American History Amusement Park

Freedomland Fun Foiled

From Coney Island to Six Flags, amusement parks have long been part of the Great American Summer. And none was more American than Freedomland.

Besides my many visits to El Patio, my grandmothers suburban beach club, my summer staycation in 1960 was to include a visit to the newly opened Freedomland.

Although Disneyland in California remained the holy grail of Amusement parks, for an East coast kid Freedomland seemed a close second.

But because the first week in August 1960 had been an unusually rainy one, our much-anticipated family outing to the amusement park with that improbable name of Freedomland USA, had been postponed a week.

vintage Amusement Park illustration Freedomland 1960s

The newly built park, an American history themed extravaganza “where the story of America comes to life” was not only bigger than Disneyland but a whole lot closer- Freedomland was located in the Bronx –“only one half hour by subway from Times Square the heart of NYC”

Even Ed Sullivan himself presented a promotional tour of the park on his Sunday night TV Show , referring to the park as Disneyland’s equal on the East coast.

The parks concept was history based and the layout was cleverly arranged in the shape of a large map of the United states, divided into different themed areas based on the history of the US.

Freedomland in TV Land

Vintage Illustration  retro boy and girlin cowboy outfits

The disappointment my older brother and I felt was palpable.

For an impatient nine-year old and a fidgety six-year-old with little sense of time, having to wait a whole week for the chance to visit the park lauded as the most exciting new thing in the world of entertainment,  was unbearable.

Disconsolate and prickly as the oppressive heat, the usually soothing balm that TV offered me, proved useless.

Even the novelty of our new Admiral 19  inch portable TV, allowing us the unrestricted freedom to watch  wobble and flutter-free television anywhere in the entire  house simply by  rolling this fashion slim TV atop  its own cart, lost its luster.

Escaping into the cartoon capers of Casper the Friendly Ghost or Quick Draw McGraw proved futile as there was no escaping those pulse quickening commercials extolling the lure of Freedomland.

Interspersed between the ubiquitous summertime commercials for the pause that refreshes and Palisades- ride the coaster /get cool in the waves of the pool-Amusement Park, were the enthusiastic commercials for  Freedomland that played endlessly on both radio and television, merely exasperating the situation.

 Sure you could swing all day and after dark at Palisades Amusement park, but Jersey kids could keep their old park with the world’s largest salt water pool.

Even if  none other than that defender of truth justice and the American way, Superman, gave his ringing endorsement to the New Jersey park,  his steely visage appearing on billboards, and sides of buses everywhere promising you’ll  have fun, so come on over, it was Freedomland for me.

 “…Mommy and Daddy take my hand Take me out to Freedomland …”

vintage photo 1960 kids on amusement park ride

Children having the time of their life, gape with horror in Freedomland ride, Photo Life magazine 8/1/60

A shiver of excitement surged through me watching the rip roarin’ fun that a couple of bucks would buy. “$2.95 is all you pay\For Freedomland all day”

Where else could a kid swaddled in the suburban safety of mid-century America actually witness and experience  firsthand the terrifying devastation of major American cities?

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

For some folks twisting the night away might have been plenty of fun, but who wouldn’t want to experience the tingling shake, rattle and roll of a real tornado twister or the sheer rippling exhilaration of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in a rollicking fun-filled ride?

Imagine the thrill as you were magically transported in a charming antique car through a re-creation of the ruination of the city by the Bay.

The twisted wreckage would appear before your very eyes, as walls and  buildings around you would tremble and crack and tumble-down, surrounded by great heaps of smoking brick, tangled wires and  warped metal girders.

Heightening the thrills,  asphalt streets buckled and melted around you  causing  your car to rock back and forth like a bucking bronco while the trembling earth spasms and convulses opening  up beneath you

Chicago Fire of 1871

If that wasn’t spine tingling entertaining enough you could bask in the warm glow of the great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The calamity of that out of control inferno caused by Mrs O Leary’s cow was cheerfully recreated every half hour as you witnessed  genuine flames  shooting out of burning buildings , the fatal fire roaring down the streets in old-time tinderbox Chicago .

Talk about a hot time summer in the city!

It was one apocalyptic catastrophe after another-all part of the thrill that was as big as America itself.

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stay Tuned for PtII Freedomland

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4 comments

  1. Amazing! I’d never heard of this theme park.

    • It was pretty incredible…because I lived in the suburban NY area I was able to visit several times. I’ve often thought if they had this same concept today of treating tragic events as fun features would they have rides to commemorate Hurricane Katrina or Even worse 9/11

      Sent from my iPad

  2. I went there as a kid. I remember having lunch in a coverered wagon. I remember my Mom pumping the firepump to extinguish The Chicago Fire. I remember reenactments of Western gunbattles. It was a fun place. I was born in 1957, so I was quite young. I was born in Flatbush, moved to Brownsville and then South Queens in 1963. I am told that Co-op City sits where Freedomland once stood.

    • Your memories are exactly right. There was Chuck Wagon in the Great Plains section where, they advertised, you could sample a hearty cowpunchers snack.And yes, Co-Op City is where Freedomland once stood. I will be posting more about Freedomland including pages from the guide in the next few days

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