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Wednesdays with Wade: Disneylanders look back at the birth of their park

Wednesdays with Wade: Disneylanders look back at the birth of their park

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Are you a Disneylander?

That is what the first employees at the Disneyland theme park were called back in the Fifties. There was even an employee publication called "The Disneylander." Did you have a name tag? Nope, you didn't. You had a badge with a number on it that was based on seniority. Walt's badge was "Number One" of course and some of you may remember him flashing it to Disneyland's first Ambassador, Julie Reihm, on the "Wonderful World of Color" Tenth Anniversary show. Were you there on Opening Day with drinking fountains not working because of a plumber's strike or food locations running out of food or guests with children on their shoulders trying to throw them onto the carousel horses or kids aiming their Autopia cars at cast members or women's high heels sticking in the recently laid asphalt on Main Street?

No? You only HEARD those stories? Well, as we start to celebrate the Happiest Celebration, I dug through my files to bring you some memories from Disneyland's opening on July 17, 1955 in the words of those front line cast members who were there. (After the opening of Disneyland, these cast members formed an organization known as "Club 55" and often got together to share memories. At the twentieth anniversary, they even published a memory book of some of these memories for their members. It was called appropriately "Club 55").


Joyce Belanger:

"A couple of days before we opened, I had my costume fitting. The Seamstresses must have worked 24 hours a day getting costumes ready. I had one day of cash handling and then the night before the Park opened, we got to see inside the Park. Nothing seemed finished. But the Castle...that was impressive. It belonged and looked like it had always been there.

I found out I was working next to the 'Mark Twain' in a Ticket Booth that wasn't completed yet. I went home and didn't know how things were going to work out. The next day, everyone there was supposed to be an invited guest, so my Ticket Booth wasn't open, but it was finished. I couldn't believe how everything looked so chaotic the 16th and then the next day it was sparkling clean and ready. I had lunch that day at Carnation. Sitting at the next table was Ronald Reagan. Who'd have known? I do remember he was putting on his contacts.

On Opening Day for the Viewliner, Walt was at the controls. There were some beautiful new flower beds at the station and as everybody crowded closer and closer to see Walt, they got into the flowers. This kinda bothered Walt a bit and he asked the people to 'Please keep off the flowers!'

"I can still see Walt strolling through the Park. He didn't talk down to the children. He'd bend down so they could talk to him at their level. Kids always came up to talk to him. He'd pose for pictures and always had time for them. And they loved him. They'd follow him all over the Park. He was like the Pied Piper and wherever he went, the kids followed. He had a very child-like quality about him and never seemed to tire of the Park."

Ray Van Der Warker:

"Bob Penfield and I just got out of high school and we were good friends and had played football together, so we decided we'd go out together to get a job. Well, we hit about four places with applications before we came to Disneyland. We got hired and we started about a week before the Park opened.

They brought us in the Park and none of the attractions were finished. None. Main Street was just dirt and the Mark Twain was just a shell. Anyway, one of our jobs was to test out the new attractions. We sat for about two days behind the Castle because it was the only cool spot and there wasn't anything else to do. But I'll never forget the first ride we got to test out. I can't think of the name of the thing, but it was some sort of satellite and you got on this conveyor belt that took you around to what was supposed to be a look down at Earth. It didn't impress me and we had to test that thing nearly all day and we got sick of it.

But the night before the Park opened, Bob and I were asked to work overtime because they had just finished 'Peter Pan' and we were the only ones who were trained on it. When we started, we looked at the Pirate Ship and it still hadn't been painted. We practiced all night and we knew we had to come back the next day for a full shift for Opening. Well, we got out around 2:00 am and the Pirate Ship had been painted! The next day, we basically trained the night crew during the day.

Fantasyland was the last area to open that day. Boy, when they lowered that drawbridge, it seemed like all 30,000 of them came in at once. And there were so many people that they had to close the Carousel a few times because guests climbed over the chains and we couldn't control them.

Bob Penfield and I were supposed to learn how to operate the attractions but they were never made ready until an hour and a half before opening."

Earl Anderson:

"In July of 1955, I came to Disneyland and my first job was helping to build the lumber storage building. I would get down on my hands and knees in the rain and mud to work on the foundations. On Opening Day, John Yarber and I got a call that the gate had fallen off the Mule Pack Ride, and that we were to go and fix it. We had not the slightest idea where the Mule Pack Ride was."

Jim Barngrover:

"On July 10, 1955 the local musicians' office got a call for musicians at Disneyland. It was to last for two weeks and a 16 piece band was wanted. The band was put together by Tommy Walker and Tommy's father, Vesey Walker. He soon became the first Disneyland Band director. We used to play on a gazebo in what is now Plaza Gardens. There were no seats for the guests and there was no shade. So nobody came to listen! That's when we started marching."

 Chuck Boyajian:

"Before Opening Day, I was working nights and I never believed that we'd get open. But come July 17th, we opened with a bang. We had open trash cans then, and we had trouble getting the trash removed. It piled up in a gigantic heap behind City Hall...trash was overflowing everywhere."

