Sunday, November 28, 2010

Freedomland Timeline and Article on Freedomland by Susan

Susan asked me to post her Freedomland Timeline and her article on Freedomland in this blog and I am happy to do so.  Here they are.  Hope you enjoy them.

Freedomland Timeline

May 1, 1959 Freedomland project announced by William Zeckendorf, president of the real estate firm of Webb & Knapp, Inc
May 21, 1959 City Planning Commission approves map change to aid Freedomland
May 25, 1959 C.V Wood, Jr. president of Marco Eng. Corp. of LA and General Manager, Disneyland from 1954 - 56, announces Freedomland project at news conference. Cost estimated at 16 million dollars
May 26, 1959  Full description of the Freedomland project as written up in the New York Times. Cost estimated at 65 million dollars
June 12, 1959 Estimate board gives full final authorization
July 21, 1959 Freedomland stock is offered to the public
August 12, 1959  R.E. Carpenter, Jr. is elected director
August 26, 1959 Groundbreaking ceremonies begin
March 24, 1960 Six small unfinished buildings are razed by fire 
April 29, 1960 Park attractions described in NY Times
May 11, 1960 Bank of NY branch to operate in Freedomland as a model bank of 1850
June 12, 1960 Freedomland, USA nears completion 
June 18, 1960  Freedomland, USA is dedicated with 5,000 people in attendance
June 19, 1960  Freedomland, USA officially opens in the Bronx with 25,000 people in attendance
June 19, 1960 Freedomland, USA debuts on the Ed Sullivan show as Disneyland’s equal on East Coast
June 20, 1960  Freedomland is forced to stop selling tickets because of traffic snarls
June 25, 1960 Ten hurt as stagecoach overturns in Great Plains section of Freedomland; park denies any involvement in forcing photographer to expose picture of accident
June 26, 1960 Three victims hospitalized; one with a snapped spine
August 28, 1960 Front office robbed of $28,836 by four armed men making their getaway in a boat 
September 12, 1960 Three held in robbery incident
September 18, 1960 Freedomland reduces amount of open days
September 20, 1960 International Recreation Corp. considers purchasing three NYC hotels from Zeckendorf Hotels Corp. to provide more working capital
October 5, 1960 Three companies file liens totaling $140,000 against Webb & Knapp
November 11, 1960 Lien filed by Turner Construction Company for $3,648,000
May 24, 1961 Freedomland needs eight million in refinancing to bring the park out of debt. 
June 10,1961 International Recreation Corp. approves giving Webb & Knapp total company control
June 11, 1961 Freedomland’s second season opens
June 19, 1961 Families and guests of UN delegates attend Freedomland
August 18, 1961 Three jailed for1960 robbery
November 7, 1961 W. Zeckendorf Jr. named Chairman, R. Levy is named President and G.A.Hamid, Jr. is named Executive VP
March 21, 1962 A.K. Moss named Executive VP and General Manager
May 27, 1962 Freedomland’s third season opens
June 28, 1962 Announces special “family vacation” admission 
August 13, 1962 Benny Goodman Orchestra in concert at Freedomland
September 5, 1962 Benjamin Moore sues to void their lease for exhibit space and collect $150,000 in damages; also sues for “historical and educational” changes in park’s character to appeal to teens and jazz enthusiasts
September 21, 1962 NYS Supreme Court dismisses suit
Summer, 1963 Addition of bumper cars, a roller coaster and a Last Supper made of wax
April 22, 1964 NY World’s Fair opens
July 1, 1964 Webb & Knapp transfers 60% interest in International Recreation Corp. and its subsidiary Freedomland, to National Development Corp.
September 14, 1964 Freedomland files for bankruptcy.  Sites World’s Fair as loss of patronage

thanks to the New York Times and Nassau Community College for helping us to find the information we needed.


"Mommy, Daddy, Take My Hand"

A Tribute to a Forgotten Park
Susan Friedman

The date is October 8, 1871. You are walking on a busy downtown street in Chicago, enjoying the sights and sounds of the old city when a cry of "Fire!" fills the air. Fire bells begin to ring. You turn your head just in time to see the doors of the old-fashioned red-brick firehouse swing open. An old-time hand-pump engine is wheeled out and pulled down the streets of the city.

