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Disneyland Article
Um Disneyland Opening Day In 1955 Sounds Like It Was A Dystopian Hell

Peter Pan's Flight
Terri Pous
October 16, 2017
October 21, 2017
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Disney Parks have a reputation for presenting themselves as perfect, flawless places where nothing could ever possibly go wrong.

Some less-than-amazing stuff has allegedly happened inside the parks, but by many accounts, Disney works realllll hard to make it all feel truly magical.

But it turns out, Disneyland was decidedly not the happiest place on earth on its opening day, July 17, 1955*. In fact, it sounds like the kind of hellscape that would have made me angrier than if I got tricked into going on the Mad Tea Party.

I'm not exaggerating! An observer at the time called it a "fiasco the like of which I cannot recall in 30 years of show life."

*Technically, July 17 was the press preview and the 18th was opening day, but Disney generally recognizes the 17th as the official opening day.

1. So what was so bad about it? For starters, the park just wasn't finished, plain and simple.

Only about 3/4 of the park was complete on the big day! Disneyland was the first-ever Disney park (Disney World didn't open until 1971), and its construction workers were apparently concerned that nothing would be ready by the July opening date and pushed for an extension, but the construction supervisor refused. Because of that, park visitors encountered a walkway in Tomorrowland that trailed off into a field of dirt, unfinished rides and attractions, and more.

Of course, the estimated 70 million people watching the live broadcast of opening day at home - hosted by none other than Ronald Reagan - had no idea any of this shit was going down.

2. That also means that basically no rides were open.

Jonathan Carr, who was 9 years old when he attended opening day, told Cracked that his family, among many others, weren't told in advance that many rides wouldn't be open until the next month. "All day, people stood in lines for rides that were closed." And to think you probably once threw a fit because Peter Pan's Adventure had a 45-minute wait.

"You couldn't do anything. Anywhere you could sit was taken, rides had long lines, stores were filled," he added. "To me, it was like a mall parking lot during Christmas. Every space is filled, and there are endless cars either idling and waiting or circling around and hoping. That was Disneyland on the first day, but with nobody pulling out."

3. Oh and, thanks to counterfeit tickets, double the number of invited guests showed up to the still-under-construction park.

You know the feeling when Disneyland feels so crowded that you wish you could hide inside the top of Space Mountain forever? Imagine that, times two. It was estimated that the park, once complete, would be able to hold 15,000 people, so Disney ordered that many invitations to be printed. Much to park workers' shock, "30,000 showed up because of counterfeit tickets and people who rushed the gate and all kinds of stuff," employee Marty Sklar later recalled. Carr said, "Three times in my journal, I wrote down something like, 'A Disney employee said they were not expecting this many people.'"

All those extra attendees created a seven-mile backup on the Santa Ana Freeway, and once they got to Anaheim, people were so anxious to get in that one (honestly genius) guy charged people $5 a head to climb up a ladder he propped up outside. Now that's what I call imagineering.

4. When people did make it inside the gates, they were greeted by these nightmare-inducing Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes.

5. The asphalt on Main Street, which had been poured that morning, was still so wet that women's heels sank into it and got stuck.

Pulling them out of the asphalt must've required Sword in the Stone-like strength. "It was spongy, but I thought it was supposed to be like that in case children fell down," Carr said. "I wrote down, 'There are black shoe marks all over from the ground. I think this is supposed to make it look like guests making their mark on the park.'" If only the truth was that fun and clever.

6. The temperature got up to 100 degrees, which was made worse because there were no water fountains anywhere.

There was basically no way to cool off, especially because in 1955, air conditioning wasn't nearly as powerful as it is today. "There was an area where you were supposed to stand and get cooled off by air coming from a few rides," Carr said. "A Disneyland employee told this to us. But they were telling everyone. A nice breeze should have been coming, but so many people were there that there wasn't a temperature change." I'm literally sweating just reading this.

7. On top of that, concession stands ran out of food and drinks by lunchtime.

In case huge crowds, broiling temperatures, no water, and people in creepy costumes weren't enough of a turnoff, Disneyland's opening day made everyone hangry, too. Carr remembers that "everybody got meaner as the day went on," and even saw two boys drink sugar syrup when the candy store ran out of sweets. "They ran out of candy, and parents could only buy that for their children. You didn't drink syrup or ingredients like that at that time unless something was wrong. It would be like drinking maple syrup from the bottle. But I saw it happen."

8. People were peeing everywhere, and Disney was shockingly chill about it.

"I've told people I was there on the day it opened, and when they asked what it was like, the first thing I bring up is all the children peeing," Carr said. "My father wrote down, 'Main Street. The restroom lines are so long that there is another line for the new restroom parkgoers have created behind the official restroom.'"

The bathroom issue still wasn't solved the next day, so Disney was basically like, Whatever, paint the ground with your urine if you please. The open pee policy stood for a long time because it was easier than building new bathrooms. Today, though, dropping trou mid-Frontierland probably wouldn't be so warmly accepted.

9. And to top it all off, Sleeping Beauty Castle caught on fire.

Have you ever peered up at the centerpiece of Disneyland and thought, That's nice, but it could really use some flames? Well, you're in luck! Thanks to a gas leak, Sleeping Beauty's Castle nearly went up completely in flames. Walt Disney would probably be horrified to know that a young park attendee like Carr saw the blaze firsthand. "I thought it was the show, but it was real," he said. "We were walking by when a fire peeked out of the window. It wasn't very big, but it was enough. A few employees said to go around. It was real."

So there you have it! The next time you're moaning about the heat and humidity while waiting to ride the Matterhorn among one trillion choir groups on spring break, remember how good you have it.
Attractions Referenced

Peter Pan's Flight

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Space Mountain

Lands Referenced


Main Street U.S.A.


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