Roy Brem:

"I remember on Opening Day that the movie star kids were, to put it mildly, UNRULY! I started up on the steam trains as a conductor."

Imogene Brinkmeyer:

"I remember Opening Day. I ought to!! I spent Opening Day at home in bed with a strep throat. I couldn't find a doctor around anywhere and finally I got hold of a pediatrician. He gave me some penicillin but it didn't do any good. So I missed Opening Day, but they were so busy with the crowds, they didn't even know I was missing! Anyway, I came to work the next day and it was HOT AS HADES...you couldn't get a drink anywhere. There had been no training for the Ticket Sellers, but everyone pulled together and everything fell into place. I still don't know how it all worked out!"

Rima Bruce:

"Opening Day was bedlam! Nobody knew their way around the Park...took an hour to get from Personnel to my job. Then we turned out offices over to the Press and I went out to watch the celebrities. I remember that Hawaiian Abe was in front of the Bazaar in Adventureland making palm frond hats for Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher."

John Catone:

"I sure remember Black Sunday. There was a plumbers' strike and very few toilet facilities were ready. Roy Disney said, gently, that he didn't mind if the people urinated in the bushes! Walt was like a little boy with a new toy!"

Dominic Conte:

"The night before, we stayed up all night! We never believed that it could open! Sunday morning it was a picture! Beautiful! T.V. cameras...really exciting! The first week in the Park, I got lost several times!"

Pete Crimmino:

"If you watch the T.V. program of Opening Day, you'll see me guiding a boat through the Hippo Pool. Adventureland was the last attraction to show...and became the most popular. In those days, we didn't have microphones and used megaphones. Also, the narration was not canned, and we developed most of it by ourselves. Those were very busy days. I think one guy had a record of 97 trips without a break."

Stan Gomez:

"Don't even mention it! The day before opening I worked from 6 am to 6 pm and then came back at midnight. I had to distribute 500 or more lockers all over the Park. Then I went on foot to check each key against the locker. That look till 7 am. After that I left and spent Opening Day at home asleep. I was in charge of the old burro trail for awhile and then Tom Sawyer Island when it first opened. It sure was a headache with the kids pulling up shrubbery faster than I could replace it."

Frank Martines:

"I didn't get much of a view as I was at the Main Gate. We all looked like bellhops, with Eisenhower yellow jackets, green trousers, gold 'overseas' caps...we were pretty proud! At the end of the summer, I went to Main Street as Foreman and then I became an Assistant Supervisor. The Company bought the supervisors grey suits with ORANGE ties...the better to be seen in the area!"

Earl Wuestneck:

"What do I remember? People...people...people! We would open the gates for twenty minutes and then close for twenty minutes. Celebrities everywhere...miles of film taken. I wore a little military hat on the side of my head, a gold 'Ike' jacket, green pants, brown shoes and white gloves!"

Cal McMurtre:

"Everything was a mess. I was workin' on Tom Sawyer Island trying to bring up grass. I ran the sprinklers and I repaired them and, of course, I was the one that had to put them in. One day, before opening, I spent 16 hours on the island...they had forgotten me! Opening day I was kept busy trying to keep out of sight of the guests, when I saw Fess Parker coming down the mule trail."

George Mills:

"As the guests were coming in the FRONT door, we were going out the BACK door to the boneyard with EVERYTHING that wasn't nailed down! The boneyard was a gigantic sea of junk. In the castle courtyard you could see a little blue flame where a gas main had never been capped! We had problems pumping the Adventureland River...bluegills were in all the water systems. The strainers were all plugged with the little fish."

Gunter Otto:

"I had worked many hours in the Jungle with Joe Delfin. The work skiffs had no motors, then, and were too heavy to paddle, so we put on tennis shoes, jumped into the river and pushed the boats, laden with their cargoes of plants and flowers. I remember on Opening Day, I was to turn on sprinklers at a signal given by a television director. He gave a wrong signal and I turned on the sprinklers just as Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen came riding out of the Living Desert..they got soaking wet and I was sure that I'd get fired for that one!"

Cora Lee Sargent:

"Bob Cummings stopped and talked to me and I wasn't any good for three hours after that! Being fitted for costumes, a wardrobe girl suggested that the 'not so well endowed' wear FALSIES. There were no lockers. We just hung our clothes on poles with our names on them. The first winter we wore our own coats. There were no requirements on shoes and I wore tennis shoes sometimes."

Marion Schawacha:

"Hectic! Painters still painting. Carpenters still sawing. The waiting lines were all mixed up and criss-crossing each other. The line from Autopia would end up at the Space Bar and vice versa. All you could see in Tomorrowland was PEOPLE! The guy who was supposed to be the manager almost blew the place up. He turned the gas on for the big oven and then went down the corridor to get a match. BOOM!!...he later became a treasurer."

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