Issue 7 Failure Summer 2002

The Short, Sad Life of Danny the Dragon

Dirk Libeer

Danny the Dragon, touted as the "monster with a heart of gold," was one of the star attractions of Freedomland, which opened its doors in June 1960. Built at a cost of $33 million in the Bronx, Freedomland is considered one of the greatest failures in amusement park history. The size of Disneyland but shaped like the continental US, the theme park had areas corresponding to America's geography and history. These included "Chicago, 1871," "San Francisco, 1906," "The Old Southwest, 1890," and "Little Old New York, 1850–1900." A few days after opening, a stagecoach overturned, injuring ten people and garnering much bad press. But that was not the park's most pressing problem. Word of mouth quickly spread that the half-finished Free­domland was boring. The "attractions" at Freedomland included a Pony Express rider who changed horses; firemen who put out one building of the Great Chicago Fire; a "futuristic moving sidewalk" which was little more than a horizontal escalator across a small lake; a mule-driven merry-go-round; and a mysterious tunnel from San Francisco to the old Southwest.

Having lost $5 million dollars a year for three years, the desperate management tried to salvage the situation by installing "thrill" rides, but it was too late. Freedomland filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 1964. The site is now home to Co-op City.

Danny the Dragon was bought by the Great Escape in Lake George, New York, where he was repainted and put to use. At the end of 1996, Danny was finally taken out of service and currently sits by his lonely self on the back road in the amusement park's maintenance area.

    Cabinet wishes to thank Rob Friedman for his assistance. His website at ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/robfriedman (link defunct—Eds.) is dedicated to the history of Freedomland. Much thanks also to The Journal of Ride Theory, whose "Bad Ideas" issue was a valuable source for compiling the information above. JoRT is available by writing to Box 2044, Portland, OR 97208.

Dirk Libeer remembers Danny from when he was a boy.

Cabinet is a non-profit organization supported by the Lambent Foundation, the Orphiflamme Foundation, the New York Council on the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Katchadourian Family Foundation, Goldman Sachs Gives, the Danielson Foundation, and many generous individuals. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation by visiting here.