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Hundreds visit memories of Idora Park on display

AUSTINTOWN – The structure Jim and Toni Amey built to house their collection of Idora Park artifacts and memorabilia also had to hold the memories of the hundreds of people who came out Saturday to revisit their childhoods.

“Idora Park was my idea of heaven on earth,” Susan Colucci Centorame of Canfield said. “When I go to the other side, after I see Jesus, I’ll see the midway to Idora Park.”

A large crowd turned out Saturday to get one more glimpse at Wildcat and Jack Rabbit coaster cars, the Kiddie Train, a turtle from the turtle ride and other items from the amusement park that operated on Youngstown’s South Side from 1899 until 1984, when a April fire damaged the Wildcat and other main attractions and led to its permanent closing later that year.

This weekend’s open house, which continues from noon to 5 p.m. today, is the first step to finding a permanent public home for the Idora Park Experience. Jim Amey said everything will be donated to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, and the search is on for a site or an existing building in the area that could display the collection regularly, instead of the Ameys opening their doors a couple of times each year.

In addition to the $5 admission fee, T-shirts and other souvenirs were for sale, and visitors could buy an egg for $1.50 and toss it at the fire hydrant that failed to work in 1984 and let that fire spread.

Like many teens, Amey worked at Idora Park growing up, and the loss really hit him after moving back to the area in 1993, and it started a 20-plus-year quest to get his hands on anything related to Idora Park.

“I wanted to bring it back,” he said. “I felt it should always be here in some way.”

Bill and Vera Barnes of Austintown brought a glass mug from the last car show at Idora Park on July 22, 1984, to add to the collection.

Vera said her favorite rides at Idora were the Wildcat and Jack Rabbit, “And kissing in the dark on the Lost River.”

The Lost River Ride also brought a smile to the face of Dave Beda of Austintown.

“I’ve got a lotta great memories of that with girlfriends,” he said.

While their adult sons looked at the artifacts from an amusement park they were too young to ever visit, Patty McElravy of Niles and Patty Stevenson of Cortland remembered what a rare treat it was to get to visit Idora Park or Conneaut Lake Park when they were growing up.

“It was a big deal for us to go,” Stevenson said. “We went once a year and that was it.”

McElravy said she isn’t a rollercoaster fan, but she loved the carousel and the french fries at Idora.

As they walked around, many strangers bonded over their common memories.

Tom Fossesco of Youngstown was checking out the Kiddie Train that he was the conductor for during a couple summers in the 1960s when Jerry Nolder of Lowellville said, “I used to ride that.”

“I used to drive it,” Fossesco said. “Maybe I drove you.”

Nolder worked for 10 years at Idora Park as a carpenter and talked about getting the park ready every spring. For that first ride on the Wildcat each year, Nolder said he had to shield his eyes to protect them from, “the rust coming up from the tracks.”

In addition to the rides and games, Idora Park hosted many concerts. Andy Kepley, who now lives in Canal Fulton, and his brother Richard Kepley, who now lives in Canfield, said they grew up right next to the park, close enough to hear the Bay City Rollers and David Cassidy playing and also to get the ash from the burning Wildcat in their yard.

The host of many of those concerts was legendary Youngstown DJ Boots Bell, who died in 1993. Bell’s son, Christopher Bell, was there with some of his father’s memorabilia that he has donated to the Idora Park collection. He hasn’t missed any of the Idora Park Experience open houses.

“Every time I sit here, I learn something new about my dad,” he said.

agray@tribtoday.com

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