Friday, February 27, 2009

PODCAST: Freedomland U.S.A.



What is Freedomland U.S.A.? An unusual theme park in the Bronx, only in existence for less than five years, Freedomland has become the object of fascination for New York nostalgia lovers everywhere.

Created by an outcast of Walt Disney's inner circle, Freedomland practically defines 60s kitsch, with dozens of rides and amusements related to saccharine views of American history. Along the way, we'll take a visit to the Blast-Off Bunker, Casa Loca, and, yes, Borden's Barn Boudoir!

Listen to it for FREE on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or click this link to listen to the show or download it directly from our satellite site.

NOTE: There's nothing wrong with your speakers! I include a short clip in this podcast of an original Freedomland radio advertisement from 1960. The sound quality of the clip is extremely bad, however I thought it was important to include as it sets the tone for what Freedomland was all about (or, rather, wanted to be about).

The map through Freedomland mimicked the outline of the United States. (Well, sorta.) Visitors entered through Washington D.C. and meandered through candy-coated interpretations of various national regions, ending up in the future (located in the American South).


San Francisco in the Bronx, a Disney-like village served by the Santa Fe Railroad (pic courtesy Stuff From The Park)


Another view of the Santa Fe (courtesty Gorillas Dont Blog)


Looking out over the 'United States'


A rather blurry image -- perhaps that's best -- of Borden's Barn Boudoir, featuring the private rooms of one Elsie the Cow (Pic courtesty Benros, who has a great page on Freedomland.)


The picture below is NOT from Freedomland, but it gives you an idea of what Elsie's bedroom might have looked like. Apparently, Bordens loved nothing more than putting their bovine mascot in this type of setting; she also had a bedroom at the World's Fair of 1964-65 in Flushing Meadows, most likely transported from the failing Freedomland attraction.



Why people are so entertained by this, I'll never understand. But if fire was your game, Freedomland let you enjoy the re-burning of Chicago every day. And sometimes, the firemen actors would grab volunteers to help put out the blaze! (Pic courtesy God Bless Americana)


Freedomland was perpetually in debt and often a great inconvenience with long lines and unfinished rides. This family, visiting in July 1960, doesn't seem to mind. (Flickr)



A promotional poster for Freedomland's futuristic Satellite City, which wasn't opened for a few days after the park's opening, by which time crowds had died off considerably. (Pic courtesy Perky Pickle, who has other great poster images from the park's heyday.)


This frightening little attraction was the Blast-Off Bunker, because there's nothing more fun than hanging out in a dark bunker on a nice summer's day. In fact, inside you could enjoy the 'tense excitement' of a Cape Canaveral control room.


You could experience the joys of riding a 'modern automobile' in Freedomland's knockoff future land. A sad way of marketing a go-cart, but at least this picture is pretty great. (Courtesy Flickr)


Freedomland was more than happy to abandon its themes if it meant more paying customers. Here are two stunt men from a 'Colossus' spectacular in 1961. (Benros)


Some detailing from a Freedomland souvenir fan, featuring a map of the park on one side, and beer advertisement on the other. This was, after all, a 'family entertainment center.' (Click it for a closer look.)


Freedomland was replaced by another oddity -- the massive Co-op City, housing over 50,000 residents, and often referred to as a 'city within a city'. Theoretically, one never need leave Co-op City.



After the closing of Freedomland, some rides were rescued by other amusement parks, including the Tornado Adventure, seen here at Lake George, NY. It was eventually closed for good in 2003. If you really want to experience the delights of a tornado, you'll have to go to the midwest! (Courtesy Laff In The Dark)


I tried to include a lot of link above to other great websites with more information on Freedomland. The most comprehensive tribute can be found on Rob Friedman's old site on the park, with dozens of pictures, sounds and personal stories.

Any of you remember visiting this place? Leave a comment!

