For baby boomers who lived in New York City, or within its shadows, during the early 1960s, one of the fondest memories is summer fun at Freedomland U.S.A., the theme park that was located in The Bronx. The only opportunities now to revisit that beloved and long gone park is through the latest books and online outlets that have collected the stories, pictures and videos of what was billed as “The Disneyland of the East.”
Anyone who enjoyed a return visit, or first visit, to Freedomland during 2010 with the Images of America series book simply titled Freedomland certainly will enjoy another visit to the park. That opportunity is provided by Freedomland 1960-1964, the newest book that is part of the Images of Modern America series. Both Freedomland books are published by Arcadia Publishing.
The first book, by Robert McLaughlin and Frank R. Adamo, included a compact history of the park from conception through closing. The storyline was accompanied by black and white photographs. In Freedomland 1960-1964, McLaughlin authors solo and provides new information along with photographs in living color.
The author is a treasure trove of information based on exhaustive research and the many friendships he has developed with people who were involved with the park, others who were just on the periphery and people who experienced it often during their youth. The park guests include a core group of fans who keep alive the memories and stories that emanated from Freedomland.
Pleasure Island And Magic Mountain
McLaughlin also has published two books about Pleasure Island, Freedomland’s sister park in Wakefield, Massachusetts, for Arcadia’s Images of America series and Images of Modern America series. He continues to conduct research about Colorado’s Magic Mountain, the older sister of the three theme parks, for a future book.
Besides the books, Freedomland, Pleasure Island and Magic Mountain websites and Facebook pages also share the many stories, pictures, videos and memories of these parks. Here are a few to visit:
- Freedomland website and Facebook page (Freedomland U.S.A. – the World’s Largest Entertainment Center). Posts on Facebook occur almost daily and more than 20 videos are on the page.
- Friends of Pleasure Island website and the Facebook page.
- A Magic Mountain website.
The C.V. Wood Connection
All three parks were built by Marco Engineering of Los Angeles. Marco was owned by C.V. Wood. Known to friends as “Woody,” he also built Disneyland for Walt Disney.
Freedomland was the largest of the three initial Marco parks, and it even was larger than Disneyland. Freedomland was situated on 205 acres on marshland in the northeast section of The Bronx. Eighty-five acres were covered with park attractions with the remainder of the land for parking and park facilities.
Freedomland was conceived with an American history theme. The park was divided into seven themed sections. Six themes relived the past (Little Old New York, Chicago 1871, The Great Plains, The Old Southwest, San Francisco of 1906 and New Orleans that included Mardi Gras and pirates) and one was contemporary—Satellite City to depict Cape Canaveral and the growing excitement in the space race.
Freedomland attractions included the frequent eruption of the Chicago Fire, wild west shoot-outs, dark rides that were created to experience and comfortably fit into the themed areas (Tornado Adventure, San Francisco Earthquake, Buccaneers, Mine Caverns), novelties such as the walk-through Casa Loca (the crooked house) and a Civil War wagon ride through a battlefield as guns and cannon blazed. Boats were found throughout the park depicting 1890s New York harbor tugboats, sternwheelers that plied the Great Lakes, canoes that paddled by Indian villages and bull boats that explored the far reaches of the Northwest Territory. Two authentic steam engines circled the park with stops in Chicago and San Francisco.
Besides family fun that included lessons about American history, older teens along with adults also flocked to the park to enjoy the top entertainment of the day that would perform on any given afternoon or evening.
More than 100 marquee names were featured during the park’s history. They included singers Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, Chubby Checker and Lena Horne, and groups such as The Tokens, The Four Seasons, The Lennon Sisters and The Chordettes. Jazz bands were represented by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Harry James. Actors and comedians who visited the park to perform or just mingle among the guests included Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Red Skelton and Danny Kaye.
The Freedomland memories that rush back to readers of McLaughlin’s latest book, along with those that are recalled on the Freedomland website and Facebook page, would make any theme park junkie wonder why Freedomland lasted only five years. The epitaph for most parks is that the land eventually becomes much more valuable for other uses. The storyline is no different for Freedomland.
A 60,000 residential community with high-rise apartments accompanied by a shopping center now occupy the site of this theme park. More information about Freedomland’s rise and demise can be found in a seven-part Freedomland series published on zoomdune.com.