Pleasure Island, Wakefield, Massachusetts, 1959-1969

"Pleasure Island"

A Century of Fun: A Pictorial History of New England Amusement Parks

By Bob Goldsack of Nashua New Hampshire, Published by Midway Museum Publications, P,.O. Box 6477, Nashua NH 03063

Pleasure Island, the first attempt to imitate the successful Disneyland in California by using a theme park concept, opened its gates in 1959.

Front Gate

William S. Hawkes, publisher of Child Life Magazine, was president and General Manager. Primary financial backing came from the prestigious Boston firm of Cabot, Cabot and Forbes.

Two major theme areas invited patrons to step back into an early New England village and a western frontier town of the 1880's, where they were greeted by pirates, sourdoughs, cowboys, Indians, trainmen and strolling musicians. Over 500 people were employed the first year.

The Yankee area named Clipper Cove, took its cue from Moby Dick, and presented the highlight attraction of the park. Whale boats made in Maine, complete with narrators, left the dock in pursuit of the "great white whale." Sailing past animated swordfish, rhinoceroses and cannibals, the rides big and final thrill occurred when a 70 foot-animated whale rose out of the water. The Wreck of the Hesperus, a dark ride with cars shaped like broad-beamed sailing vessels, was another theme-type attraction in this area.

Clipper Cove

Old Smokey, an 18-ton reconditioned narrow gauge locomotive circled the park with a trainload of visitors. Built in 1917, to haul slate for the Monson Railroad Company in central Maine, old #3 had been retired since 1930.

Corporate sponsorship and participation was excellent. In the old western section, Pepsi Cola hosted the Diamond Lil Show in a soft drink cafe. Champ Butler, Hollywood recording artist, headlined the western musical revue as "Ragtime Cowboy Joe." Jenny Gasoline sponsored 18 gas-powered miniature 1911 Cadillacs that circled a track. Hood Dairy's Old Farm and Ice Cream Parlor, Swift & Company's Meat Market, Pepperidge Farm's Bakery, Friend's Baked Beanery, Capt. Snow's Chowder House, Daggett's Handspun Chocolate Shop and Breck's Country Store gave an interesting, subtle commercial touch to the amusement center.

Reproduction Cadillacs on a Track

A Magnetic House with tilled walk-thrus and gravity-defying illusions, and Engine City with exhibits of early transportation and steam engines, were located in the New England section.

Additional attractions in the western area included stagecoach rides, the Old Chisholm Trail dark ride, live burro rides, a tractor-surrey ride and Panning for Gold, a game tied in with Merchant's National Bank of Boston.

Live entertainment, headlined by TV and Hollywood stars was presented on a regular basis. Adults paid a gate fee of $1.00 and children 50 cents. Rides and attractions cost 25 cents, 35 cents and 50 cents.

Problems bounded Pleasure Island right from the beginning. Rides didn't work, lines were long and too many visitors failed to have a good time, resulting in very bad word-of-mouth reviews.

By spring 1960, Pleasure Island had changed hands again. Chuck Connors, TV's popular "Rifleman" and a former Boston Celtic, helped bolster attendance during appearances after a pay-one-price policy was introduced.

A 5,000 seat Show Bowl was constructed for shows and concerts, and a carousel, mini-golf course and driving range, baseball batting machines, archery range and fishing holes were added in the early 1960's.

During December 1965, the park opened as a special Christmas Wonderland, complete with Nativity setting, live animals and roaming carolers.

From the mid to late 1960's. Pleasure Island gradually changed from a family theme park to the traditional type of amusement park, as many new rides and games were installed. Go-Karts, twister, astronaut, skydiver, skyfighter, bumper cars, skylift, hi-slide and a miniature train made up the midway.

Baby Animal Farm

During its existence. Pleasure Island experienced an up and down history, and was sold again in early 1969, and folded the same season.

Ahead of its time. Pleasure Island was a great idea, but apparently lacked sufficient planning, management and financing to steer the theme concept in the direction originally intended.





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