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.
|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"
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: