Remembering One of New York’s Lost Treasures of Summer


That initial excitement at the thought of the staples of summer is here. The springtime hints of longer days dressed up as warmer than 60° and less than 79°, and a select few carrying that perfect sunshine that seemed to disappear after September, have given rise to those balmy dreams of pools, beaches, and lazy afternoons.

Another part of that soon to be summertime hype are amusement parks. This time of year many begin to feel that excitement in the pit of their stomachs just thinking about summer’s simple local joys, like the thrill of the Dragon Coaster, the mischievousness of bumper cars, the quaint simplicity of a carousel, and the taste of funnel cake and cotton candy.

And of course there’s always the suddenly prevalent thought of taking a great adventure further down the East Coast to that place where the magic is always on standby.

To lovers of  amusement parks, the seemingly endless summer days can make a single visit feel incessant.  It is something they look forward to. The way the parks have a hand in dictating the transfer between daylight and evening when you’re not paying attention can make anyone smile. As the sun begins to set, a once pesky and premature occurrence in winter, fun becomes suddenly sly as it morphs into a nighttime dizzying effect of arcade sounds and illuminated Wonder Wheels and Thunder Bolts, coming into focus just at the right time to make the sudden onset of darkness, accompanied by disappointment, fleeting.

The frenzy seems to say it’s ok to keep going and the fun is only just beginning.

Well, we hope it never ends.

Though New York amusement parks such as Playland and Coney Island are still bringing people this type of joy decade after decade, it always seems fitting to also remember the ones that were not able to stick around as long as their beloved counterparts.

Those treasured parks that are now lost in time that were once a part of someone’s ideal summer. They were the places one believed would always be there to warm the hearts of the future children and grandchildren of its visitors.

One of these places was Freedomland U.S.A.

Spread across 85 acres, and with a former layout one may still have as much fun trying to discern as finding the hidden Mickeys at Disney World, Freedomland was the place to look forward to in the onset of New York’s warm weather.

For four brief years it was an essential piece of that frenzy of summertime amusement park excitement.

In the early 1960’s, many would make the trip to the area of the Bronx that is present day Co-op City to visit this rival of Anaheim, the place bestowed with the honorable title, The Disneyland of the East.

Shaped like the contiguous United States, and the brainchild of Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood, an estranged developer of California’s Disneyland, Freedomland fittingly boasted attractions mimicking events in American history,

As guests traversed the park they were given the unique ability to travel to different parts of the “country” in one day, which was made up of seven different areas: Little Old New York, Chicago, The Great Plains, The Old Southwest, New Orleans, Satellite City, and San Francisco. Depending on where they were, visitors could take part in events such as extinguishing the Great Chicago Fire, visiting a replica of Macy’s, and even experiencing the Great San Francisco earthquake.

Freedomland’s construction began in the summer of 1959 and it opened on June 19, 1960, and though the fun would be short lived, in its four year run it would treat millions of visitors to a history lesson like no other.

In 1964, the park would unfortunately have to file for bankruptcy and instead of the anticipation and certainty of going to the place they had come to adore, visitors were left with the unfulfilled and fleeting hope that Freedomland would one day reopen.

The sun had finally set on Freedomland, but in the almost 53 years since its close, its existence has remained a fascinating part of New York’s history.

Recently, in honor of the park, a new plaque was placed at what would have been its entrance. A dedication and beautiful reminder of the times well spent by those who have fond memories of what was once their staple of summer.

Unlike other things of the past that tend to leave many traces behind, the summers spent at places like Freedomland truly survive by the ones who were there to experience it.

When old memories have been replaced by now decade old new ones, thankfully what always remains is the lingering frenzy of excitement still inside the kids at heart who now have their own piece of history to share.