41 comments:

  1. I hadn't even thought of Freedomland since the 60's. It stopped me in my tracks when I heard the name. I remember my family and our friends who lived across the street all piling in the station wagon for our drive from Levittown to the park. Nothing else came to mind, but when you mentioned Elsie the cow- BINGO! I was mesmerized by that cow...I remember just standing there and being thrilled. Who knows what will captivate a little girl's imagination. It all just came back to me in a flash. Thanks for taking me back to a time of pure joy and warm memories.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah! The Chicago Fire. I was selected to help pump one night & so we started pumping and all of a sudden, the pump started moving by itself - it was motorized! As a 12 year-old, I was crushed by the fakery. The good part was the photographer for LIFE Magazine snapped the scene so I became a smudge on a piece of newsprint.

    I managed to go there with my friend a number of times since we lived in the East Bronx & it was a quick ride over. During the week, there were no crowds to worry about.

    Big Al - out of the Bronx but never escaped it....

    ReplyDelete
  3. I grew up right outside the park, but didn't go there as often as I would have liked because I was under 10. A new DVD has been created by Bob Mangels and is available on eBay. He has done a lot of research on the park for years, and I have been doing a lot within the last 10. The park did not have to fail. It had some things going against it, but it was doomed from the start, because they really wanted to develop this swamp land for Co-op city. A 20-year wait to build such high buildings could be waved to several years if buildings several stories high could stand for only a few years on the land -- and how high are buildings on main street of any amusement park? The park was not where the apartment buildings are now located. Mostly the parking lot was where some of the buildings stand and the park was located where the shopping center is now. That land for years was owned by the Teamsters Union pension fund, which got a lot of money for that property. To learn the true story, you need to view the DVD I mentioned. While some of the web sites feature good information about the park, Bob’s gotten to the heart of the matter about how the park was developed and why it closed. Hey, does anyone remember seeing Chuck McCann do his Halloween kids show from the park?

    ReplyDelete
  4. FREEDOMLAND< haven't thought about that for years!! I too lived in hte Bronx back then. Actually inhte Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, so we woudl go over there all the time as it was a short walk for us.
    It was a great place for us kids that didn't really care some of the rides were not finiahed, and near the end many were broken,. It was fun place, Too bad the corrupt system allowed it to be built to see if swamp land could be built on so that the Co-Op City complex could be put in.
    Ray

    ReplyDelete
  5. This was a fascinating podcast. Every time I drive to LGA I marvel at the size of co-op city, and never realized something was there before it.
    Your podcast has gotten me through many long drives in and out of NY as well as many flights, such as today from Denver to Hartford (Puck Building, Freedomland, Woolworth Building).

    Incidentally, whenever I drive over the drawbridge through co-op city, I hum the three notes generated by my tires on the different road surfaces. This is fun, but I get funny looks when others are in the car!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was 10 years old with Ed Sullivan on the original broadcast about Freedomland. It took all day to tape the show segment. He was very patient and very kind. I loved the place but they forgot about the NY winters.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey, does anyone remember seeing Chuck McCann do his Halloween kids show from the park?
    Absolutely! I remember bits and pieces of it like it was yesterday and I have been looking for references online about it for a number of years. As I recall it had two actual children and a number of puppets including a witch. It was one of my favorite Halloween specials. I have been trying to find a New York TV guide from October 1963 as I understand it's listed there. Anyone else have some memories on this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have been looking for this too. It was a wonderful show. I never did get to see it but that one time so my memory of it is not too vivid. I hope there is an original tape somewhere and it's posted one day soon. Sad to say i'm not getting any younger and i hope i can hold out. lol
      I was 8 when it was aired so that's a long time passing.
      I always loved Chuck McCann for his unwavering talent to make children smile.

      Delete
  8. I WAS IN A YO YO CHAMPIONSHIP CONTEST HOSTED AND JUDGED BY CHUCK McCANN. AT FREEDONLAND I THINK IN 1962 ANYONE OUT THERE REMEMBER THAT. VINCE FRON NJ

    ReplyDelete
  9. I remember going there as a kid. I have little memory of the park but will never forget seeing Louis Armstrong and his band performing at the park that night.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow! This brings back memories!

