A new book just released on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31, pays homage to a Bronx landmark that many have never forgotten: Freedomland U.S.A. Typically just called “Freedomland,” a book of the same title delivers photographs and history of the theme park, which was located at the dead end Adler Place in Co-op City, closed in 1964 after only five years of operation.
The new book, published by Arcadia, which does local and regional history texts, is co-authored by Robert McLaughlin, of Massachusetts, and Bronx native Frank R. Adamo, who grew up in Westchester Square and eventually moved to Throggs Neck. The book release this month coincides with the 50th anniversary of the park’s opening.
The theme park was built in the shape of the continential United States, with the northern boundary running parallel to I-95.
“The Disneyland of the East,” as many called it, featured a number of special areas and rides that pertained to historical events. The Chicago Fire attraction, for example, allowed youngsters to play firemen, putting out the infamous blaze. The King Rex Carousel and Crystal Maze were other popular sections. The entire park was divided into seven regions, laid out according to U.S. geography. From west to east coast, there was: San Francisco, The Great Plains, the Old Southwest, Old Chicago, New Orleans, Little Old New York, and below it, where Florida is located on the map, Satellite City, which was home to the Sports Car Thruway.
“Doing the book, it brings back memories,” said Adamo. “A lot of people I knew from the Bronx are enthused about it coming out. I still have a lot of friends there.”
Adamo has a rich history with Freedomland. Around 1959, he was working with the Naclario Brothers, doing sewer construction, landscaping, and other labor. The last living brother, Richard, owns Maestro’s, the Eastwood Manor and Patriot Bank.
At the time, all those years ago, the men who traveled into town looking to start Freedomland were in need of small favors, like a tow for their equipment and a sewage pump for their trailer. It was Adamo that convinced Sal Naclario to loan them a pump, and also “to do this and that for them.” Eventually, in return for their kindness, Freedomland brought in the Naclario brothers, along with Adamo, as the site contractors.
“I left Naclario and became the equipment superintendent during production of Freedomland,” said Adamo. “Then shortly before it opened they asked me to stay on with them as management. I became director of maintenance operations, and stayed there the whole time, until I helped take down what was left of the park.” After Freedomland closed, the property became Co-op City, and part of Bay Plaza.
Adamo said that he provided most of the history for his co-author McLaughlin, who himself has written a separate book on Pleasure Island, a similar theme park that was in Massachusetts. “I had quite a bit of background to bring to the table here,” he said with a laugh. His memories weren’t all he brought. Adamo had about 3,000 pictures from the inception of the park. There are only 200 in the book, but the rest lie in his Larchmont home.
Councilman James Vacca, who grew up in Pelham Bay, enjoyed Freedomland as a child. “I’m dating myself here,” he laughed, “but I remember it. I remember the lines of people, the traffic. It was a family place.” Vacca added that when Co-op city was first built, and people had trouble getting there, locals would direct them by saying “Oh, it’s where Freedomland was!”
When Freedomland closed in the 60s, there wasn’t any other similar theme park in the Bronx. Instead, many Bronxites went to a place in Queens called Adventurer’s Inn, right over the Whitestone Bridge. There was, however, the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which set up shop in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and could have contributed to the financial failure of Freedomland, some have speculated.
“I think the book will strike a lot of people’s fancies,” said Adamo. “We had 1200 people on the payroll at the park, so for those of them that are still around, this will be a bit of nostalgia.”