I have a fascination with amusement parks dating back to childhood. This interest relates primarily to the imagery, colors, and people-watching potential associated with these venues rather than anything practical because I actually dislike most rides. I am a wimp when it comes to roller coasters and rides that spin, although when I was a kid I could handle some spinning rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl and smaller coasters. There are a few fond memories that I will touch upon in this article, with Hollywood Kiddieland topping my list. I enjoyed this magical place from a wee tot all the way through my teen years when a high school boyfriend worked at the batting cages.
I am very interested in amusement parks from a historical perspective and although I only went to Riverview Park once and never had the pleasure of exploring Coney Island, these two parks have been lifelong objects of my affection. My trips to NYC during college and more recently were too brief to justify the long subway ride, and now of course, Coney Island has changed drastically. I have been to Disneyland three times and to Disney World once, but these iconic parks really don’t rock my boat. If I had to choose one of these parks, my preference would be Disneyland.
The Fun Fair Amusement Park was located at the southeast corner of Skokie Boulevard and Golf Road on the present-day site of the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts and next to the Hilton Double Tree Hotel. There is not much documented about this park, but my sleuth work indicates it existed from the late 1950s to 1969. This area is well-known for the Westfield Old Orchard shopping center, a place I frequented throughout my childhood and young adult years.
Although I was really too young to remember Fun Fair, I know that my grandparents took me there when I was just a toddler. This holds a special place in my heart since my maternal grandpa was robust and the picture of health back then. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was about 9 or 10 and unfortunately memories of his being very frail and impaired have been etched indelibly in my mind. My mom must have felt the same way since she kept a few tickets from Fun Fair that I recently discovered in a desk.
Kiddieland – Chicago
Louis Klatzco was the original owner of Hollywood Kiddieland at the intersections of Devon, Lincoln and McCormick, next to Lincoln Village Shopping Center, just southeast of Lincolnwood. The owners of the larger Kiddieland in Melrose Park sued him for copyright infringement of the name in 1950. In 1955, Klatzco sold it to the Acciari brothers who added a game arcade in 1958.
I think perhaps the fondest memories I have from childhood are associated with this sweet little park. Smaller than the recently shuttered Melrose Park location, this Kiddieland was miraculously located less than two miles from my house. I was lucky to have one birthday party there and was invited to a few others, including that of my younger sister Janet. As was customary, my little friends and I were picked up at my house on a cool, old red fire truck, its bells jingling all the way. We would frequently see this truck around Lincolnwood with other lucky kids riding proudly all the way to a birthday party at Kiddieland.
I went to Kiddieland as a little kid at least once every season. My favorite ride was the Little Dipper roller coaster – the subtle drops and few curve spins on that ride were enjoyable. When I was older I tried the cages that required a lot of muscle to rotate completely over the top bar – I never managed this feat, but recall my sister Debbie’s boyfriend Jay doing this quite proudly.
In 1971 I went away to an overnight camp near Ripon, Wisconsin for four weeks, an experience I remember with much disdain. But I met a very nice girl from Wheaton there and a few weeks after camp concluded, we arranged to meet at Kiddieland with our moms. Clouding this adventure was the fact that I just got my period and had very bad cramps. I’ll never forget going down the huge slide on a burlap sack over and over and feeling my ridiculously enormous sanitary pad and belt digging into me.
My favorite Kiddieland memory involves the batting cages and my boyfriend Jim. He was a sweet, simple boy who I “went steady with” in 8th grade and later dated for a few months our junior year in high school. Jim was stationed in a shack the size of a phone booth at the batting cages and asked me to visit him. I was not supposed to be there so we had to crouch down in this booth to avoid getting in trouble. He was wearing a tight white tank top and jeans and was a little sweaty. I’ll never forget kissing Jim in this little booth with the distinctive sound of baseballs hitting wooden bats providing a unique “musical” interlude to our sloppy, innocent kisses. Sadly, Kiddieland was razed in 1975, but I will always have those sweet memories of youth and stolen puppy love kisses.
Six Flags Great America – Gurnee
My husband Jeff (and co-author of this blog) worked at Great America in the summer of 1976 during the year of its grand opening and has quite a different take on this place than I. It was called Marriott’s Great America back then and was purchased by Six Flags in 1984. The clever move to open with Americana themes in conjunction with the American Bicentennial helped make the park wildly popular in those early days: Carousel Plaza; small-town-themed Hometown Square; The Great Midwest Livestock Exposition At County Fair; Yankee Harbor; Yukon Territory; and the French Quarter.