    We used to drive by Freedomland all the time on our way up to Connecticut from Bayside. We always said Dad we want to go!, but he never took us (at least we did get to Palisades Park). Now we will never get to go . . .

    Hehe Chuck McCann! I remember that show he did from Freedomland. Was that show on Channel 5 or Channel 11?

    And whenever we went over that bridge, we would make that noise the tires made!

    Imagine my surprise years later in graduate school doing research for a business law class, and reading the Freedomland civil suit in a legal record.

    ReplyDelete
  11. As a kid growing up in Somerville, N.J. I got to go to Freedomland 3-4 times. My most vivid memory is of an attraction where stuff rolled up hill. You could set a soda can on a table and even though it looked like it was angled down hill, the can rolled up the hill. It still amazes me. Freedomland was the closest we kids from N.J would come to Disneyland for a reallly long time. California was on the other side of the country and Disney World was not even started yet. I have many great memories of a visit with my cub scout troop. Thanks for the bolg. K

    ReplyDelete
  12. I sort of recall going to see Murray the K from 1010 WINS doing his show and giving out submarine race watching t-shirts. Or was that somewhere else? Anyone else remember?

    ReplyDelete
  13. I remember seeing Louis Armstrong
    play at Freedomland. It was a real treat to go there when I was young and living in Queens.

    ReplyDelete
  14. bobbye14@hotmail.comMarch 1, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    Went to Freedomland several times over two summers loved the fried chicken with honey in "New Orleans", "Casa Loco" with weird distortions of gravity, and I'll never forget seeing My father's face of amazement as We stood a couple of feet away from Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. The place was so cool. Love Your Site

    ReplyDelete
  15. What a cool podcast. I live and work inteh Bronx and I have always wondered what was before Co-Op city. Are there any remnants of Freedomland USA that you can find in Co-Op city? Anything at all? A sign? A plaque? A cornerstone? Anything?

    ReplyDelete
  16. What a great podcast! I live in the Bx and have always wondered what was before Co-Op City. Are there any remnant of Freedomland USA left to go see? A sign? A plaque? A cornerstone? Anything?

    ReplyDelete
  17. I remember Freedomland well and the Halloween Special Chuck McCann did. Does anyone remember the Earth Quake House. I was too afraid to go through back then, even with my older brother.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Waw! Great article. Lots of pictures and lots of information. Sounds like Freedomland used to be a great amusement park. You must have put a lot of effort into documenting about this subject.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I lived in Washington Heights back then and have a vague memory of my grandparents taking me to Freedomland. I remember riding the skyride and getting a wooden bird cage with a small wood bird as a souvenier. I've often wondered about Freedomland and was glad to find this site to help fill in some of the blanks. It's so sad that with such a large metro area, NYC couldn't sustain Freedomland or Palisades Amusement Park or Rockaway Playland or Coney Island. I've been to Great Adventure, Disney World, and Universal Studios Florida with my kids, but I'm sorry we never had the chance to get to any of NY's classics.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The guy who now owns the paddleboat ride is going before the Town of Mamaroneck Council on Mt Pleasant Ave in Mamaroneck at 7:30pm on Valentines Day. I don't know how often people read this blog, but he could use some backers (In the way of bodies) to help him get approval to put the thing on a dock in Mamaroneck Harbor and use it as a Jazz Club.

    ReplyDelete
  21. One of the most memorable events of my childhood was seeing Louis Armstrong at Freedomland.

    ReplyDelete
  22. i remember swimming across the creek off baychester ave. and climbing over the fence to get in for free. besides great rides and food , you could see topshelf entertainment like louie armstrong, the 4 seasons at least once a summer. freedomland also had some of the hottest females on the planet, new york city girls.it's sad but it was doomed from the start. it was open maybe 5 months a year tops but didn't get crowded til school was out. a few rainy weekends and the whole season was lost

    ReplyDelete
  23. For years there has been talk of recreating experiences in a 'virtual' way. If it is ever done, I hope that Freedomland is recreated in this manner. It was the best!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I remember the song! "Mommy and Daddy take my hand, take me out to Freedomland!'

