“To all who come to this happy place, welcome!”
That’s one quote you probably don’t need to be a Disney buff to remember.
“They can drink Coke and Pepsi, but they can’t pee in the streets.”
And there’s one even Disney buffs might not have heard.
Both were uttered by Mr. Walt Disney in regards to the dedication of his Disneyland theme park in July, 1955. The first embodied Walt’s starry-eyed vision for the place. The second, his sheer practicality.
Like any other red-blooded American dad, I’m a huge fan of Disney (select aspects of it anyway– I don’t care for its modern teeny-bopper fluff).
More accurately, I’m a huge fan of Disneyana. I love Disney’s old-school classic movies and Pixar’s new-school masterpieces, too. I love the origins, the vision, the theme parks and the philosopies that inspired them.
I find the history of the theme parks especially fascinating. Disneyland, in particular. If you’ve ever taken your kids to Disneyland, you’ll probably agree that once you get your head past the cost of admission and the annoyances of the crowds, it’s a pretty magical place.
But I’ll let you in on a secret– one that may shock you to your core: It wasn’t always sunshine and lollipops at “The Happiest Place On Earth.” At least not on “Dedication Day.”
July 17, 1955 is a big deal in theme park history. In just over a year, Walt Disney had transformed a non-descript orange grove into a 160 acre wonderland. The dedication was attended by throngs of reporters, celebrities, and movie stars. ABC broadcast the event live. It was magical.
It was also a disaster.
Wired.com posted a piece last week about what Walt Disney and team would later refer to as “Black Sunday.” From the article:
“…some of the rides (there were only 20 at the time) broke down. Filled beyond its capacity, the ferryboat sank. A gas leak fouled Fantasyland. A plumbers’ strike meant the drinking fountains didn’t work (though the toilets did).”
The second Walt quote above referenced this last point and is explained in a short video Wired put together about Black Sunday: