A TV show named “Gunsmoke” made its debut, and another named “Make Room for Daddy” won two Emmys. Elvis Presley and Pat Boone had young hearts all shook up, and for the first time, they could listen to those crooners and others on a new gadget called a pocket transistor radio. A new car cost $1,900, gasoline was 23 cents a gallon and rents averaged $87 a month.
It was 1955. On July 17 of that year — a year in which the last occupying troops left Austria and the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series — Disneyland opened its doors. If the first day was any indicator of its future, we might have expected Walt Disney’s amusement park to fade into oblivion, much like Georgia Gibbs’ No. 1 Billboard hit “Dance With Me Henry” did. (Quick, hum a few bars.)
The chaos of Disneyland’s debut played out in front of a national television audience, and predictions of epic failure abounded.
Sixty years later, we know how wrong those naysayers were.
DISNEYLAND AT 60: How ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ is celebrating
With nearly 17 million annual visitors, Disneyland is the biggest draw in California and among the top tourist destinations in the world. The park’s drawing power persuaded Disney to build theme parks in Florida, France, Japan and China.
Other amusement parks, such as Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, existed, but Disneyland established a modern theme-park template that has been often duplicated but rarely matched.
We think we know Disneyland; after all, we’ve had 60 years to get acquainted. But do we really? Reporters Christopher Reynolds and Brady MacDonald have compiled a list of 60 things you might not know on the diamond anniversary of the theme park that became the gold standard.
1. Much of Disneyland is built to scale to create the illusion of a full-scale experience. The trains circling the park and the Mark Twain Riverboat are built to 5/8 scale. Sleeping Beauty Castle and the storefronts on Main Street, U.S.A., use forced perspective to make the buildings appear taller.
2. More than a million corn dogs are sold annually at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. L.A. Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold calls the Disneyland corn dog the best he’s ever had.
3. The Rivers of America in Frontierland is 4 to 8 feet deep. The first time the man-made river was filled in 1955, the water seeped through the sandy soil. The riverbed was eventually lined with clay to prevent leaking.
4. The Rivers of America held 6.16 million gallons of water the first time it was filled and lost 30,000 gallons a day to evaporation.
5. Maintenance crews dump 12 pounds of green or brown dye into the water a couple of times a week to color the river.
6. The 8- to 15-foot-tall berm that surrounds Disneyland was designed to keep out the real world and keep in the fantasy world. The dirt for the berm came from the excavation of the Rivers of America. Some of the 350,000 cubic yards of excavated dirt was also used to create what would become Tom Sawyer Island.
7. The Disney family crest can be found over the entrance to Sleeping Beauty Castle. The coat of arms was placed above the arch in 1965, about a year before Walt Disney’s death.
8. About 84 million Mickey Mouse ears have been sold since 1955. The Mouseketeers first wore the hats in the 1950s on “The Mickey Mouse Club” television show.
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9. More than 750 million people have visited Disneyland since opening day. It took just seven weeks for the first million visitors to walk through the gates. Attendance was 3.6 million in 1955-56, its first year of operation.
10. More than 50 scuba divers maintain the water-based attractions and waterways at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
11. Dream of getting married in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle? You can, but it will set you back $120,000 for an after-hours ceremony. A trip in Cinderella’s crystal coach is included, but if you want Mickey and Minnie Mouse to attend, it will cost you an additional $1,425 for a 30-minute visit.
12. Disneyland has a “jail” for disruptive guests (Disney-speak for visitors). They’re typically held in a security office until Anaheim police arrive. Undercover Disney security officers have been known to watch for shoplifters.
13. No gum is sold at Disney theme parks. Walt Disney didn’t want visitors to step in discarded chewing gum.
14. A small lamp remains lighted in the window above the firehouse on Main Street, U.S.A., in memory of Walt Disney. He often stayed overnight in the 500-square-foot apartment during construction of Disneyland. A larger Disney family apartment was later built above New Orleans Square.
15. The apartment above the firehouse on Main Street, U.S.A., includes a dressing area, a kitchenette and a bathroom with a shower. The couches fold out to make additional beds.
16. On opening day, Disneyland contained 800 mostly nonindigenous species of plants from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan.
17. More than 12,000 orange trees were removed from the 160-acre plot that became Disneyland. Some of the discarded trees were replanted upside down along the banks of the Jungle Cruise to look like mangrove roots.
18. The route of the Jungle Cruise was laid out with a Jeep outfitted to simulate the length and width of a riverboat.
19. The Mark Twain stern-wheeler, built at a cost of $150,000, was constructed in pieces and assembled at Disneyland. The upper deck was fabricated in Burbank, and the hull was built at a San Pedro shipyard, trucked overnight to the park and lifted by crane into the Rivers of America.
20. Fantasyland’s carousel operated at Toronto’s Sunnyside Park for decades before being moved to Disneyland in advance of the park’s opening. The original carousel featured a menagerie of animals but now has only horses. Additional horses were acquired from other amusement parks.
21. The pipe organ in the Haunted Mansion’s ballroom was reused from the set of the movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Capt. Nemo’s organ was part of a Tomorrowland display featuring props from the movie before it was relocated to the New Orleans Square ride.
22. Walt Disney often walked around Disneyland, stood in lines with visitors and talked to children about their experiences at the park. He handed out pre-signed photo cards to visitors who asked for autographs.
23. The costumed Disney characters were not present during the park’s early days. Walt’s brother Roy, who ran the business side of Walt Disney Co., was concerned the characters would be tainted if the theme park failed.
24. When Tom Sawyer Island opened in 1956, kids could borrow fishing poles at Huckleberry Finn’s Fishing Pier and fish in a small pond stocked with 15,000 catfish, perch and bluegill.
25. The Golden Horseshoe saloon was modeled after the dance hall in the 1953 movie “Calamity Jane.” A box next to the stage was reserved for Walt Disney and his guests.
26. The original Disneyland parking lot held 12,175 cars. Much of the lot has been turned into Disney California Adventure Park, although a portion of the parking area remains behind the Tower of Terror attraction.
27. The wooden figure of an American Indian on Main Street, U.S.A., stood in front of a fine tobacco shop next door to Disneyland’s cinema until 1991. Other independent retail shops have included a pharmacy, a shoe store and a lock-and-key shop. There was once an intimate apparel boutique at Disneyland known as the Wizard of Bras.
28. Many of the largest trees in Disneyland once dotted the routes of the Santa Monica, Pomona and Santa Ana freeways. Disneyland arborists paid $25 for each of the 5- to 10-foot trees, which were moved to Anaheim before the park opened. Today, about 18,000 trees can be found throughout the Disneyland resort.
29. Disneyland’s work force amounts to 28,000 cast members, Disney-speak for employees.
30. The E ticket, beloved by generations of visitors because it granted passage on the most coveted rides, didn’t exist in 1955. The first E tickets were issued in 1959 for use on then-new Matterhorn Bobsleds and Submarine Voyage rides.
31. Napa Rose, the fancy restaurant in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, claims a wine collection of 17,000 bottles.
32. The Disneyland Hotel, which opened in October 1955 with 100 rooms, now has 975.
33. In 1952, before Anaheim emerged as the location for Disneyland, Walt Disney went to the Burbank City Council with a proposal for a park. The council members turned him away, and one said, “We don’t want the carny atmosphere in Burbank.”
34. On opening day, the beloved Jungle Cruise was known as Explorer Boat Ride Through the Rivers of Mexico, Africa, Central and South America, and Australia.
35. Ronald L. Ziegler, who went on to become Richard Nixon’s presidential press secretary, worked during college as a wise-cracking pilot on the Jungle Cruise. Later, in the 1970s, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter had the same job.
36. Though many people know that Steve Martin worked at the Disneyland Magic Shop in his early days, fewer know that Martin’s friend and teenage co-worker at the shop, John McEuen, went on to found the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
37. New Orleans Square includes seven ficus trees transplanted from Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. Disney landscape specialist Bill Evans learned in 1962 that Pershing Square was being redone, and he made a deal to buy and transport the trees; their tops had to be cut off so they would make it through underpasses.
38. Among the first drivers on the Autopia ride on opening day were Frank Sinatra (and his son) and Sammy Davis Jr.
39. Richard Carpenter, brother and bandmate of the late Karen Carpenter, was the keyboard half of a piano-banjo duo on Main Street in 1967. He was fired for playing too much contemporary music.
