Mommy And Daddy, Hold My Hand, Take Me Out To Freedomland
On June 19th, 1960, Dwight Eisenhower, the thirty-fourth president of the United States, was at the end of his second term and the election of John F Kennedy as his successor was still five months away. America was in a less jaded period of its history, unmarred by the Vietnam war, assassinations, Watergate, presidential impeachment proceedings, resignations, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. It was before the twin towers were ever conceived, the Beatles were ever heard of and the Civil Rights movement hadn’t seen its dawn yet. Singer Pat Boone cut the ribbon for what is dimly remembered as an echo of America’s past glory.
It was called Freedomland, the world’s largest amusement park, situated in the Northern Bronx, the juncture of the Hutchinson River Parkway and The New England Thruway, where Co-Op City currently stands. A massive 200-acre park built as a miniature replica of the United States. Its designer, CV Wood, declared it “as a way to dramatize American heritage through an imaginative combination of big business, show-business, design creativity and mass education through entertainment.”
Wood had been associated with Disney, impacting on the development of Disneyland, a mere 85 acres in comparison. Freedomland was his concept and dream. Joined by Randall Duell, a renowned theme park designer and financed by real estate tycoon William Zeckendorf at an estimated 65 million dollars. Its catchy jingle was known by the Baby Boomers as: “Mommy And Daddy, Hold My Hand, Take Me Out To Freedomland”.Built upon a garbage dump-filled swamp, not far from City Island and the fabled Orchard Beach, its topography and enclosing fence provided the perfect surrounding boundary. Appropriate number of guards were there to ensure everyone entered legitimately preventing illegal aliens from encroaching its borders that should make even President George W. Bush take notice.
A purchased passport provided all the legal documentation necessary to transport through the demarcations from one location to the next, all proportionally represented by seven areas with interesting attractions expressing the diversity of its unique geographical character and history.
From the Mardi Gras of New Orleans to the Chicago Fire, complete with gas jets behind the building facades to recreate the historic event, the San Francisco Earthquake that devastated the city in 1906, to traveling the plains of America in a stagecoach, a showboat trip down the Mississippi or a civil war battle, all within the borders of the Bronx, a borough often overlooked for its rich contribution to American History.
Fraught with many problems in its short existence as the world’s largest theme park of its time, the changing of the seasons, so characteristic of America’s Northeast, proved fatal to the plant life imported from other parts of the country to recreate the diversity of nature it meant to represent. An early fire destroyed a portion of the park, along with accidents and a much publicized robbery of its entry gate, plagued it. The final blow to its existence was the upcoming 1964 World Fair in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, and declining visitors, led to its financial collapse and bankruptcy leading the way for the land to be used for Co-Op city.
Not many people know of Freedomland, a relic of past relegated to trivia history one might encounter on the game show Jeopardy, remembered only by some of those who would soon precipitate the twentieth century’s turbulent social revolution-youth’s challenge of the establishment and authority of its parents generation. The sixties had begun.
“Mommy and Daddy, hold my hand, Take me out to Freedomland.”