After 80 years in business, Kiddieland shut its doors to the public on Sunday. For generations of many local families, the amusement park at the northwest corner of North and First avenues in Melrose Park defined childhood: from the Little Dipper to the Tilt-A-Whirl, to the Galleon and the train running around all the rides.
The park closed Sunday because of a dispute, according to media reports, among members of the family that owns it over how to use the land the park occupies. Kiddieland will open one last time this weekend, but only to people who bid for a spot on the last go-around of its famous rides.
With the park closing, we asked former and current Oak Parkers and River Foresters about their memories of it. Feel free to send more reminiscences and pictures to the e-mail address below, or by snail mail to 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, Ill., 60302.
Photo ops aplenty
On her last visit to Kiddieland, the Oak Parker who sent us the MoseRides photo was there with her two young grandsons, the fifth generation of her family to visit the park. Marian Brandstrader Garrigan (not pictured) tells us that after taking her grandsons, Dan and Tom McNeilly (also not shown), on the quieter rides for little kids, she had to stop and snap this shot of older children enjoying the park to its fullest.
Pictured are the Hanrahan kids: Shawna and Holly Hanrahan (far left) and their brother, Robert (right). Their parents and grandparents, who all hail from Oak Park, are Marian’s lifelong friends. We don’t have IDs for the woman in the center or the girl beside her, but, as Marian reminds us, their expressions are classic for Kiddieland.
‘Heartbroken over its closing’
Kiddieland has been a family tradition for several generations of my family. We are heartbroken over its closing. My grandparents started taking my mom and aunt there not long after it opened, and they talk about how it was just the merry-go-round and train, plus pony rides. They went there for years with cousins and others, making the trek out from the West Side, near Lake and Homan.
When my cousins and I came along in the ’60s and ’70s, the tradition continued, and
I have many fond memories of all the kiddy rides and the bigger ones that I was scared of in my early years.
I continued to go with friends through college and was always amazed at how the rides were in the same great shape as they’d been decades before, with every feature working and every light bulb shining.
Now that my cousins and I all have our own kids, we have gone there many times in the last few years, much to everyone’s delight. It’s great to tell my daughter how her great grandparents took her Nana and aunt there when they were her age. I regret that she won’t be able to take her own kids there and someday may barely remember it.
It’s a great local, fun, kid-friendly place, and we are all very sad that the land owners seem to care more about immediate money than generations of family happiness.
Our family began our adventures in Kiddieland while growing up in our little bungalow on the 1000 block of Highland Avenue in south Oak Park. In the 1940s, our idea of fun was skipping over the two blocks to Barrie playground or playing outside on the lawns till the streetlights went on.
And then our parents put my two little brothers and me into the car for a surprise outing. And what an outing it was. Kiddieland! When the wonderful day came to a close, we begged for more.
And though we did not get there as often as we begged, we visited Kiddieland on a regular basis through the generations. Through marriages, deaths, births and other milestones, Kiddieland remained a constant in our family.
In the ’60s and ’70s, my husband and I took our four children there frequently. Later as the grandchildren began to arrive, they joined the parties. In recent years, we have participated in the yearly Right to Life fundraiser at the park.
My brother, John Cullicott, has joined us over the years. Even though he now lives in Portland, Ore., he has managed to be here for the fundraiser and loves it now just as much as that first visit in the 1940s.
So, on behalf of my family, now including 13 grandchildren, we say: “Kiddieland, you will be missed so much, but thanks for the memories.”
June Cullicott Wood
In ancient times – that is, before the Tri-State Tollway was built ¡ª the route from my family’s home in Oak Park to my grandparents’ summer house in Lake Villa took us along various county roads and state highways. But the Sunday evening route back home, for some reason lost in memory, seemed the same:
Nearing the end of our trip, we would be heading down River Road with a right turn onto First Avenue, then some blocks later, a left onto North Avenue. As my father maneuvered for that left turn, the game began. My brother and I, in the back seat, would scream, “Kiddieland, Kiddieland. Let’s stop here.”
To which my mother would reply, “I don’t see anything.”
The game would continue. “Over there. Right there. On the corner.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“Mom, it’s right there.”
