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.
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Great summary. What a privilege it was to be alive in those times.
Wow-—that’s an oldie.
“Memories are made of this.”
Thanks for the ping!
Loved Disneyland...still have some “E” tickets saved, somewhere. Also loved the log ride at Knott’s Berry Farm.