What do you think of when you hear the name "Pleasure Island"?
Well, if you're an animation fan, you might think of that island in "Pinocchio" where the little wooden boys joins all of the other children who can't learn to behave and eventually transform into little donkeys.
Or -- if you're a Walt Disney World fan -- that name might bring to mind that resort's nightclub district. Where -- co-incidentally enough -- adults sometimes have trouble behaving themselves. And -- if they drink enough -- these people also wind up looking like asses.
However, if you're a baby boomer who grew up in New England in the late 1950s / early -- the name "Pleasure Island" can only mean one thing to mind. And that's that Disneyland-esque theme park that used to existed along 128, right outside the town of Wakefield.
"Pleasure Island" 's resemblance to Disneyland was no co-incidence, folks. For that Boston-area theme park was actually designed & built by a bunch of Disneyland expatriates. Hell, the "Pleasure Island" project was actually spearheaded by C.V. Wood, the colorful Texan who -- thanks to his "Can-Do" attitude and his slick salesman ways -- was able to turn Walt's dream into a reality. Transforming an Anaheim orange grove into "The Happiest Place on Earth."
After Disney and Wood had a falling-out in early 1956, C.V. struck out on his own. Attempting to take the lessons that he'd learned while supervising the construction of Disneyland and translating that formula into something that Wood could use to create a series of theme parks around the United States.
Unfortunately, duplicating Disneyland's success proved to be a lot harder than C.V. initially thought. He certainly ran into a lot of problems during the construction of "Pleasure Island." Where -- thanks to a particularly bitterly cold winter -- Wood was forced to use dynamite to blow holes in the frozen swampland the theme park was supposed to be built on, just so that he could pour concrete for the buildings' foundations.
Then there were all the problems that the theme park had with its signature attraction, the "Moby ***" ride. Where guests would board these authentic whale boats and cruise out around a man-made lagoon in search of a 70' long man-made recreation of the "great white whale."
The only problem was that Moby turned out to be a rather temperamental performer. Due to poor engineering on the theme park's special effects team's part, this giant fiber-glass whale wouldn't always work the way he was supposed to. Sometimes he wouldn't come up at all. Other times, Moby would actually come up underneath one of the whale boats. Giving all the guests on board an authentic & unplanned thrill.
Yeah, there are all sorts of entertaining tales associated with "Pleasure Island." And -- if you'd like to hear a few of these stories -- then I suggest that you make your way to the Wakefield Public Library tonight. Where Bob McLaughlin -- the president of the "Friends of Pleasure Island" association -- will be holding an informative talk about the ill-fated theme park this evening in the Beebe Library Lecture Hall from 7 - 9 p.m.
In addition to sharing stories about the park, Bob will also be showing a series of home movie taken at "Pleasure Island." McLaughlin will also be bringing to the stage former PI performer Priscilla DiDonato, who will be playing several songs that she used to perform at the theme park.
This promises to be a most informative & entertaining evening for all you theme park fans out there. I'm told that it will be worth the trip out to Wakefield, MA. just to see all the "artifacts" that the "Friends of Pleasure Island" have collected over the years. These PI memorabilia (which will be on display at the Wakefield Public Library through the end of August) includes a "Pleasure Island " souvenir plate, a horn from the Jenny "Horseless Carriage" ride, a hat & umbrella that feature the "PI" logo, a placemat, bowl and spoon from the theme park's "Hood Ice Cream Parlor" as well as a "Pleasure Island" mug.
Okay. I know. This event may not be something that every Disneyana fan will be able to attend. Or -- for that matter -- be something that would really appeal to most of you folks.
But let's remember that all Disneyland history didn't happen inside of that Anaheim theme park. Or even in Southern California, for that matter. There were a lot of outside factors that influenced Walt's decisions when it came to what he did with Disneyland. And among those factors were C.V. Wood and what he built out in the swamps of Wakefield, MA.
Want to learn more about this story? Then make your way to the Beebe Library Lecture Hall tonight. I know that I'll be there. And I hope to file a report on this event sometime in the not-so-distant future right here on JHM.
For further information on Pleasure Island or the "Friends of Pleasure Island" organization, JHM suggests that you check out this link.