40. In 1970, former Disney executive Van France founded Club 55, a group for people who worked for Disney the year Disneyland opened. Disneyland officials estimate the club’s membership at 15 remaining retirees.
41. Disney officials usually have less to say about Club 33, which has its headquarters above the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square. The exclusive club apparently dates to 1967. Walt Disney conceived it as a way to entertain investors and other VIPs. Membership costs $12,000 per year, and you’re not supposed to transfer or sell your privileges.
42. Disneyland’s first Snow White was JoAnn Dean Killingsworth. An aspiring dancer and skater, Killingsworth was hired to wave at guests from a float on Disneyland’s opening day. Killingsworth, who lived in Brea, died in June at age 91.
43. Over the years, Disneyland has celebrated two different opening days, for understandable reasons. On July 17, 1955, the park opened to press and invited guests, and ABC devoted 90 minutes of live coverage to the event. (Announcer Hank Weaver sat behind a typewriter in the press room to introduce master of ceremonies Art Linkletter, who introduced colleagues Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan and pointed out the arrival of Danny Thomas and his family.) The next day, the park opened to the public; adult admission, $1, children 50 cents.
44. Disney studio executives didn’t share Walt’s interest in creating Disneyland, so he set up a separate company, WED Enterprises, to do advance work. To cover costs, he borrowed $100,000 against his life insurance policy.
45. The original 19th century gaslight lampposts along Main Street, U.S.A., came from Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia.
46. The Kodak Camera Center on Main Street, U.S.A., was owned by Linkletter, a friend of Disney.
47. In its first year, Disneyland had revenue of $10 million — one-third of the total gross of the Disney studio. In today’s dollars, that would be $88.7 million.
48. In summer 1970, somebody circulated gag fliers proposing a yippie invasion of Disneyland on Aug. 6. On the appointed day, dozens of yippies, or perhaps generic hippies, gathered on Tom Sawyer Island and raised a Viet Cong flag. Management took the rare step of closing the park five hours early, prompting a bold headline (with photos) on the next day’s front page of The Times: “Yippies’ Outburst Shuts Disneyland.”
49. When the park opened, it had both pay and free toilets. Soon after, all bathrooms became free.
50. Walt Disney and author Ray Bradbury were friends. One day at lunch, Bradbury offered to help rebuild Tomorrowland. Disney is said to have replied: “Ray, it’s no use … you’re a genius and I’m a genius … after two weeks we’d kill each other!” Later, Bradbury called it “the nicest turndown I’ve ever had.”
51. By the time It’s a Small World opened at Disneyland in 1966, it had already been seen by more than 10 million visitors during its two years at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
52. Walt Disney had a lot of input into Pirates of the Caribbean, but he died in December 1966, about four months before the ride opened.
53. In 1971, stage psychic the Amazing Criswell predicted that by 1999, Disneyland would be covered by a plastic bubble, its weather controlled by a switch.
54. Though Walt Disney sported a mustache for most of his adult life, Disneyland banned facial hair on its workers from 1957 until 2000, when restrictions were eased.
55. If Disneyland’s original $1 adult admission fee had increased in lockstep with the U.S. Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index, today it would be $8.87. Instead, it’s $99. (But in the old days, you had to buy ride tickets separately. Now they’re included.)
56. In September 1959, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made a historic visit to Los Angeles and asked to see Disneyland. His minders first said yes, and then no, after Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker said he couldn’t guarantee Khrushchev’s safety. “Why not?” Khrushchev protested at a public luncheon. “What is it? Do you have rocket-launching pads there? ... Is there an epidemic of cholera there? … Have gangsters taken hold of the place?”
57. In Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, the Toad Hall library includes these titles: “For Whom the Toads Croak” and “A Tadpole Grows in Brooklyn.”
58. When it opened in June 1959, Disneyland’s monorail was the first daily operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere.
59. Sleeping Beauty Castle is 77 feet tall. Neuschwanstein, the 19th century Bavarian castle that’s widely credited as its inspiration, is 213 feet high. (Neuschwanstein, about 80 miles southwest of Munich, Germany, gets 1.4 million visitors yearly.)
60. For height reasons, there’s a good chance Mickey Mouse and many other costumed characters are played by female cast members. Male cast members portray the taller characters such as Goofy and Sheriff Woody. Princess characters have strict height requirements: They must be 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall.