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Disneyland Article
Black Sunday Remembering Disneylands Disastrous Opening Day On Its 65th Anniversary

Rocket To The Moon
Katie Dowd
July 17, 2020
July 26, 2020
Disneyland's opening day started off very inauspiciously for Walt Disney.

Exhausted by last-minute preparations, he'd gone up to his private apartment above the firehouse on Main Street to get a little sleep before festivities began on the morning of July 17, 1955. When he awoke, he realized he'd somehow locked himself inside the room. So Walt Disney began yelling for help.

Eventually, he was freed from his prison. But freedom was not as liberating as he probably expected.

The first day of Disneyland was so rushed, so famously shambolic, that it became known as "Black Sunday" among park employees. In hindsight, it's no wonder. Construction started one year and one day earlier, a timeline so ambitious it's hard to believe anything was ready at all. Fantasyland and Main Street were mostly complete, but Tomorrowland was an empty disappointment. The land, a last-minute addition, had been shelved for four months after Disneyland general manager C.V. Wood managed to convince Disney not to open it at the same time as the rest of the park. But Disney kept talking about it in his ABC show chronicling the park's construction, and eventually felt he couldn't just wall it off for opening day.

Thus, four months behind, Tomorrowland construction picked back up. The proposal imagined a submarine ride, a "house of the future," moving sidewalks and a monorail. It was all scrapped, replaced with large, partially empty exhibition halls, a restaurant and the unfinished Rocket to the Moon attraction. Workers were still frantically painting the park right up until guests began to arrive.

"If you stood still, you got painted," joked one TV crewman there to film the day.

The first day was supposed to be by invitation only, but things immediately went off the rails. Clever scammers hung around outside the gates selling counterfeit tickets, and ticket-takers apparently weren't keen to the ruse, accepting them in by the thousands. Some eager visitors scaled the walls to sneak in. As the worst traffic jam in local history dragged along the Santa Ana Freeway, thousands of guests poured in. By final tally, about 28,000 people made it in on opening day, far more than planned for.

The three operating restaurants were slammed. The Mark Twain riverboat started to sink, overloaded with guests. Water fountains didn't work. And women in heels kept getting stuck in the freshly laid asphalt, which was melting in the 100-degree heat.

Meanwhile, Disney and ABC were trying to pull off one of the most ambitious live TV shows ever attempted. One in three Americans tuned in to the broadcast — 60 million in total — and watched Disney fumble his way through the searing heat and technical difficulties. At one point, Disney started talking, stopped, and then told someone off-camera, "I thought I got a signal" before awkwardly restarting his speech. Later, actor and show host Bob Cummings was caught kissing a dancer in a decidedly unscripted moment.

Guests were also hamstrung by the show, which was unfurling all around them.

"Some people, wandering into sections such as Tomorrowland or Fantasyland, often found themselves trapped inside with ropes barring their exit until the telecast was over," the Associated Press reported.

But by the day's end, Disney and his team had the proof of concept they needed. Although only a handful of rides were ready, they were a hit. Families loved the themed lands and demand, clearly, was already nearly insatiable. When asked by reporters how he felt about the park's incomplete pieces on opening day, Disney was ready with a genius bit of spin that's since become one of the mantras of Disneyland Park.

"I don’t expect the place will ever be finished," Disney said. "That’s what I like about it. That it will always be growing."
Attractions Referenced

Main Street Fire House

Mark Twain Riverboat

Rocket To The Moon

Walt Disney's Apartment

Lands Referenced


Main Street U.S.A.


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