The legend of Freedomland USA: Theme park memories from the kids who played there

America, as depicted by Freedomland USA pre-opening map — courtesy Viewliner Ltd.

WOW. The response to our profile on NPR Morning Edition has been truly overwhelming. It’s been a very wild and exciting couple days. Thanks to everybody who has written us via email, Facebook and Twitter and welcome to our new listeners!

One amusing result of the airing of the piece is a resurgence of interest in Freedomland USA, the 1960s amusement park in the Bronx. I did a short podcast on the long-forgotten America-themed park back in 2009, and an original advertisement for one of the park’s more unusual attractions — reenactment of the Chicago fire! — was used in the NPR story.

The comments section on the blog page relating to our podcast is filled with recollections of people who visited Freedomland USA as a kid.  Here are a few selected comments about particular aspects of the park, giving a little more insight into this strange and mystifying place, written by those who were actually there:

Elsie the Cow
featured in the Borden’s Barn Boudoir, a barn that promoted Borden products. Yes, not only was Elsie a part of Freedomland, she had a very seductive image back in the 1960s

“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.” — Jablow

The Chicago Fire
 “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.” — Big Al

“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.”

Courtesy Flickr/slideshopper

Defying Gravity:
“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 uphill. 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 really 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.” 

“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.”




Special Events:
“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.”

“I was in a Yo-Yo championship contest hosted and judged by Chuck McCann. At Freedomland, I think it was 1962.”

Above: Louis Armstrong at Freedomland, picture courtesy the Louis Armstrong House Museum

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

“One of the most memorable events of my childhood was seeing Louis Armstrong at Freedomland.”

Photo courtesy Gorillas Don’t Blog

Stagecoach drama:
“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.” 

  • Anonymous

    I Can Dig It !!!

  • billy

    Sadly the Stagecoach accident on 6-25-1960 happened because the Stagecoach had four horses and it was hard to control them after the accident all stagecoaches had two horses, no one was killed in Freedomland unlike the Parks in New Jersey& California& Florida& Texas, Freedomland closed because of pressure to build Co-op city and all the funds that were made from Freedomland sale this is a fact,I have done a lot of research on this since 1965 to find out all the facts, Freedomland was a great Amusement Park, billy

  • Anonymous

    Sue & Cathie April 4, 2013 We went to Freedomland with our parents at least twice. Our memories have always been so vivid the Chicago fire , Elsie, the river boat ride, the gunfight and the Tornado ride when the bale of hay fell. We have always wondered why it closed and why more people our age didn’t know about it

  • Never thought I’d have a connection to Freedomland – but turns out I’ve ridden several of their rides many many times after they were relocated to the large amusement park at Cedar Point, Ohio. “San Francisco Earthquake” and “The Pirate Ride” were indoor cart-on-a-rail rides that twisted and turned their way past themed flat cutouts (like plywood sheets cut and painted to look like a city streetfront that suddenly tipped from side to side) and pneumatically powered jump-out-and-getcha pirate figures. Fun for the under 8 set, delightfully cheesy. And yeah, they looked like they belonged in the 60s! In way, its amazing they found a second life that lasted so very long (at park that has long boasted the most and best roller coasters in the world)

    • Anonymous

      As a very young child, I lived right across the highway from Freedomland on Edson Avenue. I could look straight across the field and see the park. I don’t remember going to the park as a child, but I do recall when they took the park down to build Co-op City.

  • Anonymous

    Freedomland is on Facebook. Search for Freedomland U.S.A. – The World’s Largest Entertainment Center. See the attractions, the celebrities and learn the stories behind the park. There now is a plaque on the site commemorating the park.

  • Jimmy Fennell

    Never learned what brought about the demise of Freedomland until many years after it’s closing. I lived in North Valley Stream, LI & it was a short easy ride to the park via the Cross Island Pkwy & the Throggs Neck Bridge. I met many new friends there & especially enjoyed the entertainment at the Moonbowl. Many of the friends would later invite us to go to the Post Arrow on Boston Rd a small place with kiddie rides & great hamburgers & hot dogs. We would hang out for hours. After the closing of Freedomland we lost touch with so many of those great friends. I still have a relationship with a few of these friends. I feel blessed that the 4 years of Freedomland & the special friendships that were developed during this time will be a part of my memory forever.