“I don’t see anything.”
Finally, Dad made the turn, and the back seat settled down. I remember many afternoons at Kiddieland Amusement Park, but I don’t think we stopped after one of those drives home.
And now word reaches me half a continent away that Kiddieland is closing. What? But Mom it’s right there ¡ª on the corner.
Lake Oswego, Ore.
One of the things I most remember about Kiddieland growing up in Oak Park is that goofy “fire truck.” For a price, you could have the fire truck come to your house and pick up a handful of little kids celebrating a birthday. You’d sit hay-wagon style on long metal benches in an open back and laugh and scream as the truck barreled down North Avenue, bangedy-banged over the railroad tracks, and landed in the park.
I can’t imagine a venue doing such a thing these days, but in the ’60s, it was just another fun thing offered by the park like the train and the wooden roller coaster. Can you imagine the liability factor today in carrying eight kids without seatbelts all the way from Oak Park to Kiddieland in an open truck?
I recently read an article in the Wednesday Journal regarding the closing of Kiddieland. While I did not grow up in River Forest and cannot share childhood memories of the place, my experience with Kiddieland’s owner, Tom Norini, began about 10 years ago.
My children attended Willard School, and every year we had a fundraiser at Kiddieland. I was on the committee that organized the event each year while my kids attended Willard. Tom Norini was focused on helping the children and was generous enough to allow us to sell tickets for the event. He only charged us his cost price and we sold the tickets for a small amount more to raise money for the PTO. He closed the park down for the event and we generally shared the park with the other elementary school in River Forest, Lincoln. As one might expect, it was always a sellout and a substantial amount was raised for the schools.
I heard stories back then from Mr. Norini about the land disputes and was saddened to hear they could not be resolved. He was the type of business owner that wanted to give something back to the surrounding communities. His desire to help our organization was admirable and his focus was always on the kids. When I first met Mr. Norini he was clearly preoccupied and got right to the point. I was perplexed because his manner that day did not match his willingness to make the charitable event a reality. Then I started working with him and understood his focus and attention was on the children. I truly admired him and he was easy to work with because he got things done. When I “graduated” from Willard the following fall, I sincerely missed working with Tom Norini. I had to pass on the baton and rely on my memories alone as many of us will have to do once Kiddieland is gone.
I am so bummed that a family dispute could end such a treasured place. Kiddieland ranks up there with Bozo and Frazer Thomas.
I remember going to a birthday party in the red fire truck. My girlfriend’s birthday was in June so when she turned 8, her mother rented the fire truck and picked us all up. We rode down North Avenue from Leclaire to First Avenue, clanging the bell all the way. It seemed like it took forever to get there.
You would get to the front gate and the tickets were eight for $1. So for $5, you had a great time. Parents would sit watching us on the rides, and we’d wait to get on the train so we could scream when it went through the tunnel.
It is such a shame that it is closing because there will never be another Kiddieland.
Anna Jean Flanagan
Fan for 73 years
I am the Bill Barrett pictured in the car. When the picture was taken, we lived on Normandy Avenue in Galewood. My parents later moved to Grove Avenue in Oak Park. I resided on Washington and Austin boulevards. I attended St. Giles Elementary School and Fenwick High School.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
On our last day at Kiddieland Sept. 20, our family had a group huddle at the old-fashioned vehicle merry-go-round to say goodbye, make a wish, remember the happy times and bid farewell. A bittersweet moment, for sure.
My youngest, Cyrus (6), wants to bring back Kiddieland when he is an adult. He has big plans and even wants it in the same location. I reminded him of the night we went to Kiddieland and he rode the train the entire evening. We never even got off, just stayed on for 20-plus times. Another evening, my son Vaughan discovered the black inner-tube water tunnels. He insisted on going on that ride all night and slept like a baby.
Even though I did not grow up in the area, my kids have adored and treasured each and every one of their Kiddieland trips. Thank you, Kiddieland, for the memories! You will never be forgotten!
A fall event to look forward to
Our kids’ school, Lincoln in River Forest, hosted its fall fundraiser at Kiddieland each year, and it was a blast for everyone involved.
We will miss it dearly!
Amy Hart Tomaso