Skip to comments.Writer Recalls Opening of Disneyland
Posted on 07/17/2005 6:30:46 AM PDT by Liz
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP (AP) -- When Walt Disney built Disneyland, he supervised every aspect of planning and construction - right down to the paint color inside the railroad station. But there were a couple of things he couldn't control at the opening 50 years ago: the temperature and the turnout.
The sun rose bright and glowing in a cloudless sky on that Sunday, and the mercury climbed higher and higher. By early morning, all roads leading to the park were clogged. Thousands poured through the turnstiles, more than twice as many as had been invited.
The heat and the crowds, along with a Magic Kingdom full of other problems, contributed to what will forever after be called Black Sunday in the Disney organization.
Long lines formed at the rides, forcing visitors to stand in the sweltering sun. Later it was discovered that counterfeit tickets had been used by the uninvited. Adding to the congestion, crashers scrambled over fences and berms in remote areas of the park.
Several of the rides shut down because of overuse, and by the end of the day all the "Autopia" cars had been sidelined. The deck of the river boat Mark Twain was awash; too many passengers had climbed aboard. And a gas leak was discovered in Tomorrowland, forcing evacuation of the entire area.
Refreshment stands quickly ran out of food and drink, and there were few drinking fountains. Women's spiked heels sank into the newly laid asphalt on Main Street. Families waited in long lines to use toilets. A saboteur snipped electrical lines in Fantasyland, bringing all rides to a halt.
Survivors of Black Sunday retain vivid memories of that day, including Disney consultant Harrison "Buzz" Price, who chose the then-sleepy agricultural town of Anaheim as the location for Disneyland.
"I was on the bridge that led to Sleeping Beauty's Castle, and it was full of people," he recalls. "We couldn't move. and the asphalt was sticky. I looked down and saw Frank Sinatra, and he was cursing."
Bob Kurr, designer of the vehicles for Main Street, had been assigned by Disney to oversee "Autopia," a miniature freeway with real gasoline-powered cars.
"It was hotter 'n hell and these cars were suffering from the typical gasoline vapor lock," Kurr remembers.
Walt Disney knew little about the snafus, since he was busy on the live ABC-TV broadcast with his fellow master of ceremonies Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan. The next day he read devastating reviews in the newspapers and heard dismaying reports from his staff.
"Walt was furious," Price recalls. "In a helluva hurry, he fired Woody, the guy who built the park in 18 months."
Woody was C.V. Wood, a former U.S. Army general. While opening day was crumbling, Price says, "Woody was upstairs mixing a lot of mint juleps for his staff; it was kinda like firing-squad day."
Disney's damage control was immediate.
"Walt was personally around the park every day that first week, looking into every situation and then getting something done about it," Kurr says.
He also was mending fences with the press, hosting small groups of reporters and editors for dinner and a tour of Disneyland.
One reporter had suggested that Disneyland had skimped on drinking fountains in order to sell soft drinks. Disney called her and explained, off the record, that a local plumbers strike had been settled shortly before opening day. He had to decide between toilets and drinking fountains.
Within seven weeks, thanks in part to months of national build-up on ABC's "Disneyland" TV show, the park had attracted a million visitors - 30 percent more than had been predicted. And they were spending 30 percent more money than predicted.
Realizing that swarms of journalists from around the world would be reporting about opening day, I decided to try something a little different: How would Disneyland look through the eyes of a pair of young girls?
With the aid of a park publicist, my daughters Nancy and Janet were treated to a tour of the brand-new park dressed in their pastel Easter dresses.
Nancy, who was almost 7, has vivid memories of the old-fashioned railroad that circles the property - "the first train ride of my life" - and the jungle boat "where the guide would crack jokes and make the most of the `threatening' moments."
Janet, who was only 3 1/2, understandably has little recall of that day, although she does remember her shoes "sticking in the hot asphalt and thinking that was great fun."
Editor's note: The author has been covering the world of entertainment for The Associated Press for more than 60 years, including Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955.
Purchase this AP story for reprint (link at web site).
As a kid, all the way until I was in my late 30s, I loved Disneyland and the entire concept of Disney. But the "homosexuali-zation" of Disney, combined with its PC-ness soured me. Too bad. They lost a terrific customer. Not that I "boycott" it, but we used to always FIRST consider Disney vacations. Not any more.
You are not alone........I believe they dumped Eisner so as to get the true believers back in the parks.
Poor old Bob Thomas. A square peg in the round hole called AP. Good article, though.
I hope so...I love Disney (proposed to my wife in Cinderella's Rose Garden in WDW) but hate eisner and everything he's done to the concept...poor Walt is rolling in his grave.
Walt's corpse is cryogenically preserved under one of the rides there, y'know.
They've got a bundle of copper wire wrapped around it.
Its spinning acts as a generator on Gay Day.
