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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Freedom Land?... Are we there...yet?

Happy belated Independence Day!

There are so many more distractions these days that prevent the younger set from experiencing the boredom we suffered in the suburbs of our post-war parents. Sure I'm dating myself, but I want to continue on this roller coaster of nostalgia neuralgia.

In this post I want to explore some of those amazing destinations we never got to see but sure were hooked by the commercials and print ads. How far was the nearest amusement park to your house? Growing up in White Plains, NY I was just out of reach from Rye, Playland. I was taken there a couple of times by my parents and it was both magical and frightening . It was sensory overload and I did all I could to keep the dream alive that we would go back again. I never did get my fill of that place, though I did try begging and pleading. I am still getting over the fact that the Danbury Fair was only 40 miles from our house and we never went, but that was before air conditioning and 65mph speed limits.

Fast forward to present day - I drove one Saturday to a Ridgefield tag sale simply because it was there. It looked like any other, maybe they were moving, or downsizing, or maybe they just wanted to make room and a little cash at the same time. There are some sales that you just know they’re going to be good. This one may have been easy to spot because of the condition of not just the house but the landscaping as well. This was a quality garage sale, though there wasn’t a cornucopia of treasure; in fact, there wasn’t much treasure at all. Rather than give up, I kept looking, and finally I was rewarded with a cardboard box of old theme park books. Similar to the kind of pile one accumulates after years of travel; there were fliers, brochures, maps, and few post cards thrown in. There wasn’t a great quantity of items but there was one that really grabbed me, but the appropriate time to reveal that will have to wait until September. It was the age of the Disney books that lead me to purchase and then there was this other one I'd never heard of...

At the close of the 1950's Walt Disney was on his way to creating the theme park and entertainment empire we know today. But at that time The west coast Disneyland was all there was, Walt hadn't yet decided to build in the middle of a swamp in Orlando. So, take one disgruntled Disney park designer and add an East coast millionaire and together they made a plan for putting a "Disney-Like" theme Park in a part of the country untapped by Walt. All they needed was a piece of land near a few major highways, just like Walt's...

Built in 1960 at a cost of approximately 65 million it was the largest theme park in the country. With the United States as the "theme" the park design was laid out in this obvious shape.
Each section was devoted to a section of the United States and included attractions based on the area.(Click for an almost readable image) Apparently Alaska and Hawaii weren't um, free? Although somewhat negative as an homage to the good 'ole USA when you get to the mid west there was nothing more exciting than a visit to the
burning embers of that once great city, oh well, I suppose it's better than the slaughter houses they could have focused on. Unfortunately, Freedom Land suffered from some bad luck and poor planning. Despite its proximity to NYC there was no subway service to the park. The swampy land adjacent to the park created large swarms of mosquitoes in the summer. The highways that were right nearby were inadequate for handling the initial response to the park and massive traffic jams occurred. All these things combined with some other interesting tidbits (found here) contributed to the closing of the park after only 4 years.

Walt picked the Florida property and purchased it almost as Freedom Land closed. It was gone before I was born, so I can't blame my parents for not taking me.

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