Part three of a seven-part series.
Freedomland U.S.A., which opened during June 1960, was developed to accommodate 32,000 visitors at one time, or about 90,000 each day as people arrived and left the park during its hours of operation.
Designed in the shape of a large map of the continental United States, Freedomland featured historically factual attractions in seven themed areas to entertain park guests. Freedomland also included fun amusements and rides for children. The park contained eight miles of navigable man-made waterways and lakes, 10,000 new trees and 18 restaurants and snack bars.
Freedomland’s Historically Themed Attractions
Freedomland was arranged into seven themed periods:
- Little Old New York 1850-1900
Horse-drawn vehicles, “oompah” music by a German band, a surprise gangster “holdup” at the only actual bank branch located in a theme or amusement park at the time, an 1890 ice cream parlor, an old time brewery and tug boats chugging through the city’s harbor were the highlights of this area. It was the first stop for visitors as they entered the park.
Resembling Manhattan’s streets during the latter half of the 19th century, the main street in Freedomland had an old apothecary shop, a studio that explained the new invention of photography and a recreation of Macy’s first store.
- Chicago 1871
This area focused on the great fire that consumed the city. A large building actually burned at designated times during the day. As the Freedomland fire company rushed its19th century water pump to the site, the firemen would enlist park visitors, especially youngsters who could reach the pump handles, into the action to help them manually pump water to douse the flames. The fire was controlled by special effects that had never before been employed at any amusement park.
This area of the park also included one of two station stops for the Santa Fe Railroad, with authentic steam engines that pulled open and closed passenger cars to take visitors all the way to the San Francisco part of the park. The trip wasn’t necessarily relaxing, though, as bandits frequently held up the train and searched passenger cars for the hidden money chest.
Also in this section of the park, two paddle wheelers, The American and The Canadian, traveled along the Great Lakes. (Only The Canadian remains today and it has been converted into a floating party boat, Dot & Bill’s Showboat, that is docked in nearby Westchester County). A ride in a Chippewa Indian war canoe toured wooded islands, waterfalls and an Indian village.
- The Great Plains 1803-1900
The center of attention was Fort Cavalry, where a shootout between bandits and the sheriff would occur without warning. Sometimes a prisoner would be hauled out of the jail for a hanging with the approval of Digger O’Toole, the area’s undertaker. Visitors learned about the history of the Pony Express and they could write a letter that was taken away by the rider and delivered for pick-up later in the day at park’s Old Southwest area.
Another attraction along the plains was Borden’s farm. It was a working farm that included the barn home, or boudior, of Elsie the Cow.
- San Francisco 1906
Home to Chinatown and the Barbary Coast entertainment district, this area featured the other stop for the Santa Fe train. Attractions simulated the great earthquake and traveling by boat through the rugged northwest. The Hollywood Arena was added during the 1962 season and featured animal acts and stunt shows along with television personalities, including The Three Stooges, from New York City’s popular children’s shows.
- The Old Southwest 1890
Attractions in this area included a burro trail ride, roaming Texas Longhorns and bison, the sky ride shaped as a mining company’s ore buckets, a ride through mine caverns and shows at a wild west opera house and saloon. It also included one of the most popular attractions in the park – Casa Loca. Also known as the crooked house, it was here that the law of gravity was confusing. Water ran up instead of down and, somehow, a can could be seen flying upward out a window.
- New Orleans – Mardi Gras
This area perpetually celebrated the popular festival, but it also included a ride on a horse drawn correspondent’s wagon through the middle of a Civil War battle. Early use of various moving characters and special effects, made popular later at the New York’s World’s Fair and Disneyland, were part of this attraction.
The area also featured the world’s first glass-walled house of mirrors, a ride that simulated a tornado and another that closely resembled today’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at the Disney parks.
- Satellite City – The Future
The exploration of space, which had just become reality and had captivated America’s youth, allowed park visitors to experience a trip into the heavens. The Space Rover simulated rocket power and the thrill of zooming through space. A blast-off bunker was a detailed reproduction of a Cape Canaveral rocket-launching blockhouse. A moving walkway and exhibits that explained science and industrial technology also were part of the attractions.
Travel Time Video of Attractions
Several additional areas of the park were planned but never constructed. These included a movie lot, presumably a recreation of a Hollywood set that was to be located below San Francisco, and a recreation of the Florida Peninsula that was to be situated below Satellite City.
For a seven-minute tour of the park, see the 1963 Travel Time video. The script contains some inaccuracies but the video provides a glimpse of some of the popular attractions.
This is the third of a series of articles about Freedomland, U.S.A., that describes the creation of the park, the sponsors and attractions, and its planned demise even before its fabulous opening day. The second article in this series about Freedomland U.S.A. focused on the creation of the theme park in The Bronx and the celebration of its opening day. The next article will look at the many companies that sponsored attractions in the park. Visit Freedomland U.S.A. today on Facebook.