Old Chicago

Old Chicago
Bolingbrook, Illinois
My Old Chicago

My fascination with Old Chicago began in a field back in the spring of 1975.  The field was Clow International Airport in Bolingbrook which back then was just a grass strip that Cessna's and Piper Cubs flew in and out of.  I guess it was an "international" airport because someone once flew to Canada from there.  The airport was hosting a fly in where people could walk around and check out the planes.  I was three at the time and my Dad was always into aircraft so we ended up out there walking around the planes.

At the end of the field was something that changed my life.

It was the lead car to the Chicago Loop rollercoaster.  In the bright spring sun it glowed as if it were made of solid gold.  It sat on a couple of pieces of wood with a little sign next to it promoting the soon to open Old Chicago Amusement Park and Shopping Center.

The car pulled me in as if it were a magnet.  It was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen and just couldn't get enough of it.  I crawled into the seat and pulled the over the shoulder harness down and grabbed a hold of them for the ride of my life.

My Dad tried to get me to come and look at some of the planes with him but who wants to see boring old planes when you had this futuristic looking thrill machine for you to put your hands all over.  He was fighting a loosing battle and he knew it.  So he went on to look at the planes and I spent the rest of the afternoon crawling all over and under the car.

My life changed that day.  Getting to see and touch a coaster in addition to growing up hearing family members, especially my Mother tell tales of the long gone Riverview Park and it's legendary terror machine The Bobs turned me into a lifelong roller coaster enthusiast.  When I got home that day my scribbles with crayons changed.  No longer were I drawing houses or our dog but they turned into loops drops and turns of the coasters that filled my mind.

The Chicago Loop Rollercoaster at Old Chicago Amusement Park & Shopping Center, Bolingbrook, IL

By the time Old Chicago opened later that year my family life was not the greatest.  My parents were going through a nasty bitter divorce and the man who later would become my step-father moved in. 

We'd drive up Route 53 every once in a while headed wherever and I always remember seeing the massive hulk that was Old Chicago.  The closer opening came I remember the electricity about it was everywhere.  The excitement was so much that even I as a three year old vividly remember it all even when my memories of the rest of my life then seem pretty hazy all these years later. 

One night all of a sudden there were these huge columns of light filling the sky that we could see from afar. To a three year old it was a sign from heaven.  We all hopped in the car and headed to Bolingbrook to take a look at the grand spectacle.  The traffic was horrendous and it took forever to make the trip that was only a few miles. 

Eventually we got to Old Chicago but there was no way we'd ever get in as the crowds were just too much.  Still I remember that huge building all lit up with the dome towering so high in the sky it looked like a close second to the Sears Tower in my mind.  The place was just so big it was hard to comprehend. 

We worked our way through the traffic and eventually worked our way home with me all the way staring out of the back window at the columns of light that filled the sky above Old Chicago.

Old Chicago Amusement Park & Shopping Center, Bolingbrook, IL

Eventually we made it through the throng of traffic that once in a while on the weekends even backed up on Route 53 past Dover Avenue in Romeoville where I lived.  Like I said elsewhere in this site Old Chicago was pure magic when I visited.  It was grand and magnificent on a daunting scale. 

When you walked past those lions and through the doors it was like going back in time.  I remember the feel of the cobblestone, the glow of the streetlights the smell from some cookie shop, the roar of the Chicago Loop off in the distance and the feeling of electricity that filled the place.  It was almost more excitement than I could handle and that was even before we wound our way to the entrance of the Fairgrounds.

The Old Chicago Fairgrounds Entrance

The mall section had a very closed in feeling.  It really was like you were walking down a small street that was lined with shops so you got used to being closed in.  With that in mind when you reached the Fairgrounds and it's massive indoor space it was more than a wow.  It left you breathless. 

It was hard walking down those ramps.  Not because they were steep or slippery because I just wanted to run.  Old Chicago was to me at that time the worlds biggest playground and I wanted to go play.

