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.