Slightly more than 53 years since it first opened its gates, Freedomland U.S.A. finally will be commemorated with a plaque. The marker will be unveiled close to the site where flagpoles once were located that spelled the name of the popular Bronx, New York, theme park.
Freedomland operated on the land now occupied by a residential development, Co-op City, and the adjacent Bay Plaza Shopping Center in the northeast section of The Bronx. Designed in the shape of a large map of the continental United States, Freedomland featured historical attractions in seven themed areas to entertain park guests.
The themed areas were Little Old New York 1850-1900, Chicago 1871, The Great Plains 1803-1900, San Francisco 1906, The Old Southwest 1890, New Orleans – Mardi Gras and Satellite City – The Future. Freedomland featured eight miles of navigable man-made waterways and lakes, 10,000 trees and 18 restaurants and snack bars. Performers included Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, The Tokens, the Count Basie Orchestra, Louis Armstrong, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tony Bennett, Hollywood stars that included Timmy and Lassie, comedians that included The Three Stooges, and retired and active major league baseball players.
The commemoration ceremony will be held on Saturday, August 17, at 12 p.m. along Bartow Avenue near the Bartow Mall in Co-op City. Participants will include fans and historians of Freedomland, former employees and the daughter of a television personality who entertained kids with his circus shows.
Freedomland’s Friends, Fans and Employees
For many years, Bob Mangels, who grew up in The Bronx, has been driven to commemorate Freedomland on the spot that brought joy to so many adults and children for its five years (1960-1964) of operation. With its history of America theme, Freedomland was conceived and built by C.V. Wood, a developer in the theme park industry during the 1950s and 1960s. Wood was Walt Disney’s right hand man and he built Walt’s dream of Disneyland. Freedomland become known as the “Disneyland of the East” and “The World’s Largest Outdoor Entertainment Center.”
Mangels created a DVD about the history of the park, which you can find on his Freedomland website. Freedomland also can be found on Facebook and Twitter. Click here for the first in a series of seven articles about the history of Freedomland published on usedview.com.
Frank Adamo and Ben Rossi will be among the park’s employees who will return for the ceremony.
Adamo served the park in management and maintenance, and he was instrumental in working closely with the management company of Co-op City to designate a prominent location for the plaque and to arrange the August 17 ceremony. He also co-authored the Arcadia Publishing book Freedomland.
Rossi was a Freedomland performer for several years during a long career in theme park and amusement park entertainment. He appeared in the production of Colossus that was showcased in Freedomland’s Hollywood Arena. He also portrayed the marshal in Freedomland’s western themed areas, where he frequently performed riding and rope tricks with his horse Navajo. Read more about Rossi on the Goofy About Disney blog on silive.com.
Claude Kirchner was among the many national and local television hosts of children’s programs who appeared at Freedomland. Others included “Uncle Fred” Scott, Chuck McCann (see his Facebook page) and Officer Joe Bolton. Kirchner was the ringmaster of the popular show Terrytoon Circus on New York’s Channel 9 from 1956 to 1967. Previously, he was seen on the nationally syndicated show Super Circus.
Kirchner, who also performed at Freedomland’s Hollywood Arena, passed away about 20 years ago. His daughter, Lynn Lavalette, will attend the ceremony and she will be accompanied by her father’s sidekick puppet “Clownie.”
The owner of The Showboat, a private entertainment venue moored in the Byram River in Port Chester (nearby Westchester County) also will attend the plaque ceremony. Bill Frenz never visited Freedomland, but his boat originally was The Canadian sternwheeler that traveled the waterways of Freedomland’s Great Lakes.
Frenz has made a number of changes to the boat, but Freedomland fans still can see its familiar smokestacks and outdoor stairways. Frenz also restored and preserved one of the boat’s original seats. About 14 miles from The Bronx, The Showboat is a memory of Freedomland that is located closest to the site of the park.
Freedomland friends and theme park enthusiasts, through the efforts of Adamo and Mangels, also have a rare opportunity to own a small piece of Freedomland. Tokens used at the park are available for purchase with proceeds supporting the historical marker commemoration. Learn more about the opportunity here.