An Airy Birthday Salute to Disneyland

Times Staff Writer

As a kaleidoscope of at least 1.1 million balloons began their upward journey Thursday, Emily Parenteau panicked slightly when her allotment of 1,000 helium balloons stubbornly refused to move.

Emily, 14, clawed, ripped and tore at the plastic tube holding her balloons as she and 2,300 other mostly shrieking young people became part of a new world record.

“It’s exciting,” said Emily, a Katella High School student. “When you have kids, you can say, ‘Yeah, I did it.’ ”


Thousands of cheering spectators lined Katella Avenue as Parenteau and other volunteers helped the city break the previous record, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, of 384,000 balloons launched in Japan on Nov. 3, 1984. Dubbed “Skyfest,” the balloon release was held on what would have been Walt Disney’s 84th birthday and commemorated Disneyland’s 30 years in Anaheim.

“I would have expected this out of Walt Disney. I think it’s just fantastic,” said Teresa Gutridge, a La Mirada resident who took her daughter and a neighbor out of classes to see the 2 p.m. spectacle. “I just figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

For the volunteers, mostly high school students but some El Toro Marines too, the event meant rising from bed in the early hours to follow a morning-long monotonous routine.

Under the nation’s largest tent, volunteers--some arriving as early as 3:30 a.m.--sat in rows and filled 1,209,000 balloons with helium from 300 valves run through pipes from large tanks, Disneyland employee Joanne Mikuni said.

After filling and tying, filling and tying, filling and tying the balloons in an almost never-ending procession, the volunteers tossed the filled balloons to other teen-agers standing on scaffolds who in turn directed the balloons to clear plastic tubes. The tubes, containing 1,000 balloons of the same color, then went to another tent where they were anchored with water-filled drums.

By the time the volunteers carried their bags, which looked like giant lollipops, to Katella Avenue, many had blisters on their hands as a temporary souvenir of the day.


“It’s worth it,” said Emilia Valenciana, who covered four blistery fingers with tape after filling balloons since 3:30 a.m.

For Travis Freeman and friends, band members of La Quinta High School, a few blisters were OK when they considered the trade-off. “We didn’t go to school,” he said. “And we got free food.”

A caterer provided 2,500 sandwiches, 2,500 brownies, 1,250 oranges, 1,250 apples, about 300 pounds of cookies, 87 cases of soda, 100 gallons of punch and 100 gallons of lemonade.

The price tag of the event was about $350,000, Anaheim spokeswoman Sheri Erlewine said. With more than 300 corporations and Disneyland paying $450 per 1,000 balloons, brisk business from the sale of T-shirts and other memorabilia, the city appeared to have broken even, pending final tallies, Erlewine said. High school bands with more than 150 students participating came out ahead with $500 each--a donation by Treb Heining and his BalloonArt by Treb, which executed the balloon release.

Most of the balloons were expected to land in the Nevada desert, Erlewine said. At least 1.1 million, she said, made their way into the sky over Anaheim--which Guinness officials will need to confirm in the weeks to come. A few errant balloons deviated from their path and adorned pine trees along Katella.

Although officials originally expected a rainbow effect with bands of color, the balloons mingled in the wind.

Otherwise, the event occurred without problem, said retired Anaheim Police Chief Harold A. Bastrup, who coordinated a security staff of 120 volunteers.

For Mary and Zavin Konjoyan, a retired Tustin couple, the balloon release was “something new, something happy for a change.”

Said Mayor Pro Tem Irv Pickler: “I don’t know what we’re going to do for an encore next year.”