Esther Fricano was Mother Goose, a farm-girl turned entrepreneur who 60 years ago with her husband created Storybook Land from emptiness along the Black Horse Pike and brought nursery rhymes to life for generations of children.
Fricano, of Egg Harbor Township, died Wednesday at age 93 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, family said.
FRICANO, ESTHER - of Egg Harbor Township, passed away peacefully on May 13, 2015 in the comf…
Akin to a true-life fairytale, Fricano’s legacy is a large white castle guarded by giant toy soldiers, the entrance to the amusement park that’s became a favorite of summer vacations and school field trips.
Fricano and her late husband John started Storybook Land in 1955 literally with their own hands, when their children were 2 and 6.
“It all started with a rake and shovel and a couple of hand tools,” her grandson John Fricano III said Friday. “She never let anyone forget the humble roots it all came from, that we all came from.”
Esther and John Fricano Sr. bought five-acres in the Cardiff section of Egg Harbor Township deliberately to tap into Atlantic City-bound traffic.
They cleared the land and built some attractions with nursery rhymes themes.
They gradually expanded the park over the years, adding rides in the 1970s and expanding into more than 20 acres today.
It may be closed for nearly three months out of the year, but employees at Storybook Land do…
"There was nothing on the Black Horse Pike at the time. We wanted to create a different kind of business, something that had to do with children,” she told The Press in 1995.
The business became an Egg Harbor Township landmark like no other--a big white castle with red-tipped towers.
Inside are the Beanstalk Bounce, Bubbles the Coaster, the Tick-Tock Clock Drop and other attractions.
Esther Fricano wore the many hats of a small business owner, but with a nursery-rhyme twist.
She handled the accounting and the books and also dressed up as Mother Goose, scooped ice cream and decorated and furnished the park in a style that included her love of dolls and antiques, family said.
Storybook Land: 64 Years of Family and Fun
Since its opening on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1955, Storybook Land has delighted children of all ages. John and Esther Fricano Sr. founded and operated the park since its birth. Even after her husband's passing in 2009, Esther Fricano continues to be active in its operations, and is now joined by several family members. 2015 marks Storybook Land's 60th year. The following gallery follows its humble beginnings to its enduring success.
She was a prudent businesswoman, smart and sharp, her granddaughter Jess Fricano said.
She was also “an Italian grandmother. She was a very warm, caring person, always smiling, always laughing. And she always spoke her mind,” she said. “And you never left her house hungry.”
She loved dolls. Her collection included Shirley Temple, Barbie and even Kate Middleton.
The business continues to be run hands-on by family members, and Fricano welcomed input from her children and grandchildren.
"We all work as a family, we enjoy everybody's company," she said in 2010, when she was 88. "If they have a suggestion, we listen. Young ideas sometimes are better than old ideas."
Fricano was raised in Vineland and worked on a family farm with her parents and five siblings, according to her obituary.
She graduated from Vineland High School in 1940, worked as a secretary on a poultry farm and married her husband five years later.
“They had a really excellent partnership, not just as parents but as business partner as well,” her granddaughter said. “They were best friends, and husband and wife…They did everything together.”
Even later in life, they walked around Storybook Land together.
Her husband died in February 2009.
The park is closing on Saturday for family, friends and employees to attend Fricano’s service. She is survived by her children JoAnne and John Jr., and grandchildren Jessica “Jess” and John III.