See more images of Peony Park through the years in the Viewfinder blog post "From the Archives: Remember Peony Park?"
Peony Park in Omaha has been closed for almost 20 years, but for many area residents its memory lives on.
Open from 1919 until March 1994, the amusement park played host to kids of all ages, swimmers and sunbathers, corporate picnics and family outings, first dates and city festivals. Entertainers of every ilk, from local to famous, performed there in the Royal Grove Ballroom.
The rides were auctioned off in April 1994, but all kinds of memorabilia remained.
Now anyone with a hankering for a piece of the park will have the opportunity to buy one. More than 1,000 pieces of memorabilia will be up for auction Dec. 15 at the Regency Lodge, 909 S. 107th Ave.
There will be a preview from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. The auction will start at 10 a.m., and as many as a thousand people are expected to take part, said Tom Millie. He and his partner, Brian Pfeifer, own the Auction Mill, which will run the event.
Millie is sure there will be a big turnout. “Lots of people have memories of Peony Park,” he said. And not just people in Omaha. Inquiries have come in from around the country.
People who can't attend the auction will be able to bid online through proxibid.com.
David Murphy, who grew up in Omaha and moved back here about four years ago, has only good memories of Peony and he's excited about the auction.
“I'm all over it,” he said. “I'll be there.”
He's not sure what he'll be able to afford, but he's eager to see what's available.
“I loved the miniature golf. And I loved the swimming pool. I would like a sign from one of those.”
He remembers the tramway that would carry visitors around the park. “If I could find an old photo of that, it would be great. It was just a more innocent time.”
Chuck Wagoner also has fond memories. He said he worked for Peony Park when he went to high school in the 1960s.
He said teens from all across town worked together so he had friends at other schools. “What a place to grow up!” he said.
He doubts he'll attend the auction, but he's glad people will get to share part of the past.
Murphy said it wasn't just his generation that loved the park. He also remembers his parents talking about dancing at the Royal Grove when they were young.
Items in the auction include dishes from the Royal Grove as well as small collectibles, vintage signs, posters, lights, furniture, pinball machines and slot machines, fortune-telling scales, a jukebox and the ballroom's original doors.
Omahan Carl Jennings, who began working at Peony Park when he was 14, collected much of the memorabilia.
He now owns and runs a park east of Wahoo that he's named Peony Park. He has a house, garages, basement and warehouses full of Peony Park items, but he can't put them out at the Wahoo park because people steal them, he said. The things he displays there have to be taken down and stored when the park is closed.
“Everyone wants a piece of Peony Park,” he said. “Everyone has a Peony Park story.”
He admits he's obsessed with Peony Park. He said his collection, much as he hates to part with a single piece of it, should be shared with others who loved the park.
Jennings is full of stories about the park, its history and the Malec family who started it and ran it for most of its life. He returned to Omaha in 1991 after a stint in the military, “when Peony was on the ropes.”
He ended up with the rights to the Peony Park name and all that memorabilia. He has written two books on the park.
He said he has plans for the Wahoo Peony Park. He said he has to get some rides if he wants to continue getting families to visit or corporations to have their company picnics.
“My kids think we can't compete with the big parks,” he said. “But I'm not really trying to compete with the big parks.”
It's more of a family thing, he said.
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