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Looking Back To The Pleasure Island Era

A large theme park meant to rival Disney once stood across Reedy Meadow on what is now a Wakefield office park. It drew everything from world-famous celebrities to noise complaints from Lynnfield residents.

Back in 1959, Lynnfield found itself with a very large and high-profile new neighbor that is still fondly remembered by many locals of a certain age. Today, notwithstanding the Route 128 exit in Wakefield that bears its name to this day, it can be hard for the casual observer to tell that Pleasure Island was ever even there.

An office park sits on the site now, abutting Reedy Meadow. Still, the memories of the place live on, with help from resources like the Friends of Pleasure Island website. Occasional walking tours of the site led by local author and historian Bob McLaughlin have also proven very popular, indicating the fond memories many still bear for this place.

McLaughlin is the author of the Images of America book on Pleasure Island and also the one on Freedomland, a comparable theme park from the era that was in New York. He is currently working on another book, this one about Colorado's Magic Mountain theme park, which closed in 1960 and soon ended up having some of its rides sold to the very first Six Flags park in Texas.

Noise Complaints From Lynnfield

In a recent interview with Lynnfield Patch, McLaughlin talked about some of the town's connections to this one-time landmark on the other side of the meadow. The first thing he cited was an article in the Wakefield Item from August 28, 1959 bearing the headline "Lynnfield Residents Complain About Noises From Pleasure Island."

According to that story, about 150 residents of the Glen Meadow section of Lynnfield presented a petition to the town board of selectmen demanding "to have something done about the noise" from the amusement park. Some of the noises cited were tooting horns, shooting guns (from the cowboys), a rattling train and music, sometimes running until 10 p.m.

An attorney for the residents, Harvey S. Macullar, a Drury Lane resident, reportedly told selectmen his clients were "up in arms" about the whole thing. In response, the president of Pleasure Island, William S. Hawkes, actually attended that selectmen's meeting 53 years ago and reported that "the train whistle has been eliminated and all firing of guns except for .22 calibre pistols has been ceased after 8 p.m."  Further, Hawkes reported to the residents and selectmen that the volume of the outdoor show's sound system, which ran until 8:15 p.m., was reduced, and "the ringing of all bells has been stopped in the Engine City section of the park after that time." A joint meeting of Wakefield and Lynnfield selectmen was even proposed. Unfortunately for the residents, Select Board Chairman Ross F. Coon and the other members determined the matter was out of their jurisdiction - although they also raised the idea of a restraining order request that could then bring the matter into the courts.

"Similar calls to the Lynnfield Police have been referred to the Wakefield Police since it was out of the Lynnfield officials' province," added the report.

According to McLaughlin, the staged cowboy gunfights at the park meant that up to 1,000 blanks per day were being fired. Actors would also routinely stage a train robbery, while other features included a couple of boat rides, a couple of dark rides, stagecoaches, and much more.

At least one piece of all of this lives on - McLaughlin said that the former steam train at Pleasure Island, whose tracks ran around the current Edgewater Office Park, now resides at the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum in Maine - and that it remains operational.

While the Lynnfield residents got only partial relief from the noise that summer, it really didn't turn out to be a very long-term problem for them. That's because Pleasure Island was troubled from the start, and it was closed a decade later. As McLaughlin noted, this park existed during a transitional time in U.S. history, conceived during the Leave It To Beaver/Father Knows Best era and closing down during the Vietnam/Woodstock era.

Other Lynnfield Connections

Another connection to the town, noted McLaughlin, would be the many Lynnfield teenagers who worked at the park during its existence. Also, the park eventually expanded its "Wakefield Night" promotion to a "Wakefield-Lynnfield Day" where locals could get discounted tickets ($1.50 for adults, $1.25 for children, as opposed to $3.25 and $2.75). "When you have a party you invite your neighbor," said McLaughlin, although the addition of Lynnfield to the promotion may have also been a response to the noise complaints.

"It failed because the land was more valuable than the business," said McLaughlin, also noting that the project was over budget from the start, and was essentially bankrupt early into its existence. By the time the park closed in 1969, McLaughlin noted, customers were able to find much bigger roller coaster options at other, newer parks, and the first season, there was also the rampant problem of children sneaking into the park. The park had four owners in its 11-year history.

The Stooges, Herman Munster, And Bozo

While they do not have much, if anything, of a Lynnfield angle, the numerous celebrities who performed and visited at the park provide many more interesting details. For example, McLaughlin reports that Ricky Nelson made his first New England appearance at the park in 1962, while the Three Stooges came and stayed at the Lord Wakefield Hotel. Another celebrity of the era, Don Ameche, would also stay at the Lord Wakefield (The Colonial hadn't been built yet) and would attend mass daily at St. Joseph's Church in that town while visiting. The park also hosted a jazz festival at one point where Ella Fitzgerald performed.

Other prominent celebrities who came to Pleasure Island over the years included country music singer/sausage king Jimmy Dean, Robert Horton (the original Bozo the Clown) and Fred Gwynn - known at that time for his role in "Car 54 Where Are You?" before going on to become Herman Munster in "The Munsters."

Gerry MacDonald February 09, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Great piece on Pleasure Island
Don February 09, 2012 at 01:34 PM
The Pleasure Island Casino and Entertainment Center. Has a nice ring to it.
William Laforme (Editor) February 09, 2012 at 01:47 PM
It does - although it also sounds a bit like the island Bruce Lee had to fight his way off of in "Enter The Dragon!" - Bill L.

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