  • Larry Giorgio

    Dose anyone remember seeing Murray the K at Freedomland in the “Flying Saucer” with his guests the “Ronettes”?

  • Larry Giorgio

    Dose anyone remember seeing Murray the K at Freedomland in the “Flying Saucer” with his guests the “Ronettes”?

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  • Arthur K Kittelsen

    Alot of Freedomland is around, the steamboat Canadian is a jazz club on the river in Port Chester, N. Y.

    The San Francisco steam train station and the old.old NewYork street lights are at Clarks Trader Post in New Hampshire.

    The steam train engines are on a narrow Guage railroad in Portland Maine.

    The Toranto and San Francisco Earthquake and Danny the Dragon were in operation in 6 flags Lake George until a few years ago

    The Pirate ride is in Ohio, Cedar Point park.

    AKK

  • Kevin S.Butler

    Chuck McCann’s holiday kids tv special”A Children’s Halloween Party At Freedomland”wasn’t the only tv show for kids that was taped at the park..? Sonny Fox taped episodes of”Wonderama!”there and Ray Forrest taped segments for WNBC TV Ch.4 NYC’s”Children’s Theater” and the WPIX TV Kids tv mc’s taped”A Visit To Freedomland”at the park..too.

  • Lou Koncsol

    Hi! If anyone can provide me information regarding acquiring a copy of the 1960s Halloween special hosted by Chuck McCann at Freedomland U.S.A in 1963 on WPIX Channel 11, I would be wholeheartedly grateful.

    • Tim Griffing

      This is what I remember Chuck Mccann was driving a VM bus which broke down of course in front of the haunt cave. They went in the cave and ran into all the puppets dressed in Hill ween costumes.

      • Lou Koncsol

        Yes! Thanks so much Tim! I do pray the Lord in His mercy will allow me to find a video copy of the broadcast. I thank you again. .

    • ronnie acerra

      I too have been searching for that very Halloween special. I am 61 and from Jersey. What ever it was or is, it is the only old show from my childhood that I haven’t re-lived on You Tube. Thank you so much for letting me know that someone else remembers it also.

      • Lou Koncsol

        Hey Ronnie! I will be 59 years-old in January. I was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey. My Mom was Italian, and I really appreciated the Italian-American upbringing I had.
        For some reason, this particular Chuck McCann Halloween show captured my imagination and enthralled me. It was almost “magical”. I had a vivid imagination and enjoyed being scared (of course, in the comfort and safety of my Mom and Dad’s living-room).
        I also enjoyed Creepy and Eerie magazines…anything do to with the classic monsters. I would save money and as soon as I had enough I would go to the five and dime store to buy an Aurora monster model kit.
        The last of my search for a recording of the show was through an email to the network that aired it. I was informed it was unrecorded. I would like this to be misinformation. Otherwise, the only possibility of a recording of it would be if someone visiting Freedomland USA that day filmed the show with a Super 8 camera. However, this is unlikely as the networks usually prohibited spectators from personally filming on location. Nevertheless, I still would like to see it once again before I leave this world.
        Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You have helped me appreciate my childhood once again. And remember, “The Lord God gives us memory so we can enjoy roses even in the coldest winters.” -Lou
        P.S.- You may enjoy this video:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrkOwTKoaLs

        • ronnie acerra

          I grew up in Red Bank, My favorite part of growing up itialian was the food. My pop would start the Sunday gravy about 12:30 with just a little bit of garlic and olive oil, slowley putting in the onions and peppers, hand squeezing the plum tomatoes, tomato paste, pinole nuts. Pork, veal and beef and all the other spices. Finally around 5:00 , we would eat, thank god, weather it was baked ziti or Rigatoni ( most times ) my brother and I would have our Sunday feast. X-mas was Pasta Chaute, Sweidelli,Canolli ,and my aunts home made Struffallo! Easter was the best, you know, the wet cheese cake (Ricotta). OMG ! I just made myself hungry….Thank You bro and stay Itialian!!