Canfield man opens Idora museum on 30th anniversary



The whimsy of Idora Park will ride high again today.

That’s the hope James Amey has for his museum, opening on the 30th anniversary of the tragic Idora Park fire.

Memories will return, glimpses of Youngstown’s very own Disneyland will flash before visitors’ eyes and magic will fill the room.

“I would like to have Idora Park back — I would love to have that,” Amey said.

Instead, he has created something unlike anything else in the Valley: a place to house Idora Park memories on his property at 4450 S. Turner Road.

Rusted but-perfect elements of rides and attractions from the park fill the structure surrounded by banners of pictures from Idora Park’s heyday.

His collection of more than 500 items started with one small light fixture. More than $200,000 later, he has Jack Rabbit seats, a bumper car, a Wildcat seat, a silver rocket ride and more.

He has traveled all over the nation to find his treasures and has come up with three categories: Idora Park original, Idora Park identical and Idora Park-like.

“You know it’s something I feel I have to do,” Amey said. “It something that needs to be done.”

Amey, like many Valley residents, was heartbroken when the April 26, 1984, fire broke out at the park, which had operated since the beginning of the 1900s.

“When Idora opened, the South Side was undeveloped,” said Rick Shale, retired Youngstown State University professor and co-author of “Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer.” The other co-author is Charles J. Jacques Jr.

Idora appealed to all classes of people and all ethnicities.

“If you think about it, you don’t need to know English to enjoy yourself at an amusement park,” Shale said.

Enjoy themselves they did. Packs of families came to the park to indulge in french fries, the treacherous Wildcat roller coaster, bumper cars and the rest of the sights, tastes and sounds.

“It’s a very sensual experience,” Shale said. “That is one of the reasons people have so many fond memories of the park. People miss it like they miss an old friend.”

But the atmosphere of the park eventually changed from a family outing to a place for teenagers to hang out, Shale said.

Then the park lost two of its best rides, not to mention a trove of park records in the 1984 fire.

“The fire was the last straw,” Shale said.

Martin Conti, retired Youngstown Fire Department battalion chief, remembers putting in a second alarm for the fire after the first call came in midmorning April 26 — just 10 days before the park’s season opening. His fear was for the ballroom.

But the fire was in the middle of the park, not the ballroom. It started along the metal channel in the Lost River ride. A spark ignited wooden supports, according to the “Idora Park” book.

The flames spread fast to the beloved Wildcat coaster and the park office.

“We started positioning companies because I knew we would need a lot of water,” Conti said. “We had to use our methods to advance water.”

Firefighters worked tirelessly for hours battling the blaze on the windy day. The park office was destroyed along with the Lost River and the south end of the Wildcat, among other structures along the midway of the park.

But the historic 1922 merry-go-round was saved.

But it was the last season for the park.

“That was sad,” Shale said. “In perspective, Idora Park lasted more than most of the other parks. It shows the grip that Idora Park has on the community.”

Though the park closed, the carousel lives on. Purchased and refurbished by Jane Walentas, it is now known as Jane’s Carousel and is located in New York City in the DUMBO section of The Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the East River, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Meanwhile, Idora Park’s social and cultural impact on the community can still be heard today, in the stories the residents alive in the park’s heyday still own.

“We had something magical here,” Amey said.

Amey’s museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $5 to get in and a $3 donation for parking. All proceeds go toward the restoration and upkeep of the museum items.