Throwback, Aladdin's Castle

In this clipping from the Aug. 13, 1984, Journal Gazette's online archives at JG-TC.com, this advertisement promotes the Aladdin's Castle arcade at the Cross County Mall.

I thought I’d write about another still-missed part of Mattoon-ian culture long gone; so here’s an advertisement from the Aug. 13, 1984, Journal Gazette, touting how the Aladdin’s Castle Arcade was the number one spot for your next birthday party to be held in a “computer-sparked” atmosphere. Whatever the heck that means.

In 1984, I would have been a tad young to attend something like that, or maybe not, as I would have been 6. Oh God, can you just imagine a horde of 6-year-olds (minimum of eight attendees for a party package, according to the ad) running like hellions through a video game arcade? I remember how miserable the poor attendant there looked on most normal days, poor guy. And after doing the archival research to find this ad, I discovered that there must have been a hell of a lot of turnaround in the attendant position at Aladdin’s Castle, since a keyword search brought up countless classified ads seeking out “mechanical-minded” folks for the job.

Understandable, since my memories of the attendants there were as well-meaning folks, almost always guys in greasy blue Aladdin’s Castle vests who would come ambling out of their little backroom only to be met by the roar of a million annoying game players crying out as one because they jammed the gulleyworks of the token machine.

If I’ve got my timeframe correct, in 1984 the Aladdin’s Castle would have been located in the hallway that’s just to your left as you enter the east entrance of the mall where the K-Mart used to be. The advertisement here says it’s “across from the First National Bank,” which is quite a head-scratcher, since although my memory is pretty solid on such things, for the life of me I can’t recall a bank ever being in the mall, or just where it would have been. Other than that Spencer’s-gifts kind of store with the bunny-in-sunglasses on the sign that I remember being right next to the Aladdin’s Castle, or the Walgreen’s Restaurant (now there’s something that could move into the Pizza Hut building), I can’t recall much more about what exact places were where in the mall back then.

I do remember that on those occasions I got to go to Aladdin’s Castle at that age, I was heading right for the original Star Wars arcade game, the one with the steering yoke that put you in an X-wing Fighter, or the arcade game adaptation of the film “Krull.” If you don’t remember that movie, just take the best parts of Star Wars, then make all those parts not that way, and boom, you have “Krull.” Great game though.

And just what would a birthday party back then have got me had I been in attendance? Well, according to the ad I would have got five dollars’ worth of game tokens; a dollar got you four tokens, so that means a guest at that party would have been granted 20 tokens, which at that age would have an insane amount since usually you had to beg your mother to give you even a dollar.

Oh, and it looks like the gig also includes “adult supervision” (the attendants again) as well as an Aladdin’s Castle T-shirt. If you think I’m going to make fun of that, you’re way off base, because don’t think I wouldn’t sit proudly in this newsroom wearing an Aladdin’s Castle T-shirt if I could.

Time passes; the Aladdin’s Castle moved to the main concourse of the mall, just to the left of the GNC, in a storefront which as far as I know has been vacant ever since, except for a Christmas diorama. Believe me as much as I love Christmas and dioramas, neither can compete with the Robocop arcade game.

After that, the Castle was moved once again but this time to the little hallway on your immediate right upon entering the central entrance of the mall, right around the time those boring fighting games started to draw a crowd, even though I was still happy to play junk like the forgotten “Am I in a car or a spaceship?” game Night Striker or the Superman game where you flew around and fought aliens that looked a lot like Luchidores. Oh, and they still had a working Galaga machine. Now and forever: Galaga.

More time passes; junior high becomes high school and high school becomes college. During one particular semester break, I’d meet my friends back in town to hit the Castle for old time’s sake, maybe get a little bit of pinball in, and we turned the corner only to find that in our academic absence from Mattoon, the Castle had not only been shuttered for good, but had been literally walled off like it never even existed. I remember we just stood there staring at that big blank wall, money in our hands, slowly coming to the realization that we had just lost something.

If, by chance, you’d like to know exactly where this happened, just take a gander that direction next time you’re at the mall, and if you see that part where the wall concaves out for no reason, just before you get to the back door for the Chinese restaurant, there you go; directly across from, ironically enough, an access door that still has the words “Sam Goody” on it.

Just before finishing this column, I called that number on the bottom of the advertisement above and, to my disappointment, only got a message saying it’s “not in service,” thus quelling my dream that behind that wall, bricked off like The Cask of Amontillido, is a dusty, but still functioning arcade with a lone attendant sitting by the phone waiting for someone to call and give him the order to open it back up again. Sigh.

And incidentally, if you or anyone else you know has a spare Aladdin’s Castle T-shirt, feel free to send it here to the paper at 700 Broadway Ave. East, Suite 9A, Attention: Clint. Preferably a large, if you’ve got one, although I’ll squeeze myself into a medium if I have to.

"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. Contact Walker at cwalker@jg-tc.com.

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