Kiddieland, the Melrose Park amusement park, opened one last time this morning for an auction of its rides.
Carnival enthusiasts and long-time regulars packed the parking lot for a final goodbye, with the park turning on the lights on its rides one last time. Scheduled today for auction were 430 separate pieces of park history -- from carousel horses to popcorn carts to bumper cars.
A private collector from Atlanta bought the first major ride of the day, with a winning bid of $17,000 for the bumper cars. The carousel later went for $355,000 to a Westmont business owner who plans to refurbish it. The Little Dipper roller coaster sold for $33,000 to Six Flags in Gurnee; it will be put in the park's kiddie section, hopefully by 2010.
On Sept. 27, Kiddieland closed its doors after an 81-year run, the result of a dispute between the faction of the family that operated the amusement park and another that owns the land and wanted to see it put to better economic use.
Costco is interested in building a store at the site at First and North Avenues in Melrose Park. The park's operators had been ordered to vacate the property by the end of the year.
Today's auction was necessitated after plans fell through to sell the rides to someone willing to relocate them to a new site in the Chicago area.
Co-owner Tom Norini didn't want to sell off his park in a piece-by-piece auction, but felt he had no choice.
"This is harder for me than the last day," he said this morning.
Among those browsing before the auction began at 10 a.m. was Dan Horenberger, a carousel refurbisher who flew in from California. In recent weeks, he said, he had tried in vain to persuade one of the readers of his trade magazine, Carousel News and Trader, to buy Kiddieland's carousel in whole.
The carousel is one of only 100 in the country still in its original form, he said.
"It's heartbreaking," he said. "We spend our entire life restoring carousels and saving them and now it's gone in 5 minutes."
Salvatore Balsamo of Chicago brought his adult daughter and son back to the amusement park they frequented as children. The family was hoping to leave with some small souvenir.
"It's crying outside," he said, standing in the rain. "The question is where are the young families going to take their kids now?"
-- Vikki Ortiz Healy