Cheap Thrills

By Larry Teren


When we were baby boomer kids in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Dad would find the least expensive way to provide us entertainment and get us some fresh air at the same time. Usually this meant going to a handful of choices.

One very popular place was the Golf Mill Shopping Center along Milwaukee Avenue in Niles, Illinois, a north suburb of Chicago. Right outside the north end exit from a Sears store, the main anchor in the mall, was a cement fish pond, wishing well and water wheel mill. Ma would go into Sears to look for items and we would hang out around the pond. It was stacked with all types of fish that was found in an expensive aquarium. On a summer night, it was quite relaxing to sit on a rustic wooden bench in the cool breeze and just take in the atmosphere. The pond and water wheel are no longer there but pleasant memories are permanently stored away.

Another place on our list of outdoor entertainment was also adjacent to Milwaukee Avenue but at least twenty or more miles further northwest- Hawthorn Mellody Farm. It was the headquarters for the Hawthorn Mellody dairy operation. They had a simulated western ghost town on the premises among several other themed attractions that visitors could take in. It was a lot of fun on a Sunday afternoon. The place closed down in 1970 and has since been rebuilt into another sprawling suburban mall. Six Flags of America in not far off Gurnee helped kill interest in the farm attraction.

Another outdoor site long closed was Olson Rug Waterfall, a 22 acre park smack dab in the middle of a north side Chicago residential neighborhood at Diversey and Pulaski. There was a 35 foot waterfall based on a Native American theme that tried to re-create the Hiawatha atmosphere. It was truly a lovely relaxing place to visit and picnic outdoors. The miniature amusement park ended in 1978.

I never went to the famed Riverview, another giant amusement park in the middle of a north side Chicago neighborhood just to the south of Lane Tech High School near Western and Belmont. But I did go quite often to two places that we called Kiddie Land. There was a small but still enjoyable amusement park adjacent to Lincoln Village on the far north side of the city at Lincoln and McCormick. It closed down in the early 1970’s. The other much larger Kiddie Land location was in the near west suburb of River Grove along side North Avenue across the street from Maywood Racing Park.

This Kiddie Land amusement park had horse and train rides along with the customary roller coaster, Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. And always cotton candy. A kid could get lost in having a good time for what seemed hours. It sadly closed in 2009 despite pleas from a cadre of regular visitors. Ironically, the land was worth much more if sold for commercial development than running as an amusement park on a seasonal basis.

Finally, there was and still is Buckingham Fountain located in Grant Park just off the lakefront to the east and the Loop downtown area to the west. Until a few short years ago, during the summer months, the giant fountain would light up at night in a rainbow of colors. Dad would park the car nearby on Columbus Drive, and we would get out and hang around in the plaza area and just marvel at what seemed like mysterious magic to little kids who were easy to amaze.

I suppose that nowadays parents have found other ways to entertain their kids without spending a lot of money and get them some fresh air and exercise. That’s okay by me. I have my own memories to keep alive. There’s nothing wrong with cheap thrills.

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