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New book finds long lost NYC amusement parks

A new book resurrects the stories about once popular amusement parks in New York City.
A new book resurrects the stories about once popular amusement parks in New York City.History Press

Hey New Yorkers! Are you ready to have some fun? Or, at least read and learn about the good times that previous generations enjoyed at New York City’s early amusement parks?

Lost Amusement Parks of New York City (History Press) focuses on the rise and fall of the Big Apple's amusement parks during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. This new book visits Fort George in Manhattan, South Beach and Midland Beach on Staten Island, Golden City in Brooklyn, North Beach and Rockaway’s Playland in Queens, and Starlight Park and Clason Point in The Bronx. Coney Island is not included in the book, though it is mentioned frequently, as this Brooklyn amusement area continues to survive and evolve as an entertainment center.

Strategically placed at the end of trolley lines and railways, and along public beaches and other waterways, the amusement playgrounds for New York residents first appeared during 1767. Some of them developed into huge parks, with each park influenced by the culture and eclectic tastes of its owners and patrons. Wooden coasters were featured at Staten Island's Midland Beach and Starlight Park in The Bronx. Beer gardens were found at Queens' North Beach.

Common enemies of all amusement parks contributed to the failure of each of the city parks featured in the book. Fire was common and it often destroyed the wooden structures that housed vendors and attractions. Real estate increased in value, causing the parks to be razed for commercial and residential development.

Freedomland Mentioned

Though operational at a much later time than the focus of the book, Freedomland U.S.A. (1960-1964) received attention in a few pages in the chapter about Bronx parks.

Freedomland was not an amusement park but a true theme park created by C.V. Wood, the builder of Disneyland for Walt Disney. The Freedomland section begins with “…Freedomland’s history was so fleeting and extraordinary that it merits an exception [to be mentioned in the book]. The following pages will not be an in-depth look into this park, as it has been chronicled quite thoroughly elsewhere.”

The information in the chapter will provide the casual reader with an introduction to Freedomland. For avid Freedomland fans, though, the park's engaging theme park history and the wonderful memories it has provided for so many people have been well documented in other recent books (Arcadia Publishing’s Freedomland; Dog Ear Publishing’s Disney's Dream Weavers: The Visionaries Who Shaped Disneyland, Freedomland, the New York World's Fair and Walt Disney World--and the ties that bind them), in countless articles, in an entertaining DVD and on the popular Freedomland Facebook page.

Several Freedomland fans and historians who have read Lost Amusement Parks of New York City were disappointed that the spotlight on Freedomland was placed on the park's negatives (related to mismanagement and long-term plans by the landowners) rather than its unique American history entertainment concept for guests. Freedomland actually was doomed from the start. Before Freedomland became a reality, developers and politicians had outlined plans to build the Co-op City residential complex that has been on the site for more than 40 years.

The section about Freedomland in the book also includes a couple of factual errors. One Freedomland fan wondered if the authors (Wesley Gottlock and Barbara Gottlock) ever saw the park to appreciate it.