Kiddie Towne Remembered
“There are places I’ll remember all my life. Though some have changed some forever not for better, some have gone and some remain. All these places have their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall, some are dead and some are living. In my life, I’ve loved them all”.
So sang John Lennon and the Beatles “In My Life”. We all have certain places that we can remember with loving fondness and warm memories. Like the words of the song some places have forever changed and some are now forever gone. One such place for a small and privileged group of young people was a small amusement park that was a fixture at the North Shore Shopping Center, now the North Shore Mall in Peabody, from 1958 to 1973. That small amusement park was called Kiddie Towne. It was located in the area where Filene’s department store now stands at the western end of the mall. An article on the front page of the Salem News on January 6 brought this forgotten park back from the ages passed. The article detailed just a small part of the Kiddie Towne story.
Kiddie Towne was not unique in that it was an amusement park. There are amusement parks all across the country and the world. Six Flags, Canobie Lake, Euro Disney, and the greatest of all Disneyland and Walt Disney World are larger and have a lot more to offer than Kiddie Towne could possibly have been or even could have offered. It was unique because it was a simple place with no frills, bells or whistles. It consisted of about dozen or so rides and small arcade with few pinball machines played by our own pinball wizards long before The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy”. The rides were nothing spectacular for they were for young children with a few geared to teenagers, such as the Ferris Wheel. The refreshment stand with its’ hamburgers, hotdogs, popcorn, cotton candy, candy apples, sno-cones and other goodies where one could feed a family of four for very short money. It was a place where a parent could drop off their kids with a fistful of tickets and go off shopping in the mall for an hour or so without worrying about them. At the time, the mall was open, not closed in as it is today. Families could make a morning, an afternoon or an evening of it without breaking the family budget and leave with memories that would last a lifetime.
Like Disney World, Kiddie Towne did have fireworks but only once a year around July 4. The sponsors for the fireworks were the City of Peabody and the Mall and were not associated at all with the park. They were set off where the main Post Office and Toy”R”Us are now located. The park was a madhouse on that night with wall-to-wall people waiting for fireworks to start. After the first boom, the park would magically become desolate and empty as people made a mad dash to see the aerial displays. The fun part of that night was watching the traffic jam afterwards from the safe confines of the park.
Wednesdays were a special day during the summer. On that day, the cost of a ticket was a nickel. It was called Nickel Day but the employees had other names for it that is best not said. For five dollars, you could buy many tickets. That day was a total zoo and lasted from early morning to very late into the night. People actually had to be told that the park was now closed and they had to go home.
The owner of the park was a man named Israel Yodlin but to all that knew him he was Izzy. He was big man, not tall, maybe five feet eight or nine, but he stood tall in the eyes of the people who worked for him. He was a father figure to the young people that worked for him and always had their best interests at heart. In the fall, Izzy would take the whole crew out somewhere special to eat. It was his way of saying “thank you” for another wonderful year. A wonderful year did not necessarily mean it was a profitable one. What it meant was working with the greatest group of people under the sun. Sadly, he passed away in 1992.
Kiddie Towne’s employees were both male and female and were forever coming and going. The exact number of people who worked there is not known and may never be known. The average length of employment, it is safe to reason, was at least through their high school years. As they graduated from high school and went on to college, into the workforce or military service there was always a new face to take their places. Of course, some left a little sooner or stayed a little longer. Each generation of employees had their own style, music, heroes and demons and the pains of going through their teen years looking for their identity as they approach the uncertainty of adulthood. Each new workforce had a special blend of people, a mixed bag of characters. Today we call it diversity in the workplace. They were a fellowship, ready to stand behind one of their own whenever times called for it. Today they could consider themselves a fraternity of a very special and privilege group of people to have worked at Kiddie Towne. Today, they may not see each on a regular basis as they travel life’s long and winding road taking them in different directions. Yet, friendships were created back then that still last to this day.
Kiddie Towne gave those young kids of yesteryear a place to hangout, work, make a little pocket money and above all give them a sense of responsibility they would carry with them when they crossed that threshold into adulthood. As for families who came with their kids, Kiddie Towne would allow them to share a brief moment of quality time, building lasting memories without that competitive factor that now permeates our everyday lives. Kiddie Towne gave everyone who enter it’s inner sanctum little breather from a steadily increasing hectic rush-around world that has fully evolved since Kiddie Towne closed its gates those many years ago.
Ross A. Bulmer