyed wonder as I came into the entrance and glimpsed the “Rockets” ride–these silver space ships suspended on cables that went round and round this central tower. That was the first time I ever flew! Afterwards, there was a stop at the French Fry stand at the base of the ride for the best french fries I’d ever eaten–Youngstowners still dream of these fries.
Nearby was the fun house. I wasn’t sure I liked it the first time–with its undulating floors, random shocks given by teenagers who operated the house, crawling through a rotating cylinder. Eventually it was fun, but to an awkward, somewhat overweight kid like me, not at first. There was also a Caterpiller ride nearby with cars that went round and round on an undulating track and for part of the time, you were covered in darkness by a canvas cover as you did so. That was fun! Then to settle down, you could take a ride on the park railroad–my first ride on anything resembling a train.
Lots more fun was the midway, trying to win prizes by knocking down so many milk cans, and more. There was the discovery of cotton candy, this billowy pink stuff on a cone that melted into sticky sweetness on your mouth and hands. Across the way was the carousel made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, that was the classic carousel. When the park closed, it was sold and now sits in Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York. Youngstowners dream of the day when they can bring it home and regret that we ever let it get away.
Nearby was the Rapids ride, which began by riding this boat through a dark, scary tunnel with things that would leap out at you, then floating in daylight along a “stream” before being towed up a hill and then “shooting the rapids” and getting utterly soaked when you hit the pond at the bottom of the hill.
My introduction to roller coasters was at Idora Park. When I was really young, we would ride the Jack Rabbit, the first coaster to be built at the park and exciting enough. I knew I was a “big” boy when my dad took me for the first time on the Wildcat. The Wildcat was a classic wooden roller coaster, painted yellow that, to borrow a New England phrase, was a “wicked good” coaster with steep descents that left your stomach in your throat, twists and turns, bumps and ascents that left you exhilarated and breathless. Coaster enthusiasts from throughout the U.S. loved to come to ride this classic coaster.
The demise of this coaster spelled the demise of the Park. On April 26, 1984, sparks from a welder’s torch started a fire that quickly spread to the Rapids and the Wildcat, destroying both as well as a number of concession stands along the midway. The carousel was saved and the Park managed to open for the 1984 season, closing to the public for the last time on September 3, 1984. In October, the rides were auctioned off. The land was eventually sold to a church which has yet to develop it.
I’m not sure that Idora Park would have survived in the Youngstown market in any event. Kennywood exists to this day, drawing on a much larger metro area and more distant from attractions like Cedar Point. Yet there is great sadness as well as a number of efforts to keep the memories of Idora Park alive, as this wonderful escape from work and urban life within the Youngstown city limits.
What was your first amusement park experience? If you remember Idora Park, what was your favorite memory?