Jim and Toni Amey hope their dream of operating an Idora Park museum on the original site becomes a reality.
The two scoured the nation to collect Idora Park artifacts and memorabilia before building a 4,400-square foot site next to their house to hold the memories of hundreds of people in the area.
The Canfield couple said they want to keep their passion for finding, restore and sharing items alive, as well as the history and memories of "Youngstown's "Million Dollar Playground," which existed on Youngstown's south side from 1899 until 1984, when a fire in April damaged the Wildcat and other main attractions and led to its permanent closing later that year.
Town Crier / J.T. Whitehouse
Standing between one of Idora Park’s antique cars and the tail railroad car from the kiddie train is Jim Amey, co-founder of The Idora Experience, a museum housing Amey’s collection of Idora Park artifacts and memorabilia.
The couple first starting showcasing the collection as the Idora Park Experience, but the Ameys said they want to find a permanent home - the land where the park once stood.
They recently made an offer to the owners of the original property, Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church, to purchase the land and share their collection, and childhoods, with others.
"Our hope is when we make the offer, the church will see the higher motive here," Toni said. "The odds aren't in our favor, but doing the right thing is."
The couple said they want to moved their collection to the to its original home in Youngstown, the 26 acres of land owned by the church that recently filed for bankruptcy.
The Ameys informed the bankruptcy court they wanted to buy it and plan to make an offer.
The couple said they want to build a museum on the property, where they can reunite the memorabilia with its home. They also plan to build trails, a picnic area and displays where the originals once stood.
Jim graduated from Chaney High School in 1976. As a teen, he worked at the amusement park as the operator of the Skee-Ball arcade game. Later that year, Jim enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and continued to serve for the next 17 years.
He moved back to the area 1993, along with his bride, Toni, a California native, and the two settled down in Canfield Township. Jim said the loss really hit him, so the couple visited the park's devastation and what as left, starting his quest to get his hands on anything related to Idora Park.
The collections started after Jim purchased the light from one of the Skee-Ball machines.
"That is when it was imprinted on me that Idora Park was a pretty cool place," Jim said.
Jim said preserving Idora Park equipment began with small items and original photos that filled up a curio cabinet. The couple then began putting ads in the paper and frequenting local garage sales.
Jim said he tried to get in with local collectors but found it was a hard ring to open. For two years, he advertised and talked with people who knew collectors. His persistence paid off and one day, he got an unusual phone call.
"I got a call from a fellow who said he knew a guy that had something I wanted," Jim said. "That call opened many doors over the coming months."
The collector the coupled visited had a huge collection of pinball machines and carnival items. The Ameys bought some of the Idora Park machines and that purchase opened up doors to other collectors.
At the time, the Ameys had a home in Canfield and in Virginia.
"We had the only home in Virginia with a rocket ship in our front yard," Toni said.
She said it was one of the three chrome rocket ships from one of Idora Park's main rides.
Toni retired in 2013, and the couple decided to sell the Virginia home and move bake to Canfield with the Idora collection.
After building the addition to house the artifacts, the Ameys went to the township with the idea to host a monthly open house and let people experience the amusement park up close.
Canfield Township's planning and zoning department then permitted the Ameys to open only twice a year.
"We would have loved to be open more," Jim said. "We also have the entire kiddie train, but we can't operate it."
The couple said most of the items at the Idora Park Experience are true artifacts; however, many of the original items were destroyed or lost in the fire, so the Ameys included in the collection identical or "like" features to bring the spirit of the park to life.
The collection also includes the Wildcat and Jack Rabbit roller coaster cars, turtles from one of the rides, a chariot from the Kooky Castle, original signage and pieces from concessions.
The Ameys said the open house is a great way to share stories and memories or experience history.
The next open house 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 17 and 18 and costs $5, which will benefit the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
When The Idora Park Experience first opened, the Ameys raised funds for local nonprofits. They have since switched to raising funds for the MVHS, which has been named owners of the collection in the Ameys' will.
"We will have to see what kind of support we get as to how far this project will go," Jim said. "We are just two people with a dream. I think the community will get behind us, and there will likely be some resistance. We have a big dream and we have to go after it one step at a time."