Local author Michael R. Virgintino has written what has to be the definitive history (if only because I don’t believe there’s another one) of Freedomland , the amusement park that went up in 1960 on the site of what became Co-Op City. I visited the place several times back then when I was a wee lad, and although it didn’t compare, in my opinion, with the World’s Fair that opened in 1964 (?), it offered pretty good entertainment and I still have fond memories of the place. Probably won’t excite those born long after it was razed, it’s an interesting bit of history.
“Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History”
The Tale Of America’s History-Themed Park In The Bronx
The Bronx, New York – February 1, 2019 -- Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History is a new book that documents the entire story from conception to bankruptcy of one of the most innovative and beloved theme parks in America. Published by Theme Park Press, the world's leading independent publisher of books about the Disney company and its history, its films and animation, and its theme parks, the 300+-page tale includes first-time interviews with park employees and never before published photographs. Located in New York City, Freedomland U.S.A. was celebrated as the “Disneyland of the East.” While it survived only five seasons (1960-1964), to this day the park generates fond memories among baby boomers who enjoyed its American history-themed attractions.
Freedomland U.S.A. was conceived and built by C.V. Wood and his Marco Engineering Company. Known to many as Woody, he was Disneyland’s first employee and he brought Walt Disney’s imagination to life by leading the team that built that park. He then created Marco Engineering to build theme parks and other venues across the country. Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington and the community of Lake Havasu, Arizona, continue to prosper. The northeast Bronx marshland that featured Freedomland U.S.A. eventually became a housing development and a shopping center.
The book is available on Amazon (http://amzn.com/1683901770) at the suggested retail price of $24.95. It also can be located on eBay, Goodreads and Barnes&Noble. The book is authored by Michael R. Virgintino, a journalist and marketing/public relations executive raised in the neighborhood immediately outside the park. Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History is an extension of his childhood memories and park history that he has captured in magazine and online articles, and on Freedomland U.S.A. social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).
“Freedomland U.S.A. is both New York City history and a significant portion of America’s theme park history,” said the author. “America never had seen anything like it and we certainly never will see it duplicated. It was conceived to tell the story, in an entertaining way, of America’s history. Today’s parks, with a few exceptions, are built solely for thrills.”
An Entertainment Placeholder
Unknown to Woody and the general public that adored Freedomland U.S.A. during the early 1960s, landowner William Zeckendorf, Sr., local politicians, city planners and construction unions considered the park a “placeholder” until property variances permitted significant development on the marshland. The variances provided the green light for the construction of the largest cooperative housing community in the world. A shopping center was added about a decade later and an indoor mall was constructed on the remaining undeveloped land during 2012.
“Co-op City was on New York City’s blueprints before the first shovel of dirt was turned to build the park,” said Virgintino. “Freedomland U.S.A. was doomed to fail before the first guest entered the park. As everyone was hailing this great achievement in the Bronx on its opening day, Woody already was concentrating on his Texas park and other projects. Other people, including William Zeckendorf, Sr., operated Freedomland U.S.A. and they kept it afloat, or ran it into the ground, depending on one’s perspective. The park survived until the land variances could be applied to the property. Then, Freedomland U.S.A. was declared a bankrupt and the land was cleared for development.”
Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History features stories about the building of the park and background about the various attractions from the recreation of the Chicago Fire to a trip on a bull boat in America’s untamed wilderness on the Northwest Fur Trapper attraction. Dark rides included the Earthquake of San Francisco, a Buccaneer attraction and the Tornado recreation in the New Orleans section of the park, and a Mine Caverns ride deep into the earth in the Old Southwest. The dark rides and several other attractions were created by Arrow Development, which designed attractions for Disneyland and many other parks.
Another popular Freedomland attraction allowed guests to witness the early stages of audio-automatronics as they rode on a correspondents’ wagon through the battle lines of rival Civil War armies. Guests also enjoyed Wild West shoot-outs at Fort Cavalry and staged robberies on vintage steam trains. Young children especially enjoyed a ride aboard Danny the Dragon, the fire-breathing mythical monster with a heart of gold.
The book is filled with documentation about the more than 150 celebrities of the day who appeared at the park. They included entertainers (Paul Anka, Louis Armstrong, The Four Seasons, Benny Goodman, The Lennon Sisters, The Three Stooges), New York’s radio disc jockeys (Herb Oscar Anderson, Scott Muni, Murray the K, Jack Sterling), hosts of local television shows for kids and teens (Officer Joe Bolton, Clay Cole, Sonny Fox, Claude Kirchner, Chuck McCann, Captain Jack McCarthy) and many other celebrities from movies, music, radio, stage and television.
Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History provides the personal stories of park employees through interviews with character actors who portrayed gunslinger Billy the Kid and cowgirl star Annie Oakley, hospitality hosts, restaurant staff and parking attendants, and those who operated some of the attractions, including the popular Great Lakes sternwheelers. A section of the book includes memories from baby boomers who, as kids, were in awe of the park’s fun and excitement.
The book also puts to rest an urban legend – the closing of Freedomland U.S.A. had nothing to do with the arrival of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.