We are seeing a disappearing act in our midst. The wholesome summer safe havens of childhood amusement parks are closing left and right. Another casualty can be checked off the list as the magical landmark of Chicago must call it quits. Kiddieland brought smiles to children and adults alike since first opening its doors in 1929 and served its community well for those eighty-one years. As the oldest amusement park in the Chicago area, the reminiscence alone is reason enough to shed a sentimental tear as it closes its gates on September 27.
The Kiddieland Limited Locomotive, featuring the last steam engine running in Chicago, will soon become a ghost train as it rides the rails one last time on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Along with the Limited, all the rides are free of charge with ticket purchase on the sad, last day of a true Chicago pastime. The Tilt-a-Whirl will stop spinning, the Little Dipper won’t dip and the beloved Log Jammer will jam no more. Tom, a Kiddieland employee from 1967 to 1969, says, “I feel bad about the park closing. I’ve come here all my life. I worked here, came here and it’s the last park in Chicago.” Others share Tom’s feeling, like Mary, who has been coming here since she was a little girl, as she waits nearly an hour with her grandchildren to enjoy the experience one last time.
Walking though the crowded blacktop-paved lot, it doesn’t seem like this land of wonder is seeing its last living breath. The bustling groups of kids clinging to their parents run from each ride and game as if the park opened yesterday. The sweet smell of funnel cake collides with the pungent aroma of gasoline with a faint sour stench that may or may not be vomit. But surely those who let their lunch loose did so with pride and nostalgia.
According to multiple sources, the park is closing due to a lease agreement with the landowner, who refuses to continue the operation, wanting to build condos on the site that held the hearts of millions for many years. The economy is forcing cities to not only lose jobs, but to abandon historical integrity as well.
This may be the last day anyone will ever experience the joys of this great childhood throw back, but it will live on in so many Chicagoans’ hearts. (Jonathan Kaplan)