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The Massacre at Pleasureland: A Story About The Most Haunted Place You’ve Never Heard Of


screenshot via Oakland NJ Town

Earlier this morning, I wrote an article about Johnny Knoxville’s new movie Action Point, which is based on the infamous New Jersey waterpark Action Park — a park that was known for its sketchy rides, drunken staff and the people it killed. Yes, killed. But as I was writing, it occurred to me that Hollywood made a movie about the wrong legendary New Jersey park.

They should have made a movie about Pleasureland.

Pleasureland was different than Action Park in many ways, most notably that is was older, smaller, and far less popular. While Action Park was one of the most famous amusement parks in the country at its time, Pleasureland Park remained largely unheard of.

Situated in deep in the sticks of Oakland, New Jersey, the remains of Pleasureland Park were merely a couple of miles from my house growing up. And one summer, when I was maybe 11 or 12, we decided to venture in. If you’ve ever seen Stand By Me, it was basically the same thing, except subtract the dead guy and add LG flip phones: just me, a couple buddies, and a coming-of-age adventure into the woods.

Growing up, the legend was that Pleasureland Park was shut down after a gang of Rastafarians (yes, seriously, Rastafarians) busted in and shot the place up. And remember, this was before the time of smartphones, so it wasn’t like you could just quickly Google the park’s history like you can today. So we hopped on our bikes and into the forest to find out exactly what was behind the myth of Pleasureland.

However, the point of this story isn’t what happened that day — you bet your ass no one ventured in there at night — because nothing really did. The point of this story is what happened before we ever got there … what actually happened at Pleasureland Park.

As it turns out, all the tall tales we heard when we were kids were essentially true.

According to the New York Times, on August 5, 1985, gunmen open fired at Pleasureland Park, killing two and wounding another nine. As the story goes, the gunfire rained down for minutes as thousands of panicked pool-goers fled the park.

via NY Times:

Three of the nine suffered critical gunshot wounds, and 11 others were injured when terrified bystanders stormed and battered down an 8-foot chain-link fence to escape the gunfire spraying through the recreation complex in Oakland, N.J., 25 miles northwest of midtown Manhattan.

At a late evening news conference, the Bergen County Prosecutor, Larry J. McClure, said one of the slain men, whom he declined to identify, was the driver of a chartered bus and an innocent bystander who had died at the scene of the shootings. The second victim, identified as Hopeton Reid, about 28, died at 10:33 P.M. while in surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Paterson. He had been shot in the neck.

Following the attack, Oakland police went on a frantic search for the for the suspects, eventually arresting six people and seizing 24 guns, including two Uzi submachine guns, and a variety of knives and machetes. However, while the six people arrested were charged with weapons violations, it was unclear if they were suspects in the massacre.

At the time, police received conflicting reports of what happened, as authorities had ”no information to confirm that there were groups involved,” or that drugs played any role in the shootings.

While one Oakland officer said it appeared to have been a “gunfight between rival gangs”, some witnesses stated that the gunmen seemed to be shooting at random into the crowds. Furthermore, others suggested that an individual man who ”went nuts” began the firing, which was returned by others.

”A gunfight took place between a number of individuals,” Mr. McClure said at the news conference at Oakland Police Headquarters. ”We are trying to piece together what happened.”

Regardless of why it happened, once it did, “pandemonium broke loose,” said to the Prosecutor.

The park — a private, heavily wooded, 40-acre area of swimming pools, picnic areas and sports facilities — was shutt down after the shooting, receding back into nature as time went on. If you go there today, local kids will still tell you they mess around at Pleasureland during the summer, as it’s drained pools provide for excellent skating and biking ground. But even to this day, over thirty years after The Massacre at Pleasureland happened , you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone — kid, adult, or otherwise — willing to venture those woods at night.

You can read the entire archived 1985 report about The Massacre at Pleasureland on the New York Times here.

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