    ReplyDelete
  25. I still have my certificate recognizing my efforts to help put out the Chicago fire! Don't remember Murray the K being there, but the WMCA good guys used to broadcast from a "space ship" in futureland. Saw Little Peggy March there once, singing "I Will Follow Him." Fond memories of seeing Elsie the Cow, too.

    ReplyDelete
  26. we definitely saw Cab Calloway there.
    and, yeah--the can rolling up the hill--that's the only other thing that i remember right now.
    my parents didnt take us to many places but i think we went to freedomland more than once.

    ReplyDelete
  27. It was where I had southern fired chicken for the fist, till today I think it was the best ever!! older brother thinks so also.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Only thing I remember is seeing The Four Seasons perform on a chilly, damp, windy day. First concert I ever attended.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I loved freedom land as a kid. In its day it trumped Disneyand (as Disney was then) but New York did not have year round good weather like Disney did in California and it was consequently reliant on seasonal business.
    A great concept but wrong location . Mega theme parks must have a fairly solid year round trade to reain profitable and competitive.

    My childhood memories of Freedom And USA however remain fond.

    J. Jacob Prasch

    ReplyDelete
  30. Columbus Day 1960 with my brother and parents I was 7 and my Dad let me drive an old car that had wheels on the ends of the bumpers to keep you in the lane...Casa Loco...the Train...all just a few miles from home...too bad it was just a pawn for the big money folks...somethings never change!

    ReplyDelete
  31. I remember going as a kid myself, we traveled all the way from Brooklyn - lol - I remember the crooked house of all things.

    ReplyDelete
  32. We lived in Edenwald projects, my father Charlie Morris use to get a bunch of us kids together and we would walk down to Freeomland, it was 1 of the best most exciting times of my childhood, and probably for all those other project kids.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I was stunned to hear about Freedomland on NPR today. I was there with my sister when they had the stagecoach accident that eventually caused the financial ruin of Freedomland. Apparently, the horse handlers warned the owners that the train that ran through the park would spook the horses. That is exactly what happened the day we visited. Coming down the last hill, the horse spooked and bolted. The stagecoach flipped over and severely injured most riders. My sister and I were on top and were thrown clear of the coach. I had a small cut on my elbow and my sister had a damaged tooth. Others broke legs and spines when they were trapped under the coach. My uncle and cousins helped lift the stagecoach off the injured. Many lawsuits later, Freedomland closed. I never heard anyone mention that place until today.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I loved Freedomland as a kid, I got there more often than Palisades Amusement Park since I lived in the West Bronx. Great article, brought back many happy memories...

    ReplyDelete
  35. I just came upon an old 3 reel Viewmaster set (remember the 3D thrills?) of Freedomland sent to me by my sister. I vaguely remember some of it, as I was about 4 y/o at the time. Amazing pictures from a time when life seemed so much simpler. I plan on finding out if the small images within the reel can be enlarged without too much expense.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Anyone who wants to relive the memories of Freedomland just needs to join us on the Freedomland Facebook page. Type Freedomland U.S.A. - The World's Largest Entertainment Center or here is the link - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Freedomland-USA-The-Worlds-Largest-Entertainment-Center/246939775358072

    ReplyDelete
  37. I grew up right across the highway from Freedomland!! I was raised as a child on Edson Avenue. I could look out my bedroom window and see the park. I don't recall exact memories of visiting Freedomland (I'm sure we went on several occasions), but I do have a good memory of when they tore down the park to build Co-op City. I can still see the steel beams in my mind's eye!! I remember the talk around town that the buildings would gradually sink over time because they were built on swamp land. Funny how I can rememer that!!

    ReplyDelete