We visited Old Chicago often.  We didn't always visit the park but whenever I could I walked up to it's entrance and gazed out upon this wonderland.

The Chicago Cat was my first rollercoaster and it seemed to me like the cars could fall off the track as we zipped around it's turns.  The Chicago Loop was more than a little bit impressive to watch.  I used to sit right under it's corkscrews and watch it go overhead.  It seemed like it went so high it almost touched the roof and what I remember of the time that I rode it was looking up as we went through the corkscrew and seeing Old Chicago's floor above me.

The Four Seasons ride was one of my favorites.  I have real vague memories of what it's actual story line was.  It took you thorough the four seasons of the year and my memories are of the winter section where it was suddenly cold and there was an ice covered pond and snow everywhere.

There were a few shows at Old Chicago but the Circus was the most memorable one for me.  The circus was nice but what I remember most about it was that the Chicago Loop wrapped around the back of the bleachers.  I always sat up at the back and always waited for the next time the coaster to speed by every couple of minutes.   

When Old Chicago opened the Fun Factory play area we visited the park quite a bit more as you could pay to just enter that area and it was quite a bit less expensive than a trip into the Fairgrounds as a whole.  You could run, crawl and climb all over the whole thing as it was a massive playground.  I loved the big punching bags that you could run through and bash into each other with.

Once in a while my Mom would take my sister and me to Old Chicago on a week day when the park was empty.  She'd pay for the two of us to get in and then take a seat near the entrance and just let us go play.  We'd go hit the Fun Factory and the Four Seasons but often we'd go and marathon on the Old Chicago Log Race.

The Old Chicago Log Race

The Log Race was a really fun log flume.  It started out with a long twisting tunnel that we'd always shriek or make noises in.  Eventually you'd emerge from the darkness and head up it's lift hill before plunging into the little lake at it's bottom.  You really didn't get that wet on it but you didn't need to as Old Chicago was always a nice warm temperature even if it was below zero outside.  We were instructed to look up at Mom every once in a while and eventually she'd wave us to come to her therefore ending our riding the Log Race over and over.

My last visit to Old Chicago was with a couple of friends.  It was in early 1980 and I was eight years old.  Jack Alvarado, Scott Peterson and I rode our bikes to Scott's Grandparents house which sat on I-55's frontage road a short distance from Old Chicago.  After we visited them for a while we headed for Old Chicago.  We rode up to the massive building with hardly a car in the parking lot and leaned our bikes onto one of the lions pedestals and went into Old Chicago.

There were very few stores left in the mall as we walked around to take a look at the park.  It was a ghost town and outside of the very few employees  we were the only people there.  Old Chicago was dying.  We made our way to the entrance of the Fairgrounds and didn't even see a soul there.  We thought about just walking into the park but really didn't want to get into trouble so we just looked down on the still park. 

I remember standing there looking from ride to thinking about all the fun times that I had there.  I remembered the Log Race marathons with my sister, climbing around in the Fun Factory, watching the floor become my sky while going through the Chicago Loop's corkscrews and I remembered most importantly that Old Chicago was a place that even though my family life was hellish and it seemed that no one loved each other, we became a family at Old Chicago.

We stood there for a little while longer then turned our backs and walked away.

 We eventually moved out of the area but every once in a while I'd find myself going through Bolingbrook, whether going to the water slide that once sat across I-55 from it's hulking remains or to visit friends who still lived in Romeoville.  Each time I saw that building it brought back my memories.

The last I saw of Old Chicago was early in 1986.  I was onboard a buss headed to Springfield  for the Lisle Jr. High 8th grade trip.  We left well before sunrise and by the time we reached I-55 the sun was just peaking over the horizon.  I remember sitting in the back of the buss and looking back toward Old Chicago.  The dome no longer towered over the plains but instead was a huge pile of debris silhouetted by the rising sun of a new day.

Goodbye old friend, goodbye Old Chicago.   



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Paul B. Drabek