All images courtesy Thomas X. Casey
“Mommy, Daddy, take my hand, take me out to Freedomland!”
This refrain was heard frequently in and around New York City in the early 1960s, in radio ads and repeated by kids eager to visit a new amusement park called Freedomland U.S.A. Covering 205 acres in the northeast Bronx, it was shaped in the form of the contiguous 48 states and transported its visitors across the country to witness key episodes in American history.
Billed as the world’s largest entertainment center, it was an ambitious but quixotic attempt to bring a Disneyland style attraction to the northeast United States. Operating from 1960 until it went bankrupt in 1964, Freedomland is long gone, having been replaced by Co-op City. But it lives on in the memories of those who visited and in scenes they captured in photographs.
Thomas X. Casey, a Bronx author who has an extensive collection of Freedomland photographs, has shared some of his images with Untapped Cities. These candid shots reveal elaborate historical recreations of city streets, a mine, the Western frontier, and other places, linked by trains, boats, stage coaches, and ore buckets. The photos also show the people, visitors and staff, who populated Freedomland and gave life to this invented place.
Visitors entered Freedomland’s facsimile of the United States on the East Coast and proceeded into Old New York where they saw storefronts like the Schering Apothecary, one of several corporate sponsored facilities.
From New York, one could venture to other parts of the United States. The photo above shows Totsie, one of the “authentic Manhattan tug boats” (as they were described in newspaper ads) that carried visitors from New York Harbor to the Great Lakes. Contrary to the advertising claims, strict historical accuracy was not Freedomland’s strong suit, instead it offered a fun experience inspired by American history.
Over in Old Chicago, visitors could help put out the 1871 Chicago Fire. This is widely reported as one of the most popular and exciting places for kids in Freedomland.
From Chicago Station, shown above, visitors could ride the Santa Fe railroad to San Francisco. Although much shorter than the real thing, it was an actual train running on tracks. After Freedomland closed, the station was moved to Clark’s Trading Post, an amusement park in New Hampshire, where it still stands.
Freedomland offered a number of dining options, such as this eatery in Chinatown in San Francisco. The Chun King restaurant was sponsored by its namesake, a Chinese canned food brand.
There was more to Freedomland than big cities. One could also see The Great Plains, a Civil War battlefield, and The Old Southwest.
The ore buckets offered aerial views across the country.
Another popular activity for children was taking a trip with Danny the Dragon. Normally, he pulled along several cars as he traveled through gardens in the New Orleans section of Freedomland, but for reasons unknown he was on his own this day.
While the construction of Co-op City removed all traces of Freedomland, it is not forgotten by those who visited. Besides a popular Facebook page, a commemorative plaque was placed at the site in 2013. In addition, the operator of a Freedomland fan website rescued the decorative paddle wheels and smokestack from Totsie the tug boat and has donated them for placement next to the plaque. Appropriately, though also ironically, this would restore a true artifact to a site of ersatz history.
Next, read about ten secrets of Co-op City, ten secrets of Coney Island’s Cyclone, and the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, a competitor to Freedomland. Contact the author @Jeff_Reuben.