When I was a kid, each summer my parents took us to KiddieLand in Melrose Park. And every time they told us that we were going, Michelle and I freaked out so much you might have thought it was Disney Land. My sister loved it so much that we had to physically pry her off the metal gates one year.
KiddieLand is a perfect place to take kids that weren't really of the age to start going to Six Flags. It's sort of like the moving carnivals that they bring from city to city, except it's permanently affixed to the intersection of North Avenue and First Avenue. (Well, almost permanently.)
After 81 years of giddy fun, KiddieLand is closing its doors this year. I read about it in the Tribune, which noted the owner family's stupid feud as the cause of the park's closing.
I decided I needed to take one last visit to KiddieLand, and like it or not, Dave knew he was coming with me.
We went today to say our goodbyes. Amazingly, the park is just as I remember it - except maybe a bit smaller, and with a few new rides.
I worried that they had torn down the volcano play area, because I hadn't seen it from the road in the few times I've driven by on the way to the vet, but no, it's still there. I was shamed into not climbing up the rope net by a sign forbidding those over 4'8'', but I did go up the "for parents" stairs and ride down a slide.
I knew that the Little Dipper roller coaster would be there intact. This small pile of wood was my first-ever roller coaster, and it used to intimidate me as a kid. Every year it took some convincing, but I would ride it with my dad and, of course, love the ride.
We had one last ride today, and it was as fun as I remember, though definitely not as scary.
As I said, almost everything is still there - the Tilt-a-Whirl, the cars, the bumper cars, the ferris wheel, the swinging boat - even the rides for the very small kids, the ones that just go around and around. My parents cherish a photo of me and Michelle in one of the flying saucer rides, and if the park staff would have allowed me, I would have squeezed myself into it one last time. (And probably would have broken it.)
After we rode all the rides I could possibly have fit on, we took one last ride around the park on the KiddieLand train.
As we looked at the rides' flashing lights, I thought about all the times my parents took us to the park. As my mom said, "We opened that park, and we closed it." After walking around it today, I can't believe that now, because it really doesn't seem that big, so I don't know how we spent over 12 hours there on each visit.
However, I did come to realize that we really owe our parents one for doing that for us. It was a series of great experiences that we will never forget and will always have with us. Not everyone's parents will take them to a kid-infested playland for 12+ hours and let us scream, run around, and generally act silly while they are forced to watch. But our parents did.
I wish I could do the same for my kids, but I'll have to find something else; KiddieLand will run its rides for the last time in early October.
As we drove away, I did cry - but at least Dave didn't have to pry me off the fence. (In all fairness to 5-year-old Michelle, I did think about it, though.)
Goodbye, KiddieLand, and thanks for all the wonderful memories.
"It's the fun that takes you back to KiddieLand."
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