Disneyland Resort
Disneyland Resort

How Counterfeiters Nearly Ruined Opening Day at Disneyland

Disneyland Resort
Disneyland Resort

When ABC television host Art Linkletter greeted viewers from Disneyland on July 17, 1955, he marveled that 15,000 happy visitors were in attendance. Beaming and resplendent in his suit, Linkletter was unaware of the seven-mile gridlock backing up the Santa Ana Freeway, that children who had been trapped in cars for hours were relieving their overtaxed bladders in the parking lot, or that Disney die-hards were so desperate to get in they were literally climbing the walls and fences.

More than 28,000 people laid siege to the meticulously-planned theme park on its opening day, many of them navigating the invitation-only affair by either sneaking in or handing in counterfeit passes when the gate opened at 2:30 p.m. Overcrowded and baking in the blistering 100-degree heat, so much went wrong when Disneyland opened its doors that Walt Disney himself would later label the affair “Black Sunday.”

Disneyland Resort

Though Disney had been plotting a park for decades, its actual construction took place over 365 frenetic days. Built over 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California, Disneyland upended the conventional approach to a carnival atmosphere: it would be educational, inventive, and magical.

“For it the appellation ‘amusement park’ is inadequate,” The New York Times wrote, "for it has no such banalities as roller coasters, Ferris wheels, and dodge-’ems in a milieu of honky-tonk.”

The park would instead attempt to transport guests to a variety of exotic landscapes. Main Street, which welcomed the guests, hosted a variety of shops and attractions circa 1900; Tomorrowland imagined a future in 1986 where trips to the moon were a common occurrence; Fantasyland hosted Disney’s trademark icons like Cinderella and Snow White in a 70-foot-tall castle. At a cost of $17 million, the company had leveraged every financial resource it could—including ABC, which planned to broadcast its opening live, creating an immovable deadline.

Money grew so tight that bare patches of land were covered with weeds and given exotic-sounding names in Latin; the Dumbo ride, which was tested with sandbags, wasn’t operational in time for the opening; character costumes were borrowed from the company’s Ice Capades tour; a two-story high pile of dirt was dubbed Lookout Mountain.

In addition to Mickey and Peter Pan, wet paint and freshly-laid asphalt greeted visitors that day. Reports circulated of women having to abandon their high heels in the molten streets; food and drink inventories at the various concession areas weren’t sufficient for the traffic and depleted quickly; water fountains were in high demand, but a plumber’s strike had limited their number. The swollen population never eased up: Even though the 2:30 p.m. passes expired to make room for guests with a 5:30 p.m. time stamp, no one wanted to leave.

The gate-crashers were only part of the problem. A gas leak closed portions of the park. The night before, someone had cut the power cable to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, an apparent act of sabotage from disgruntled electricians. And the maiden voyage of the Mark Twain riverboat was complicated by the fact that no one knew its maximum capacity. (They found out in a few days, when 500 passengers nearly capsized it.)  

Disneyland Resort

Disney himself wasn’t clued in until later; he was busy with the ABC special, which had an astonishing 90 million people tuning in. Despite some glitches—Linkletter announced a rifle-wielding Davy Crockett as “Cinderella”—the production was surprisingly smooth, with 29 cameras capturing throngs of children running to their favorite attractions and dutifully ignoring any footage of mishaps. Ronald Reagan was a co-host; Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. buzzed by riding small cars in Autopia. ABC, which had been airing the Disneyland variety show, had essentially beamed a 90-minute commercial to a large chunk of the country.

When Disney learned of the mishaps, he invited members of the press back to make up for any shuttered attractions. To ward off counterfeiters, tickets used special backgrounds and patterns that made them harder to replicate. By its seventh week, Disneyland had welcomed over a million guests. It was no honky-tonk milieu but one that enthralled children and fed into the burgeoning automobile-obsessed society. Calling it a magic kingdom wasn’t an exaggeration—provided you didn’t drink too much water before coming.   

Additional Sources: “Disneyland Gets Its Last Touches,” The New York Times, July 9, 1955 [PDF]; “Disneyland Had Nowhere to Go But Up After Debut,” The Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1999; Untitled, Independent Press-Telegram, July 15, 1955.

Pop Culture
The Princess Ride: Here's What a Princess Bride Theme Park Attraction Might Look Like

Do you fight the urge to say “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” when introducing yourself? Have you spent the past 30 years mispronouncing the word “marriage”? If so, you may be a diehard fan of The Princess Bride. The cult film (and the book on which it’s based) has inspired board games, merchandise, and countless pop culture references. Now, two theme park designers from Universal have conceived the inconceivable. As Nerdist reports, Jon Plsek and Olivia West have designed the plans for a hypothetical attraction called “The Princess Ride.

Their idea follows the classic river boat ride structure and adds highlights from the movie around each corner. After watching Buttercup and Wesley’s love story unfold, riders are taken past the Cliffs of Insanity, through the Fire Swamp, and into the Pit of Despair. The climax unfolds at Prince Humperdinck’s castle and leads up to the two protagonists riding off into the sunset. The last thing the passengers see is Miracle Max and Valerie waving goodbye saying, “Hope ya had fun stormin’ the castle!”

