Rob Freedman's Freedomland Page
By 1950, the American amusement park was dead. What were once the jewel destination of urban areas had deteriorated into a place for carnival game ripoffs, it they remained open at all. In fact, when Walt Disney tried to get money together for one in the early fifties, he found it next to impossible.*
But Disneyland showed that you could create an amusement park in a suburban setting and have people flock to it. And people tried to follow suit.
This included Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood. Wood credentials were golden: he had worked with Disney to help create Disneyland. After a falling out,** he struck out on his own, forming Magic Mountain in Denver and Pleasure Island in Wakefield, MA. Then he went on to the biggest market in the country -- New York City.
And Freedomland U.S.A. was born.
Wood chose an American history theme for the park, and took it all the way. It was shaped like a map of the US and was divided into sections like "Old New York," "Old Chicago," "New Orleans," "The Great Plains," "San Francisco," and "The Old Southwest." Each section had a rides and exhibits tied in with the theme. "The Old Southwest," for instance, included the Burro Trail (real burros), Mine Caverns, Pony Express, Opera House and Saloon (non alcoholic drinks and entertainment), and Casa Loca (a house built all askew so perspective was messed up). It was billed as "Disneyland East."
I visited the park the first year it opened. I remember wanted to ride the burros (though the line was very long) and the Casa Loca. Great stuff when you're eight.
Of course, there were problems. While the park had plenty of parking, it was not easily reachable by public transport. And running an amusement park in sunny southern California gives you many more days of operation than around New York City.
Though it attracted good crowds the first year, it couldn't sustain it. The "Disneyland East" comparison only made sense if you had never seen the real Disneyland. Wood may have had some interesting design ideas, but the park, even new, didn't have the "spare no expense" design that made Disney a hit.
Attendance continued to drop. Attempts were made to attract a teenage audience, but that was doomed because of the poor public transport. Finally, in 1964, the park, citing competition from the New York World's Fair, closed down. The land was sold to build Co-op City (an apartment complex) and was quickly torn down.
Some of the rides and equipment were sold to various amusement parks, several to The Great Escape in Glens Falls, NY. When I visited there several years ago, I didn't realize that the Cyclone ride had been taken from the original Freedomland. Alas, once the park was sold to Six Flags,*** the Freedomland remnants were slowly retired.
Very little exists now, except in memories and web pages. But, for a short while, at least, Freedomland was the future of fun.
*He finally convinced the fledgling ABC TV network to bankroll the park in exchange for the rights to a TV show featuring Disney movies and characters. Disneyland was ABC's first top five TV show, so both sides made out well in the deal.
**Disney removed Wood's name from any history of the park; as far as they are concerned, he never existed.
***Whose corporate mission seems to be to make visits there as unpleasant as possible, and makes it quite clear that they think their customers are cash cows to be milked dry.