Wakefield’s Dashed Dreams: “The Disneyland of the East”

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Abby Murphy
April 24, 2012
Filed under 2011-2012 Archive

Have you ever wished that Disney World could be right in your own backyard?  Pleasure Island was an amusement park in Wakefield during the 1960s that was considered the “Disneyland of the East.”

Most Wakefield residents have briefly heard of this previously “fun spot” amusement park, Pleasure Island. Although short-lived, it was a popular tourist attraction in Wakefield from 1959 to 1969. This multi-million dollar project opened on June 22, bringing in over 5,000 people solely on its first day.  At the time it was the largest man made tourist attraction in New England, expecting over 1,200,000 visitors every summer. Unfortunately, they did not receive this type of attendance, which resulted in a lot of financial trouble for the park. In addition to the constant need to close due to finance problems, New England weather ultimately killed Pleasure Island. The attraction was only able to operate throughout the warm weather, therefore losing out on major seasons that locations such as Florida and California took advantage of. Edgewater Park office complex and Reedy Meadow Conservation Land now lie on the eighty acres of land where Pleasure Island once used to reside.

I got the opportunity to sit down and chat with Christopher J. Barrett, a longtime resident of Wakefield. During his time in the town throughout the 50s and 60s he had a great deal of involvement with Pleasure Island. In fact, he participated in the phone calls to Wakefield citizens encouraging them to vote to rezone the land for Pleasure Island. His friend worked in installing the poles to bring electricity to the park. He explained that this construction was aimed to “ make Wakefield a national-known community.”  Mr. Barrett described to me a day in which he and his wife took their four sons to Pleasure Island for a special day out. The park was a treat for the family considering how expensive it was to buy tickets. The Moby Dick whale was the most popular attraction, which went through train tracks into a pond and came back out of the water. However, this day that the family went it was a big disappointment to the boys that the Moby Dick whale was out of order, which was apparently not uncommon. There was also a train ride simulating a stage coach ride that took you around to tour the entire park guided by people dressed up as Indians and cowboys to make the experience exciting and different.

It was emphasized by Mr. Barrett that Pleasure Island never had enough financing and went through several different groups of ownership including Hood Milk as an early partner. He also agreed that weather played a large factor in the park’s demise. Throughout almost their entire first season in 1959 they experienced nonstop rain. Although the idea of having a mock Disneyland in New England sounded good, it may not have been thought through all the way.

I must admit it sounds incredibly fun to have a Disney type amusement park in Wakefield. There would be no more “There’s nothing to do here” or “We can never find somewhere to go.” It is really cool to live in a town with such a fun history such as being the location of a major former amusement park. Pleasure Island lives on for many of the people in Wakefield. Each year the Friends of Pleasure Island committee conducts a free walking tour around the former amusement park area. This is a way to recreate the memories and describe the unique history of Pleasure Island. This year it is taking place on June 24 from 10 a.m. until noon. A place for children of all ages,  Pleasure Island was enjoyable family entertainment and most wish it could have succeeded. Do you wish Pleasure Island was still here in Wakefield?

Comments

2 Responses to “Wakefield’s Dashed Dreams: “The Disneyland of the East””

  1. Mr. Bavuso on April 25th, 2012 4:55 pm

    Thank you, Abby. You have done a great job capturing this important part of Wakefield’s history. Your story reminds me of a story told to us when I was growing up in Reading. The legend was that Pleasure Island was forced to close because the Ferris wheel fell of of its hinges and rolled into a pond, killing all who were on it. Whenever I watch the Final Destination movies, I think of Pleasure Island. keep up the good work.
    -Mr. Bavuso

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  2. Ms. Zaramba-Macri on May 13th, 2013 3:44 pm

    Abby, I remember going to Pleasure Island as a child. I had no idea of its financial difficulties, but always wondered what happened to the park. Thank you for reminding me the giant Whale!

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