Favorite early Disneyland ride =
Rocket to the Moon ride
A fantasy that soon became reality just 14 years later
1st Man to walk on Earth's Moon was American Eagle Scout NEIL ARMSTRONG
1st Man to walk on the Planet Mars in this new LIBERTY Century will soon be American Eagle Scout _____ _______ ?
They have to dump more than eisner, th company is infested with tommy hilfiger wanna-bes that have taken the cartoon out of the business.
DISNEY's MICHAEL EISNER =
Close Friend of the CLINTONS
Yeah, "Bruce and the boys" were all hand-picked by Eisner (smirk).
I had heard his brother is. I know for a fact the ones who ruined the merchandise division are.
I will NEVER FORGET being blessed to work in TOMORROWLAND's 'Space Bar' snack stand sitting at the base of Matterhorn Mountain. This was during my 1961 summer break in between my Freshman and Sophomore years at Loyola University of Los Angeles, now Loyola-Marymount.
A Summer that also saw my former Rancho Alamitos High School co-attendee STEVE MARTIN taking his dinner breaks in our break area right behind the 'Space Bar' ...away from his working the 'Enchanted Tiki Room.'
The Tiki Room was where STEVE first picked up his "Well, Excuuuuse Me" comic routine line. Seems a lady from the South and her kids were clogging up the aisle way instead of finding their seats. When white-uniformed show host STEVE came up to invite them to quickly take their seats so the show could begin, out came her now famous .."Well, Excu....." reply.
In high school as a Senior student leader, I had had the opportunity to help a resolution thru our Student Council to ask the Principal to double our monthly School Assemblies
...just so we could get one very funny Freshman STEVE MARTIN up there to entertain us with his early 'Saturday Night Live' type routines every 2 weeks instead of 4.
STEVE MARTIN was obviously THAT good from the very start and worth all the support we could give him.
For the pleasure, you see, really was ...all ours:
I will also NEVER FORGET my reaction to our U.S. 7th Cavalry's being shipped thru the Panama Canal 40 years ago, exactly, on our way to the 1st Major Jungle Battles of the Vietnam War...
...seeing just how Mother Nature had gotten the jungles on our sides right.
Why, they were just like dear Uncle WALT's 'Jungle Boat Ride' in ADVENTURELAND..!!
I remember seeing the fireworks every night from our back yard...especially on the Fourth. They used to hold huge parties (Spring Fling) after regular park hours with a band and dancing in every one of the lands for young adults and the place was packed.
I wonder how many people remember or even know what the term "E" ticket experience means (They had A-B-C-D and E tickets for the rides. The best rides in the park required an "E" ticket to get on.
As I recall it was also near the Monorail station, Autopia, the Submarine ride and the rocket ship
From today's Orange County Register:
'50 Years of MAGIC'
Great memory there, lewislynn.
TOMORROWLAND, what a great place to be? Right down thar amomgst them future cars, submarines and rockets...
...as well as Unlce WALT's kids of all ages.
Thank you so much for sharing this!
I wonder if they still hand out free copies of The Constitution at the City Hall.
After his attending Garden Grove, California's Rancho Alamitos High School during his Freshman & Sophomore years...
STEVE MARTIN attended Garden Grove High School during his Junior & Senior years...
...after school boundaries changed with the addition of new High Schools in the District.
While in High School he entertained at Disneyland's 'Golden Horseshoe Saloon' in FRONTIERLAND as well as in the 'Enchanted Tiki Room' and on ADVENTURELAND's 'Jungle Boat Ride.'
STEVE went on to entertain at nearby Knott's Berry Farm's Bird Cage Theater, with his banjo, during his Long Beach State College years.
And "The Jerk" NEVER looked back.
But, unfortunately, with the continued slide of American societal norms and behaviors down the toilet, Disney had to remove that ride, as there was just too much stuff being thrown/spit down onto others below.
Anyone know when they were removed?
Many thanks for the great links----wonderful Disney retrospective.
They should really write an article about the first kid killed on one of their rides. That place is a deathtrap!
WDW, Fla as well----several people have died there---a kid drowned in the swan lake bordering the castle.
Hi Ronnie, I remember my first trip, shortly after it opened...it cost $6.00! Remember the "e" tickets?
Didn't Steve Martin perform at that Pepsi Review, not the Tiki thing?
You're very welcome for everything, Liz.
T'is such good fun reliving the fond Disneyland Memories of my youth on its 50th Anniversay.
I even got to meet WALT DISNEY himself during my first visit there.
Simply amazing stuffies.
Think I'll bookmark your wonderful thread.
At Disneyland's 'Enchanted Tiki Room' STEVE MARTIN wore a white trainer's uniform and cap, assembling each new crowd into their seats for the mechanical singing birds show.
Very similiar, actually, to what he did at the helm of his 'Jungle Boat Ride' boat.
Only on that one STEVE also fired a gun with blanks at encroaching open mouthed Rino's.
I grew up in a house on a hill which faced south toward Disneyland. Even though they were about 10 miles away, the fireworks could be seen (and heard) every summer night at 9 o'clock.
