The long forgotten past of pre-Co-op City/Bay Plaza history comes to life with the release of ‘Freedomland USA The Definitive History’ by Michael R. Virgintino.
Freedomland was once a thriving All-American amusement park built on an undeveloped marshland along I-95, just northwest of the Hutchinson River Parkway.
Virgintino presented a brief overview of his book and opened up a discussion with the Forum of Italian American Educators (FIAME) at the Morris Park Community Center, 1824 Bronxdale Avenue last Thursday.
Virgintino’s interest in Freedomland was sparked by his cherished memories of attending the USA-themed park as a young boy in the 1960s.
While growing up on Mickle Avenue, a short distance from Freedomland,he attended Holy Rosary Catholic School as well as Cardinal Spellman High School. He then moved on to study journalism at Fordham University in the 1970s.
He said his early influences in journalism were the great Walter Cronkite as well as Charles Osgood, who he had met several times during his time at Fordham and initially piqued his interest in radio journalism.
Throughout his years as a journalist, Virgintino found himself writing articles from time to time about the history of Freedomland.
“I’d always look at historical aspects of different things and people and where it fit into the timeline of businesses, and time and time again, things always traced back to Freedomland,” Virgintino said.
After a friend asked him to write the introduction on Freedomland in a chronicle covering all the early American amusement parks, a publisher at Theme Park Press asked if Virgintino had interest in writing a book on Freedomland himself.
Virgintino stepped up to the call.
Even though he already possessed extensive knowledge of the park, the journalist inside of him yearned to learn even more about the amusement park of his childhood.
He said around the beginning of Facebook’s popularity, he created a page dedicated to the lost American theme park.
“I started seeing different memory pages on Facebook, but realized there wasn’t one for Freedomland,” Virgintino said, “And I didn’t want just the memories, I wanted more on the attractions, the character actors, the events and how it all started.”
Using dedicated Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, he amassed more and more stories from former employeess and families of former employees coming out of the woodwork.
Virgintino said he spent the following eight years reaching out to anyone who was involved in the creation, development and production of the park to hear their stories.
Most importantly, he wanted to answer the question that remained in the minds of many baby boomers: “Where’d it go, Why did they develop those apartments over my beloved Freedomland?’
“I turned over every stone to find out everything I could,” Virgintino said.
Incorporating all his prior knowledge on the history of the park and the many personal anecdotes make for a multi-faceted book gorged with information.
The book, ‘Freedomland U.S.A. The Definitive History’ has 30 chapters that chronicle C.V. Wood’s (creator of the park and Disneyland) conception of the park to its inevitable bankruptcy and the mysteries behind its demise.
The book chronicles the park’s many attractions such as the Wild, Wild West, the Chicago Fire and Old New York, as well as its generous helpings of celebrity appearances during its five-year history, from 1960 to 1964.
As for Virgintino, he had found the greatest pleasure in keeping Freedomland in the spotlight for future generations to come.
“I’m pleased (Freedomland) is being remembered, and being put back in its proper place,” Virgintino said. “It was something never seen before and it will never be seen again.”
The book is available on Amazon (amzn.com/