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7 Theme Parks That Inspired Disneyland

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Since opening in 1955, Disneyland has inspired new theme parks and attractions all around the world. But before the “Mickey Mouse Park” was a twinkle in his eye, Walt Disney drew inspiration from many different theme parks.

1. Electric Park, 1899-1925 — Kansas City, MO

Image courtesy of Yaxy 2011, used under Creative Commons license

Though Disney spent much of his youth in Chicago, in 1911 his family moved to Kansas City, home to Electric Park. According to Walt Disney’s Missouri, the second version of the amusement park (which opened in 1907) was located only 15 blocks north of the Disney home on East 31st Street. Walt and his younger sister Ruth often visited the park, which shot off fireworks at closing time each night, together.

Disney seems to have drawn inspiration from the nightly fireworks as well as the train system that circled Electric Park, which Disney would bring to his own park in the form of the Disneyland Railroad (1955).

2. Griffith Park, 1937-Present — Griffith Park, CA

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According to Walt Disney’s recollections, the Eureka moment for Disneyland struck while sitting on a park bench watching his daughters ride the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. He pondered what it might be like to have an amusement park where parents and children could partake in youthful enjoyment together. In "History is Bunk": Historical Memories at Henry Ford’s Green Village, Disney is quoted as saying, “What this country really needs is an amusement park that families can take their children to.”

On opening day at Disneyland, he’d echo this message, saying, “Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” Perhaps because of the warm feelings elicited by the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, the King Arthur Carrousel (1955) would become one of Disney’s favorite attractions at his own theme park.

3. Henry Ford’s Museum and Greenfield Village, 1929-Present — Dearborn, MI

Image courtesy of The Henry Ford Museum

In 1940, Walt Disney made his first trip to Greenfield Village, a historically-themed amusement park designed to depict period environments from the 17th century onward. There, he visited with students and posed for a tintype photo. Quite taken with the park, he visited once again in 1948 with animator Ward Kimball on a side trip while traveling to Chicago for a Railroad Fair.

On the way back from the trip, Disney wrote a memo to production designer Dick Kelsey which took ideas from Greenfield. “The Main Village, which includes the Railroad Station, is built around a village green or informal park,” Disney wrote in the memo. He continued on to describe an opera house, movie theater, horse car, magic shop, and kids' clothing store. These ideas would be realized with Main Street, U.S.A., a nostalgia-inducing turn of the century-inspired street that continues to serve as Disney’s main hub.

4. Beverly Park, 1946-1974 — Beverly Hills, CA

David Bradley, whose wife Bernice worked in story research at Disney Studios, bought and opened Beverly Park, a small theme park on Beverly and La Cienega Boulevards in Beverly Hills (the current site of shopping center Beverly Center) in 1946. Through Bernice, David was introduced to Walt Disney, who began picking his brain and showing Bradley his plans for a theme park of his own. Bradley went on to consult for Disney and was instrumental in some of Disneyland’s signature characteristics. To name a couple, he convinced Disney to build Main Street at a reduced scale and introduce themed photo ops to the park.

5. Tivoli Gardens, 1843-Present — Copenhagen, Denmark

Image courtesy of Malte Hübner, public domain

One of Copenhagen’s most famous attractions, Tivoli Gardens, drew Disney’s attention in 1951 when he visited with his good friend (and TV personality) Art Linkletter. Linkletter later spoke about the experience, describing Disney as taking notes about everything from the rides to the food that was served at Tivoli. The park featured twinkle lights and a variety of outdoor entertainment outlets, characteristics typical of Disneyland’s Main Street. The Danish amusement park was also known to be very clean and orderly, something Disney was determined to translate to his ‘land.

6. Children’s Fairyland, 1948-Present — Oakland, CA

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As the story goes, while Disney was visiting Oakland, California's Children’s Fairyland, he asked to contribute a cartoon to a wall of the park and, when given permission, drew Mickey Mouse. He would also hire the first director of Fairyland, Dorothy Manes, to work as youth director of Disneyland, a post she held from 1955 to 1972.

Fairyland is also home to an attraction based on Alice in Wonderland, which supposedly influenced Disneyland’s dark ride of the same name that opened in 1958.

7. Madurodam, 1952-Present — The Hague, Netherlands

Image courtesy of Staka, used under Creative Commons license

Madurodam opened only a few years before Disneyland with a collection of miniatures depicting famous Dutch castles and other quaint buildings on display. In his book Walt Disney and Europe, author Robin Allan credits Disney’s visit to the Dutch attraction with animator and Imagineer Bill Cottrell with influencing the creation of the Fantasyland Storybook Land Canal Boats, which take guests on boat rides past miniature depictions of scenes from Disney films.

And Four More Potential Inspirations...

World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893 — Chicago, IL

Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Before Disney was born, his father Elias was a construction worker at the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) in Chicago. Though Walt didn’t visit the Exposition himself—he wouldn’t be born until seven years after it closed—he spent much of his childhood in the Windy City and was likely intrigued by stories of the fair, which featured the first Ferris Wheel (named after designer George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.), an elevated train, and moving sidewalks.

Disneyland would include its own selection of elevated trains, including the PeopleMover (1967-1995) and the Disneyland Monorail (1959).

Eden Springs Park, 1930s-Present — Benton Harbor, MI

Disney was always fascinated by trains. When he was young, his uncle Michael Martin was a train conductor, and in his later years one of his most prized possessions was his live steam miniature backyard Carolwood Pacific Railroad.

It is rumored that Walt Disney may have visited Eden Springs Park and purchased a miniature train built by House of David religious community members, which he took back to California to study.

Playland at the Beach, 1926-1972 — San Francisco, CA

Image courtesy of James R. Smith, used under Creative Commons license

A year before Disneyland opened, Disney traveled to Northern California to visit Playland at the Beach, a San Francisco attraction put together by brothers George and Leo Whitney. George Whitney’s son, George K. Whitney, would become Director of Ride Operations at Disneyland (and the park's seventh employee) after being personally recruited by Disney.

Knott’s Berry Farm, 1940-Present — Buena Park, CA

Image courtesy of METRO96, used under Creative Commons license

Though Walter Knott and Walt Disney owned competing amusement parks just several miles from each other, they had an apparently cordial relationship with one another.

In the 1940s, Knott’s Berry Farm was home to a Bottle House and Music Hall, which had a collection of Swiss birdcages filled with automaton birds that made whistling noises. Some speculate that Walt Disney gained inspiration from these birds for his own Audio-Animatronics and, more specifically, the Enchanted Tiki Room (1963).

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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