Saturday, February 20, 2021

Freedomland Civil War Attraction, August 1961

It's time for another visit to Freedomland, U.S.A! In The Bronx, New York. We've been here more than a few times before, but I was happy to find these particular slides because they feature the Civil War attraction, in the "New Orleans: Mardi Gras" section of the park. Here's a previously-posted photo showing the entrance to the ride.

A souvenir guidebook said: " one who wants to relive history can afford to miss a trip through the shell-scarred fields of the Civil War. Whether Yank or Rebel, this is your fight, and it lives again at FREEDOMLAND".

I can't find information about any specific scenes, so there is not much to tell beyond the obvious. Here's a Union fort, protected by sandbags and a spiky barricade. 

The guidebook continues: "'Civil War' is FREEDOMLAND's intensely realistic recreation of the great War Between the States. We think of the Civil War as taking place an age ago, but it really isn't such a long time past - the last veteran of those terrible battles died in 1959. On the Civil War ride in the New Orleans area, you will see and experience what the men in the Union blue and butternut gray actually went through. FREEDOMLAND has taken scenes from several of the most crucial battles of the war, and brought them to life".

Dead soldiers lay next to stone walls, while a ruined home burns. Notice the Santa Fe RR passing in the background.

Conditions were grim for most Civil War soldiers. The lucky ones had tents. Some built crude huts out of sticks and branches. "Since you're a noncombatant, a war correspondent's wagon is your transportation on the battlefield, the kind the newsmen and sketch artists of both sides used to cover the fighting fronts. You pass a blockhouse, a derailed train, a tent camp, and burning houses. Suddenly you're trapped by cannon cross-fire; blue and gray are slugging it out - and you're caught in the middle!"

"But you come through unscathed. you cross over a pontoon bridge, and drive past the house where General Lee shook hands with General Grant, to bring American's most momentous war to and end". Wow, what an attractions! I wish I could have seen it. Freedomland lasted only four years; afterward, some of the fiberglass figures wound up in a local museum. Once that closed, nobody knows what happened to them.

I hope you have enjoyed your visit to FREEDOMLAND!


K. Martinez said...

Wow! I've seen a lot of Freedomland images, but none like these. These are great! I especially like the grimness. Freedomland is one park I would've loved to have seen, but only in it's first two years. I'd be curious as to the differences in the way American history is portrayed in theme parks like say between New York's Freedomland, USA (North) and Texas' Six Flags Over Texas (South).

I wish someone qualified would do a comprehensive book on Freedomland, USA. It's a story I would love to read about in its detail and full history from idea to creation to its closure. Today's pics are extra good in my book. Thanks for sharing these, Major.

Chuck said...

Not sure it ever hit me before today (although I have a sneaking suspicion that a detailed review of my past comments will prove me false), but it's interesting that the Santa Fe, a railroad that didn't own any tracks east of Illinois, sponsored an attraction at an East Coast park. They had offices in New York, and of course Eastern companies shipped their goods west by the Santa Fe, so it obviously made sense to them as an advertising effort. I'm sure C.V. Wood's connections with the AT&SF during his days at Disneyland had something to do with it as well.

I've never read anything that confirms or even suggests this, but I'm wondering if a trip to Freedomland by a college-aged Michael Eisner might have sparked the germ of the idea of Disney's America I would have loved to have seen a serious attempt by Disney to bring history to life, particularly if they had had the budgets of the EuroDisneyland Era.

Ken, I'd buy that book, too!

Andrew said...

Ken and Chuck, I'm guessing that you haven't heard about this book before? I haven't read it yet but do want to. I do have the Images of Modern America book, though. (The author shares my name.) I took a quick look, and it says that the live horses were later replaced with "a tractor built to resemble a steam engine."

I'd like to see a picture of the pontoon bridge setup!

Here's a random fun fact I discovered recently - the Great Escape is a small park in Upstate New York that through different means acquired several pieces of Freedomland, including some figures from the "Northwest Fur Trappers" Jungle Cruise-like ride. These were placed inside a building on the "Desperado Plunge" flume ride, which itself is from Busch Gardens in Van Nuys, complete with beer barrel boats.

What was this post about again? ;-)

Major Pepperidge said...

K. Martinez, it seems like images of the Civil War ride are pretty hard to come by; maybe people wanted to take pictures of prettier things. I wish mine were a bit lighter, but it’s still neat to get a look at this rather strange and grim (as you say) attraction. And you’re right, it would be interesting to see how the North and the South might portray the Civil War. Maybe Six Flags Over Texas would be pro-Confederacy?? I would LOVE to see a good, detailed book about Freedomland! Arcadia Press did a nice book, but it’s small and in black and white. I know Chris Merritt is interested, but maybe publishers have decided that there’s not enough interest from the general public?

Chuck, you make a good point about the use of Santa Fe as a sponsor for an east coast park. It’s also very weird to see a train with the name “Ernest S. Marsh” in a park other than Disneyland. As you said, it is likely that C.V. Wood used his connections to get Santa Fe on board (no pun intended). I’d love to know if Eisner ever went to Freedomland! I never really thought about the similarity to “Disney’s America”. I can’t help wondering if they would have had to jettison the American history theme to survive, kind of the way EPCOT has been evolving (devolving?) into a more-standard amusement park after its high-concept beginnings?

Andrew, it’s funny, I’ve actually seen that book on Amazon, but I’ve never purchased it. The customer reviews are pretty glowing. I don’t know if the book has color photos though. I know it is very low-brow of me, but I want big pages with rare color pictures! I never knew that “The Great Escape” was a real park; I think it is mentioned in the book “Nobody’s Fool”, I’m amazed to learn that it isn’t just something made up by the author.

