Svoboda's Nickelodeon Tavern and Museum, opened in 1908 at 24th and Butler in Chicago Heights, Illinois, contains one of the country's largest collections of all types of old items. The largest display includes approximately 80 nickelodeon pianos, orchestrions and merry-go-round organs of all sizes; hundreds of music boxes, roller organs, 'hurdy gurdies' and antique phonographs; and an entire penny arcade from 1900! Al Svoboda also has collections of old cars, vehicle insignias, animated displays, coins and everything else from a stuffed two-headed calf to a collection of unusual shaped chicken eggs! Two recent additions to his collection are a Minneapolis steam tractor and a Tangley calliope.
At 10 P.M. on October 12, 1967, a fire of undetermined cause began in the alley of 24th Street in Chicago Heights, Ill., and as it spread ti engulfed various structures. By the time it was put out, it had ruined three of Al Svoboda's thirteen warehouses; the fire and water teamed up to ruin practically all of the contents.
One of the worst losses was complete blacksmith shop, including two immense hearth bellows. Al intended to open a blacksmith shop at his Junior Nickelodeon Tavern and Museum (near Dyer, Indiana), and to have real blacksmiths shoe horses on weekends for everyone to see.
Also destroyed were three Model T Fords, two sleighs, a Pianola push-up piano playing machine, three self-playing pump organs, a collection of old shoes and a welding shop.
The fire could have been worse, naturally. A few months before the fire, Al moved a collection of 2000 piano and organ rolls from one of the garages into his basement, after they had been stored in the garage for years!
Svoboda's Nicklodeon Tavern and Museum WAS NOT touched by the blaze and no people were injured. The majority of Al's collections are still intact. But now all that remain of several garages full of antiques are memories of plans for interesting museum displays.