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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Defunct Amusement Park: Pleasure Island

It's a shame that I was born too late to visit Pleasure Island--an amusement park close to my hometown that went out of business in 1969, three years before I was born. The irony is that I worked there in the mid-90s, as the location is now home to a business park. Taking my daily lunchtime walk around the small lake, I had no idea that it was once home to Moby Dick, a giant mechanical whale meant to emulate the one that Herman Melville made famous, or that Captain Kid once guarded his ship there and posed for pictures with kids. However, the memories of Pleasure Island are so vivid to those locals who enjoyed it that there's a pretty extensive website dedicated to its memory.
Billed as the "Disneyland of the east," Pleasure Island opened in 1959 in the Boston suburb of Wakefield, Massachusetts (the exit for it off the highway is still called Pleasure Island Road.) In fact, the "island" was designed by Disneyland's developer, Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood, and founded by William Hawkes, the publisher of Child Life magazine. Pleasure Island was unique in that it mixed a taste of the wild West with the swashbuckling high seas. Some of the attractions included a Stagecoach Ride, the Pirate Ride, the Burro Trail, Moby Dick Ride, Indian Village, Captain Kid's Pirate Cove, and the Horseless Carriage ride, among many others. The "Showbowl" was where entertainment usually played, and the biggest names who appeared at Pleasure Island were Rick Nelson, The Modernaires, The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Michael Landon, The Three Stooges, Don Ameche, and Lassie! There was also a petting zoo, a shooting gallery, a Western-style saloon, carousel, railroad station, ice cream parlor, and more. 

Costumed actors were a fixture in the park. A recurring theme was when bandits would try to board the train ride to rob the conductor and passengers. They never succeeded, however, because the sheriff always made sure of it by "gunning them down." Corny for sure, but this was during an era when the Lone Ranger was popular.

My parents had many fond memories of taking my siblings to Pleasure Island during the 60s, and was very disappointed when it closed. My mother says that my sister was terrified of Moby Dick, who would rise from the lake during the boat ride, open his mouth to reveal his sharp teeth, and blow water from his spout. As someone who saw (and enjoyed) the movie Jaws when I was only 3 and a half years old, I think I would have dug that ride!

With such a wonderful array of attractions for families to enjoy and see, you may be wondering why the park went out of business: it was the New England weather. Only open during the seasonal summer months, Pleasure Island eventually couldn't keep up with the expenses of running it, and closed in 1969. A string of poor management may have contributed to its demise as well. 

I grew up going to Canobe Lake Park in nearby Salem, NH but visiting the Pleasure Island tribute site definitely makes me wish I could have been there. I can only experience it through the many photos found on the site, some of which I've posted here. There's too many original photographers credited, so if these belong to any readers who come across this post, just let me know and I'll credit you. 


  1. Very cool babe!! This park reminds me of one in Iowa called Adventureland, that my aunt and uncle used to take me to when I'd visit during the summer. ((sigh)) most kids these days just don't know what kind of wholesome family goodness they're missing out on. Such innocent, simple, yet immensely shows and attractions these parks used to feature! Bravo on this post Pammy!!

  2. Thanks, Darrin! You know what's amazing, amusement parks didn't need big, fast, scary rides back then to entertain people...sometimes that wholesome family goodness works best. The website has waaaay more images than I could ever include in a post, and it's sad looking at the ones that were taken after the park closed and the fixtures began to fall apart. I still cannot believe I actually worked in that location for a few years.

  3. A shame you missed it Pam. 10 years older, I remember them well and parks nowadays have more concrete than character. I agree on the management thing; similar to Pleasure Island, Cedar Point on Lake Erie is well over 100 years old, survived only by growing; it now owns many parks. I can still find a little of the original character though. I loved what are famously called "Dark Rides" where you rode a car through, say, the San Francisco earthquake; Great for a date. Good post. Thx. s-a-h-d

  4. What a wonderful trip back to another time. Wish there were still places like that around.

  5. It certainly sounds like an interesting and fun place. I love all the pictures of it. We went to Wild West City in Northern New Jersey when we were kids and they had the stagecoach ride too. I can't remember if there was a corny hold up of it though - maybe. I agree with you and Darrin about simple amusement parks being just as good as the big ones. I wish that I had a time machine and could take us back to Pleasure Island and other such defunct places.

  6. This is so cool except that Moby Dick looks pretty scary.

  7. Who would not be scared of the grewat white whale jumping out of the water after them? Great post. Loved the photos of the park. Darrin: Yes, here in Iowa, Adventureland (near Des Moines) is still a big place to go. Seems like they add a new ride or entertainment center every other year or so. I'm pretty sure that former disc jockey turn radio station owner turned retired gentleman, Frosty Mitchell is a part owner of the park. He does the voice over for the park's radio and television commercials.

  8. Thanks, everyone! Nice to hear that this type of amusement park is still alive and well in some parts. I forgot to mention that Disney World does have a section of its downtown area named Pleasure Island.

  9. What a lovely tribute Pam. It's a shame it went out of business. That Moby Dick ride sounds amazing but I think I would have been a wee bit scared of the big fella - seeing that Jaws scared the daylights out of me when I was a kid. :)

  10. I have a picture of me at 6 or 7 sitting in a teepee, all mum put on it was Pleasure Island, so thought I'd look it up so cool to find it. Whats amazing is that no strangers are in the picture. Try to get that out of a park today. A different life a different time


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