Nanook said...

What [seemingly] rare images you have here. What a treat it would've been to see this park.

"Beer barrel boats". All I can think of is Duff Beer & Duff Gardens.

Thanks, Major.

Pegleg Pete said...

These are great, Major – I can't remember ever seeing such in-depth photos from a Freedomland attraction before these. K. Martinez, Both Six Flags Over Texas and Georgia had lands themed to the Confederacy per their 'flags which historically flew over the region' concept, but neither land had any real nods to history beyond generic Southern naming of eateries, attractions etc. There was certainly nothing in either which hinted at the 'hard facts' of history.

"Lou and Sue" said...

I don't recall, from past GDB posts, if any of our Jr. Gorillas had ever been to Freedomland. I would love to hear some personal accounts, as this was probably an exciting place, in its time.

Thanks, Major, and happy Saturday to all!

JG said...

Major, these are very interesting, if a bit grim.

A sad era in our history, to be sure.

Thank you.


Melissa said...

“Oh, so Disney’s got a burning cabin with a corpse? Well, we’ll have a burning cabin with a whole PILE of corpses, see?”

DBenson said...

Old guy bloviating:

Certainly possible Eisner visited Freedomland; he definitely would have studied it once he was at Disney. But remember that the Imagineers had detailed plans for Liberty Square and Edison Square in Disneyland, and probably unused concepts for Epcot's American Adventure as well. It's very possible that they were still pitching history-themed attractions for the existing parks when Eisner arrived.

I think the real impetus behind Disney's America was a desire to have weekend/day trip destination close to NY and the other northeastern cities without cannibalizing WDW's attractions. Disney Quest, Club Disney and Mickey's Kitchen were all intended to put smaller Disney experiences closer to population centers. Only the Disney Store survived, going through extreme changes but outlasting the ambitious Warner Studio Store.

Anyway, what killed Freedomland was a combination of climate (no year-round operation) and real estate (the land was worth more developed). I read that Freedomland existed mainly to prove the reclaimed land would hold up for a period of years; once that was done its days were numbered..

"Lou and Sue" said...

Does anyone know if the "Northwest Fur Trappers" Jungle Cruise-like ride had a serious or silly spiel? If it was anything like the JC, I would love to find out more about it...

KS, what years were you a skipper? Early 70s? I'm going through some slides now and I'll focus on your years and dig through never know what I might find. I have my fingers crossed.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, yes, I am endlessly fascinated by Freedomland USA. And to think that the World’s Fair was the “knife in the heart” that finally killed it!

Pegleg Pete, thanks! All I really know about Six Flags Over Texas is from the few posts that K. Martinez did for this blog, using his postcard collection. It sounds like it was a pretty amazing park - not quite Disneyland, but they made a lot of effort to make it a special place.

Lou and Sue, it’s possible that Bill Cotter went to Freedomland, but I don’t recall if he said so in the comments. Yes, if anybody else out there has personal memories of that park, please share them!

JG, in a way I appreciate the grimness, as weird as that sounds. Maybe they managed to communicate 1% of the awfulness of the Civil War, which is more than some places would accomplish.

Melissa, ha ha, it’s all I ever wanted. More dead bodies!

DBenson, you make some good points re: Edison Square and Liberty Square. I guess the concept of “American History” has almost always been bubbling away at Imagineering in some form or another. I don’t remember a lot of about “Disney’s America”, but I DO remember that the idea didn’t thrill me that much. Perhaps I missed “the good stuff”. Gosh, I don’t know if you ever liked the Disney Stores, but when they first started popping up, they had so much nice, quality stuff. Now… I walk right past without ever going in, because I know they won’t have anything good. I’m sure that climate and the land values were big factors, but (as I said to Nanook), I’d always read that the 1964 World’s Fair was the final straw that took too many customers away.

Chuck said...

Major, one of the signature areas of Disney's America was going to be a Civil War fort, with daily battle re-enactments. That's why these photos remined me of it.

DBenson said...

I was a big fan of the Disney Store early on. They catered (pandered?) to old boomers like me with lots of nostalgic collectibles. But we're a shrinking demographic so they necessarily shifted their focus to outfitting modern kids. Just as the Disney Channel moved away from vault offerings and retro new stuff to contemporary tween-appeal.

I still go in, occasionally spotting a tree ornament (Mr. Toad!) or other evocative whatnot for my already crowded bookshelves. But I don't begrudge rugrats and their parents taking over most of the store. It's their turn.

We boomers can't really complain, since home video enables us to own a huge amount of genuine Walt-era stuff we once had to wait for in the form of re-releases or World of Color reruns.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, when I have time (ha ha) I’m going to have to look into more info about Disney’s America. I hate to say it, but even though I think some of it sounds neat, I don’t know if it’s what the public would have wanted. They want rides, and to meet their favorite Disney characters, and that sort of thing.

DBenson, given the prices that many vintage Disney collectibles fetch these days, I’d think that they could still produce some high-quality merchandise at the Disney Store for boomers like us, instead of all plush animals, plastic toys and princess dresses. Years ago I bought a beautiful Monorail model at the Disney Store for $150, and somebody bought it from me for $600! But I take your point, the public in general doesn’t want the old stuff. Kids these days! By the way, a Mr. Toad ornament sounds pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

I went to Freedomland like 10 times as a kid. It was absolutely the greatest. Not too expensive or overcrowded. The Civil War Ride was the best, especially at night with cannons flashing and guns roaring. I can't remember if a wagon or canal-type boat took us around. What a great place. I also saw the Four Seasons play there and others.