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5 Ambitious Theme Parks That Took On Disney and FAILED

3. Freedomland U.S.A. (Bronx, New York)

Freedomland USA (1)

Image via Viewliner Ltd

After Disneyland opened, Walt Disney was approached by several groups about the possibility of opening an east coast version of the park. One of the proposed sites was near New York, but Disney rejected it on the basis that it would not be able to operate year-round.

Fresh from being fired by Disney, C.V. Wood had already played a big role in designing the doomed Magic Mountain. But he wouldn't stop there - he also took up the challenge of creating a theme park in New York. He partnered with Milton T. Raynor, a television sports producer and attorney to build Freedomland U.S.A., perhaps the best known early Disneyland rival of all.

Freedomland USA (3)

Image via WFUV.org

Freedomland would sit on the site of a former municipal landfill, with the park itself covering 85 acres. Hundreds of artists and architects were brought in, while Broadway composer Jule Styne wrote an original soundtrack for the park. A total of $65 million was invested, with the park featuring eight miles of navigable waterways and lakes, 10,000 trees, 18 dining outlets and parking for 72,000 cars.

Just like Pacific Ocean Park, Freedomland U.S.A. initially looked certain to be a massive success. On its opening day, June 19, 1960, 65,000 visitors attended. The following day, traffic jams leading to the park forced it to stop selling tickets.

Freedomland USA (2)

The park was shaped like a giant map of the US, with areas dedicated to Old New York, Old Chicago, The Great Plains, San Francisco, The Old Southwest, New Orleans and Satellite City (inspired by Florida's "Space Coast"). It boasted no fewer than four unique dark rides, each built by Arrow Development - a key partner of Disney.

San Francisco Earthquake
Image via Dafe.org

The San Francisco Earthquake ride was a typical example. In the queue, guests listened to a commentary about the great earthquake of 1906, and the loading area featured a mural depicting the ruined skyline of the city after the disaster struck. Riders boarded antique automobiles, and then found themselves "driving" on the city's streets the night before the earthquake. Then, suddenly, the buildings began to shake, with one even sliding towards the car.

Freedomland USA (4)

Freedomland's opening season was beset by problems. Less than a week after opening, a stagecoach overturned in the Great Plains section, causing ten injuries including a broken spine. Two months later, armed men made off with more than $28,000 from the park's front office. By the end of 1961, the park was $8 million in debt. Competition from the 1964 New York World's Fair was the final straw, with the park being declared bankrupt and subsequently being demolished.

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There are 9 comments.

I remember Circus World had painted concrete walkways that when freshly washed and wet in the morning were the slipperiest law suit waiting to happen ever.

I remember in 1982 Circus World let Disney employees in for free. Good marketing idea. Wooden coaster was a lot of fun and usually no wait. Also loved the chilli covered open faced burgers.

my first elephant ride was at Circus World 1977!

The place that was once Freedomland is now home to Co-Op City and Pelham Bay Park

The Heritage Square village that was left from Magic Mountain closed at the end of 2015.

I went to Freedomland with my family when I was a 10 year old kid. I remember they recruited kids to pump water from old time fire engines to put out the Great Chicago Fire.

I went to Circus World in 1980. Two things I remember vividly, the Roaring Tiger Rollercoaster, IT WAS AWSOME. My boyfriend and I ( now husband ) got to ride in the front seat multiple times and didn't even need to get off the ride. And the second, I got to walk the high wire. It was AMAZING, 30 feet off the ground walking a thin wire, the Circus Master announced you, where you were from like if you were a real performer. Of course you were all harnessed up but WOW. what an opportunity.

I've been to Heritage Square before - the last time I went was probably in the summer of 2014, and I have good memories of that place. I loved the Tilt-A-Whirl and the alpine slides. Unfortunately, the alpine slides closed after the 2015 season, and I'm a little bit bummed that I'm never going to get to ride them again, but there's nothing I can do about it anyway, you know? My family loved that place and I really hope I'll be able to go back sometime.

I've been to Circus World and Pirates World. We lived not too far from Pirates World. I was VERY young then. I only remember the crows nest. We went to Circus World one year while staying at the Contemporary resort at WDW. It was also the same visit we went to the new Wet & Wild. Good memories.

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