Farm Collector

FIRE AT SVOBODA’S

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.

  • Published on May 1, 1968
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