The ride’s designers make a living turning stories into thrilling attractions. Plsek works as a concept artist for Universal Creative, the group behind Universal’s theme parks, and West works there as a concept writer. While The Princess Ride was just a fun side project for the pair, it isn’t hard to imagine their ride bringing Princess Bride fans to the parks in real life.

For more of Jon Plesk’s concept rides inspired by classics like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), check out his website.

[h/t Nerdist]

32 Things You Should Know About Epcot

Happy Birthday to Epcot, the only place where you can drink in 11 countries without ever leaving Florida. In honor of its 35th birthday, we've rounded up some facts about Walt Disney’s vision for the future.

1. EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

2. Epcot turned out much differently than Walt had originally imagined it. Before Disney’s death in 1966, EPCOT was actually intended to be a real community where people would live, work, and play. See his intentions here:

3. To build the park, more than 54 million cubic feet of dirt had to be excavated.

4. With its two distinct halves—Future World and the World Showcase—it may seem like two different theme parks smushed together. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. When plans for the park changed after Walt’s death, some Imagineers wanted to go with a World’s Fair theme while others were pushing for a futuristic park. Two Imagineers put their models up against each other, and Epcot as we know it was born.

5. With 11.25 million visitors every year, Epcot is the world’s fifth most-popular theme park—right behind the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland, and Tokyo DisneySea.

6. In 1991, Disney announced plans to build WestCot in Disneyland’s parking lot in Anaheim. Michael Eisner put a halt to those plans when Disneyland Paris flopped. California Adventure later opened on that spot instead.


7. Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the giant golf ball, weighs 16 million pounds, is 165 feet in diameter and takes up 2.2 million cubic feet of space. The geodesic sphere is made from 11,324 aluminum and plastic-alloy triangles.

8. The term “Spaceship Earth” was coined by famous futurist and theorist Buckminster Fuller, who wrote a book called Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth in 1968.

9. Ray Bradbury conceived the original storyline and penned the original script for the Spaceship Earth ride.

10. The 5.7 million-gallon body of water at The Seas with Nemo & Friends is home to more than 3000 fish and other sea creatures. The sheer size makes it one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world.

11. Captain EO cost an estimated $30 million to make. At just 17 minutes, that makes the film $1.76 million per minute.

12. The “Living with the Land” attraction is home to a Guinness World Record—the most tomatoes harvested from a single plant in one year (1151.84 pounds).

13. The food grown in Epcot greenhouses is actually used in the restaurants there, including the Garden Grill.

14. The Sea has a panel of experts that they use for consulting purposes. The panel has included Robert Ballard, most famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic; Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Gilbert Grosvenor, a former president and chief executive of the National Geographic Society.

15. Two people have died after riding Mission: SPACE. One was a four-year-old with an undiagnosed heart condition, and the other was a woman who suffered a stroke due to high blood pressure.

16. Leonard Nimoy directed the popular Body Wars movie at the Wonders of Life pavilion.

17. The score for Soarin’ Over California was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who said that he loved the project so much, he would have done it for free. Goldsmith’s many noteworthy scores include The Omen, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Poltergeist, Patton, and Rudy.

18. The Wonders of Life pavilion once contained a film where Martin Short explained how babies were made. Really.


19. The World Showcase promenade is 1.2 miles long.

20. The World Showcase lagoon spans 40 acres.

21. The Rose and Crown pub in the U.K. has a special machine that can cool your Guinness to exactly 55 degrees, the temperature recommended by the company.

22. Russia, Switzerland, Spain, Venezuela, United Arab Emirates, and Israel have all been mentioned as additions to the World Showcase side of Epcot at one point or another.

23. There were once plans for a boat ride called The Rhine River Cruise in the Germany pavilion. The show building was partially constructed, but the rest of the ride was trashed shortly after Epcot opened.

24. Contrary to popular belief, for the most part, the countries in the World Showcase are not funded by that country’s government. There’s one exception: Morocco.

25. Morocco’s King Hassan II reviewed a detailed scale model of the Morocco Pavilion for "authenticity and artistic effect." 

26. Imagineers have long considered a roller coaster inside of the Japan pavilion. It would be similar to the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, but would instead revolve around Mount Fuji.

27. The American pavilion is built at a slightly higher elevation than all of the other countries'. This is to show that it's a host country to all of the other pavilions, and also to help it stand out as the centerpiece.

28. For 17 years, Epcot’s Japan pavilion was home to Miyuki, the world’s only female amezaiku artist. She learned the art of creating small, edible animal sculptures out of brown rice toffee from her grandfather. Miyuki retired in November 2013.


29. More than 30 million blooms fill the park during the Flower and Garden Festival every spring.

30. The Food and Wine Festival in the fall represents 25 nations with 1.5 million food samplings, 300,000 wine pours, 360,000 beer servings, and 100,000 dessert portions.


31. The puppets for the now-defunct “Tapestry of Nations” parade were designed by Michael Curry, the same man who designed the puppets for the Broadway production of The Lion King. He has also worked on five Cirque du Soleil shows and multiple opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics.

32. Jim Cummings is the man who provides the voiceover at the beginning of “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.” You may know him better as the voice of Darkwing Duck. He’s currently the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Pete. Listen to the first 30 seconds of this video—you can probably hear a little bit of each of those characters.


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