Curiousity overcomes you and you follow the engine to see where it's going. Suddenly, you see the flames. They are coming from from all over the city. Quick, no time to lose! The call goes out for volunteers to help man the pumps. You join the brigade. As you grip the iron bars and pull up and down, up and down, a steady stream of water shoots out of the long snakelike fire hose. You continue to pump until, finally, the fire is out. You hear hands clapping and you look up to see that a crowd has gathered to watch. You sigh with relief. You have just put out the biggest fire in the history of Chicago. Twenty minutes later, it will all begin again.
The Chicago fire was just one of many attractions at a place called "Freedomland, U.S.A.". I know because I was a "volunteer." At eight years old, I was probably the youngest. It was one of their most spectacular attractions and one I'll never forget.

Freedomland was an entertainment park, the largest anywhere in the world. It was New York's answer to Disneyland. Built in the shape of the United States, this 205-acre park's main theme was American history. It was divided into seven sections of our country, each with its own special exhibit or disaster. You could travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, all in one day.

My family and I came to the Bronx often to visit. On the day its doors opened on June 19, 1960, Freedomland became the high point of my childhood. After we parked the car in the lot, we walked to the stand to buy our tickets. Our first stop was Little Old New York. This was New York as it looked in the late 1800's. Horseless carriages and surreys filled the streets. People in period costumes mingled with people of today. A German "oompah" band played while several shops down the street, someone was robbing the bank.

A horse-drawn trolley took us to Chicago, where the streets were also filled with people. After we put the fire out, the curio shop next door had a fire sale. Paddlewheelers made their way across the Great Lakes. To get to San Francisco, you could board an old iron horse on the Santa Fe railroad. My family always preferred to walk.

The one attraction in the Great Plains section that I remember was Borden's farm with its white barn and matching silo. Borden's logo was on the side with Elsie's head wreathed in the middle of a daisy. Elsie and her two tiny calves lived inside the barn. It was a real farm with pigs, chickens, and live sheep. There was even a cornfield.

Next was San Francisco. It was 1906, the year of the big earthquake. You could visit the naughty Barbary Coast, eat lunch or dinner in Chinatown, visit Fisherman's Wharf, and watch the city collapse in an indoor ride called "Earthquake."

We visited the old Southwest of the 1890's. What I remember was a house called "Casa Loca." which means "crazy house." That is just what it was. This little shack was tilted, but you could walk straight through and never know it. Water ran uphill there, and people popped out of walls.

There was a real gunfight in the streets of the old town, which was a cross between Tombstone, Tuscon, and Old Santa Fe. A popular sky ride in this area was the ore bucket ride. This took you to the top of the Rocky Mountains.

I only remember two attractions from New Orleans. One was the Crystal Maze, a mirror maze that I got lost in, and an indoor ride, "Tornado," that took you inside the eye of a very powerful twister. The fun did not stop there. You could see pirates or ride a dragon, or a carousel. You could even get involved in the Civil War.
Satellite City was the last of of the seven sections and is an area of the park that I do not remember at all. I know, from research, that this was the futuristic part of the park, where Space Rover, a rocketship, took you through space around the entire Western Hemisphere in six minutes. The Blast-Off Bunker was a replica of a Cape Canaveral rocket launching station.

Satellite City was the only part of the park that was not completed when it opened. Perhaps that is why I do not remember it.

Freedomland only lasted four years. Its first season, 1960 to 1961, is the one that will always live in my memory. By 1962, the theme of the park had changed. The history was played down, and it became just an amusement park with bumper cars, roller coasters, and side shows. The park began to lose money. There were accidents and lawsuits. The front office was robbed. In its last season, the park lost more of its patrons to the New York World's Fair. On September 15, 1964, Freedomland filed for bankruptcy. Between late 1964 and early 1965, Freedomland was torn down. Later that year, plans were made for a large apartment complex, Co-Op City, to be built in its place.

Freedomland may have been a failure, but it was always a winner to me, especially the Chicago fire. When I ask other people if they remember Freedomland, that is the part of the park they always mention first. Many people still remember the gunfight in the Old Southwest and others that remember the old radio advertisement:

"Mommy, Daddy, take my hand. Take me out to Freedomland." 
Copyright ©1997
Susan Friedman

No comments:

Post a Comment