What can I say about this place except that I had a date from hell there in the summer of 1977. It started so promising with a flirtation at SOBs bar on Golf Road in Glenview. Back then, the drinking age in Illinois was 19 and my friend Helene and I frequented this bar with some regularity. There was a cute, somewhat athletic guy there with blond hair – not exactly my type at the time. It’s very telling that I cannot even remember his name. It turned out that he graduated from Niles West in 1972, and in fact knew my older sister Debbie, having graduated in the same class as her. In any case, he asked me to go to Great America on a double date with my friend Helene and his pal Roger. He seemed very sweet, but the day of our date he turned into a total and complete jerk. He literally would not say one word to me the entire drive up there nor during the very long day at the park. You cannot have fun at an amusement park when you are with a wet rag. Luckily my stomach could handle the roller coasters back then, otherwise this would have compounded an already wretched date. I didn’t have bad breath or boogers hanging out of my nose, and in fact, was a hell of a lot cuter than him – in short, his cold shoulder was a mystery. This absolutely dreadful day culminated in a party later that night in downtown Skokie in which I found out he had gotten back together with his old girlfriend. Helene’s date Roger reluctantly had to drive me home.
Santa’s Village – East Dundee
This park operated as Santa’s Village from May 1959 until 2006, when its doors were shuttered and some rides sold at auction. After extensive renovations, it reopened in 2011 under the name Santa’s Village Azoosment Park. I went to Santa’s Village once as a kid and took my daughter there when she was 5. I cannot remember my trip there as a kid, with the exception of the reindeer, but two rides stand out in my mind above all else from my trip there in 1992.
The first was the Candy Cane Sleigh Ride that was very bumpy and kind of weird, with uncooperative horses stopping a lot. This ride was originally drawn by real reindeer. Sadly, just a year later a fatal accident occurred when two horses drawing the sleigh were apparently spooked, began speeding around the track, dragging the sleigh behind them. As the sleigh careened around a bend in the track, it overturned, striking a tree and spilling out some of its occupants. A 67-year-old grandma from Morton Grove treating her grandchildren to a special day was tragically killed in the accident.
The second ride that spooked me was the ski lift – seemingly innocent, but dated and archaic. It was rickety and I don’t know how it passed inspection because the bar “holding” riders in place didn’t lock. You had to manually hold it closed and a passenger could easily fall out or purposely jump out – with grave results at the highest point. In retrospect, I cannot believe that somebody didn’t fall to their death or incur serious injury on this ill-designed lift.
Coney Island and Riverview Park
Coney Island has been a melting pot of immigrants, sights, sounds, smells, barkers, sideshows, and amusement party rides ever since the hand carved wooden carousel was installed at Vandeveer’s bath-house complex at West 6th Street and Surf Avenue in 1876. There are many sites devoted to the history of Coney Island with obscure facts and trivia. The imagery that interests me the most is that of the original Luna Park, which opened in 1903 and closed in 1944, due to a series of fires and the presence of street gangs. A resurrected Luna Park opened on May 29, 2010 with its entrance based on the original from 1903. It resides on the grounds of the former Astroland amusement park which closed after the 2008 season. Most recently, Coney Island was in the news because many buildings sustained heavy damage during Hurricane Sandy.
The hot dog saw its American debut at Coney Island thanks to Charles Feltman, a German butcher who is credited with the idea of selling pork sausages on a warm bun, sometime around 1867. Nathan’s Famous original hot dog stand opened on Coney Island in 1916, quickly becoming a landmark. Every July 4th, Coney Island is host to Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, a gluttonous event going back 97 years in which competitors gorge themselves on as many wieners as humanly possible. Conceived by Dick Zigun in 1983, the Coney Island Mermaid Parade takes place every year in mid- to late-June. It is famous for outlandish marine costumes, and for frequent topless participants.
Riverview Park was an iconic amusement park nearly as famous as Coney Island in business from 1904 to 1967, located on 74 acres in an area bound on the south by Belmont and east by Western Avenue, on the north by Lane Tech High School, and on the west by the north branch of the Chicago River. I can barely remember going there since it must have been in 1965 when I was just 7. I do fondly recall riding the Shoot the Chutes – a flume ride in which you get soaked and very popular at other amusement parks across the country. At an arcade game, I won a cheap, little ceramic black panther figurine which I kept until about a year ago. There was no provenance proving that it came from Riverview Park so I sold it in a junk lot with a bunch of other treasures.
A special thanks to Frances Archer for her in-depth Hollywood Kiddieland blog and great photos.