It was in what we locals called a "two fare" zone--meaning we had to pay for a train and a bus to get there, because the park was way out in the middle of nowhere. And that, of course, was the point--where else would you find 205 undeveloped acres in New York City?
On opening day, June 19, 1960, tens of thousands surged through the gates. The attractions were loosely based on American history, from the Wild West and San Francisco's earthquake to the Great Chicago Fire and space travel. A few "rides" were surprisingly low-tech and tame, even by the standards of the day--such as Casa Loco, a "house" with a steeply raked floor that defied visitors to stay upright. A highlight I remember fondly was the gondola ride across the "country," but because of long lines, I rarely took that ride.
As youngsters, Sis and I roamed the park quite often, and we also remember seeing any number of rock 'n roll shows there. I don't remember seeing Paul Anka, who played at Freedomland more than once, but I do recall Major Lance, whose two hits were Monkey Time and Um, um, um, um, um, um..."
Although Freedomland was closer to home, we found the rock 'n roll shows at the Palisades Park amusement park more glamorous. Celebrity DJ Cousin Brucie presided, which made it a treat, even if we had to cross the George Washington Bridge to get there. Besides, Palisades Park was immortalized in a hit record by Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, whereas Freedomland was...a former swamp.
By September 1964, Freedomland had sunk into bankruptcy, paving the way for the giant Co-op City development that was built on the site. Sis and I switched our allegiance to the New York World's Fair, a long subway ride away and a story for another day.
Although Freedomland has been out of business for nearly 50 years, it has its own nostalgic Facebook page, complete with loads of vintage photos, postcards, and souvenirs.
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