By David Sher
I’m having the best time writing about my early memories of Birmingham.
But as a child, the place I wanted to go was Kiddieland, a small amusement park opened in 1948 at the Alabama Fairgrounds near Five Points West.
This proves how few fun options we had as children.
In fact, most families, including ours, didn’t own a television until a few years after the park opened.
And at that time it opened there were no big fancy theme or water parks.
Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California in 1955, seven years after Kiddieland. Walt Disney, himself, told us about his new imaginative theme park every Sunday night on his television show The Wonderful World of Disney. But we had no hope that our parents would fly us to California.
Believe me, Kiddieland was no Disneyland—but it was all we had—and we loved it.
According to Bhamwiki, “the $100,000 Kiddieland Park opened to the public on June 15, 1948, as an effort to combat juvenile delinquency.
The park’s bandstand featured “hillbilly shows” and concerts on Sundays. The entertainments were broadcast live on WSGN. Admission and parking were free, with most rides costing 9¢ for children and 10-20¢ for adults. Free rides were given to “underprivileged groups” during special events sponsored by the park and local civic clubs.”
Kiddieland was so much fun!
There was a merry-go-round, a shooting gallery, and a Ferris wheel.
I loved the bumper cars and the speed boats, but my best friend liked the Tilt-a-whirl and the pony ride.
I asked my son what he remembers most about Kiddieland and he says it was the “Laugh Land fun house. He claims he still has nightmares from riding the jerky cars into the creepy dark rooms with scary clowns.
One time I was brave enough to try the Caterpillar ride. The cars spun around an oblong track at great speeds, when suddenly a canvas covered us, thrusting us into complete darkness. I left the ride dizzy and nauseated. I never rode the Caterpillar again.
“Previously open only to white patrons, Kiddieland was closed on January 1, 1962, along with all of Birmingham’s city parks, in defiance of a court order to end segregation. The parks were reopened to all comers by the newly-installed Birmingham City Council in July 1963.”
Tim Hollis, a local author and historian, wrote lovingly about Kiddieland, “One of the amazing things was that Kiddieland changed very little as the decades wore on. In the mid-1980s it looked basically the same as it had on opening day, with some of the same rides in operation.
“While this was terrific from a nostalgia standpoint, the fact was that amusement parks are not intended to be museums, so the worn-out rides and shattered neon signs did tend to give the place a somewhat shabby look. Later that decade, virtually everything in the park was either bulldozed or sold off. (Pieces of former rides have occasionally turned up in private collections.)”
Our children have so many options today.
Theme parks with mind numbing roller coasters seem to be everywhere. Water parks with towering slides and giant wave pools abound.
Today my grandchildren are not much interested in watching television—they have TikTok, Nintendo, Xbox, and PS4—whatever that is.
When I was a child I couldn’t wait to drive a car—that’s why I was so attracted to the bumper cars. Today many 16 year old boys are in no hurry to get a driver’s license.
My sister told me that one time our mom dropped her and her girlfriends off alone at Kiddieland Park for an afternoon of fun and then came back to pick them up later. No parent would consider doing that today.
I realize many people won’t read this column because they have no remembrance of this small, but loveable amusement park—and that’s a shame.
Because the story of Kiddieland Park gives us great insight into how Birmingham and our world has changed.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Tim Hollis who helped with this column. View his many books which feature Birmingham icons like Loveman’s, Pizitz, and Cousin Cliff.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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