I wonder how many people remember or even know what the term "E" ticket experience means
The junk drawer in the kitchen was full of A and B tickets, some C's and D's, but there were never any leftover E tickets. For some reason we just weren't hip on racing over to the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. I don't recall what ticket was needed to get to Tom Sawyer's Island, but we only went once and decided that the smell of urine wasn't all that appealing.
The 70's was an interesting time in Disneyland operations. The train passed by undeveloped areas of the park, and for years the recorded message dangled the carrot of "future expansion". Well for all my youth that expansion never came, so I learned to be cynical of promises from a young age. :-)
Many of the rides and programs (Tiki Room still around?) were already dated or showing their age (the Jungle Ride was pretty decrepit), so it was a huge deal when they finally got around to building Space Mountain. At least before the thrill wore off, it lessened the line at the Matterhorn. Of course, the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House seemed timeless in their appeal, even if the transportation of the future (the slug-paced Peoplemover) was often broken down and closed for repair. LOL.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
I'll NEVER FORGET all those wonderful 'Date Nite at Disneyland' ballroom dances we used to have at the Carnation Plaza set in between the entrances to FRONTIERLAND and Sleeping Beauty's castle.
The Disneyland Head of Park Entertainment was none other than the same Mr. Gruder of 'The CARPENTERS' ..'Mr. Gruder'.. song. Seems he had heard them early on and then didn't hire them for the Park.
Years later in 1977 'The CARPENTERS' told their audience about him during their sold out concert at the Anaheim Convention Center parked right across the street from the Entrance to Disneyland.
T'was a bit of told ya so time, USA
Thanks for posting this.
A nice reminder that sometimes, things do get better.
It seems like they had them every weekend after regular park hours.
Musta been so nice way back when.......in contrast to the moral and cultural breakdown of today.
Thanks for listening, CP.
The Real Deal WALT DISNEY gave us all such real happiness.
Happiness we are celebrating today.
I too will NEVER FORGET those Rock Bands that came up to the TOMORROWLAND Dance Area Stage and then went back down underground for their breaks.
A new large Entertainment and Snack Area that had replaced my original 'Space Bar' Snack Shop Area.
What great fun it was.
Pepsi Review =
FRONTIERLAND's Golden Horseshoe Saloon..?
I too will NEVER FORGET those Rock Bands that came up to the TOMORROWLAND Dance Area Stage and then went back down underground for their breaks.Oddly enough the thing that impressed me most was everything you didn't see...An amazing hidden infrastructure..no delivery trucks, no employees sitting around on breaks, no characters in partial uniform etc.
A DISNEY Company...
...not run under the command and influence of some very powerful Friends of the CLINTONS...
...i.e. President MICHAEL EISNER and Chairman of the Board GEORGE MITCHELL...
...was indeed a transforming happy time for kids of all ages.
And 5 minutes after closing time there were always those fire hoses the public never saw hosing down all the then darkened streets ..clean as a whistle.
That was a real trip having to dodge the water jets while walking out to our cars parked out there in the employees' parking lot late at night on a warm summer's night.
Such fond memories gliding thru my mind this night.
Those were the days before interstate highways. The few kids in my grade school who got to goto Disneyland were mini-celebrities. My parents couldn't afford a cross-country car trip with 5 kids.
When my son graduated from high school, we went to Orlando and went to Walt Disney World. Honest to pete, when I got off the ferry and stood in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, I started crying. I was 38 years old, and almost all my life I had wanted to see the Disney park.
I haven't been back since the mid-90's, but I hope to go with my grandkids in the next couple of years. I want to go on the Peter Pan ride and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Thanks for the memories, all!
Such fond memories gliding thru my mind this night.Mine too but not just of Disneyland but of those fantastic times in Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Balboa, Orange County and Southern California in general...
BTW, I too am a Viet Nam vet. Vung Tau (know where that is?) Feb. 10 1967 thru May 9 1968
I never made it to those beautiful long white sandy beaches of Vung Tau, my friend. Just everywhere in Vietnam's Central Highlands.
Thank you for selflessly fighting for the Freedom of others.
LOVE is coming to Vietnam.
The OC = The Greatest
And WALT DISNEY knew it first.
And now the 1st Vietnamese American State Legislator to take office in U.S. History, California State Assemblyman VAN TRAN, has introduced a Bill that will protect places like Disneyland better in this new Time of War.
It will allow City Councils to meet in closed session to discusss the vulnerabilities of privately-owned parks and malls' against terrorist attacks, just like they do now for Public Places.
This is a good thing, a very good thing.
ASSEMBLYMAN VAN TRAN's Assembly Website:
Fascinating! Thank you for sharing!
You're very Welcome, Alamo-Girl.
It's been a real kick sharing with you today, on this the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland.
Just Wising on a Star...
It has been illuminating for us, too! Thank you so very much!