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June 14th

June 14, 1958 -- The Columbia is christened at Disneyland : In spite of the fact that I have spent most of my life only miles from the ocean, I am not what you would call a seafaring man. My first ocean voyage was just last year on the Disney Wonder for a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas. And I found out that -- thankfully -- I am not prone to extreme seasickness.

Of course, if we had hit the same 30 foot swells on the way home in -- say -- a ship less than a hundred feet long, I don't think I would have been able to keep a good meal down. I bring this up (excuse the pun) because the cruise gave me an even greater respect for the crews of old sailing ships like the Columbia.

In the early morning of Sept 30, 1787, the eighty-four-foot sloop -- the "Columbia Rediviva" -- left Boston Harbor on ger inaugural voyage. The strange last name of "Rediviva" means "revived." "Columbia revived" pays homage to Christopher Columbus.

The purpose of this voyage was to barter inexpensive goods from Boston for pelts from the Indians of the Great Northwest. The pelts will be traded in Canton China for tea, silk, and spices; all lucrative items to sell to Bostonians. Columbia and her crew were the first to try such an expensive gamble. Which would then take nearly three years to pay off.

The sea passage to the Northwest coast is around Cape Horn, a trip of over twenty thousand miles. Soit's a years trip just to Nootka Sound, a Spanish settlement on Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia. Where the Columbia then drops anchor for the winter.

Spring bartering around theNnorthwest brings over a thousand pelts. And -- with their new cargo -- Capt. Gray and the crew of the Columbia set sail for China via the Hawaiian islands.

The Columbia returned to Boston Harbor on August 9, 1790 as the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. The good news was the trip opened commerce with China and the pelts netted $20,000. The bad news was that the money bought a cargo of tea that was damaged on the way home.

Since the trip had opened up trade, the investors of the Columbia sent Gray to do it all over again just six weeks later. On this second trip, while he's in the Northwest trading for pelts, Capt. Gray discovers a river and names it the Columbia after his ship. A few years later, naming the new river helps America claim land up to Oregon and spawns the first push of pioneers out west.

The Columbia is -- of course -- the same Columbia that sails the Rivers of America at Disneyland today. Walt chose the first American ship to circle the globe as Frontierland's sailing ship. And he wanted it as close to the original as his designers could muster. $300,000 later, he got his wish.

83 1/2 feet long and 24 feet wide, Disney's Columbia is an accurate ten gun, full scale replica of the original. More importantly, it was the first three masted ship to be built in a hundred years.

What's the main difference between the two ships? Disney's hull is iron and built by the Todd Shipyards, the original was all wood construction.

Now -- small differences aside -- I want you to think about the scale of Disney's ship. When you're standing on the deck of the Columbia with hundreds of other tourists as some cast member points out the plastic deer along the riverbank, remember that a crew of somewhere between 15 and 30 absolutely insane individuals took a ship that size ... And sailed it around world 220 years ago. That's a courage I can't even fathom.

June 14, 1958 -- "Alice in Wonderland" opens in Fantasyland: "Alice" is an unusual ride for so many different reasons. It's got the most unique outside theming of any Disney theme park attraction. It's the only 2-story dark ride at Disneyland. It's the only ride I know where you travel on the back of one of the characters from the film (Okay. Technically, you're parking your tush where the caterpillar's squishy innards should be. But work with me, people ... ). More importantly, there's only one Alice dark ride in all the MagicKingdoms around the world.

The ride design and layout are the work of Claude Coats, one of Disney's best animation background painters. Walt personally asked Claude to help out with the opening of Disneyland. Coats wound up staying at WED for the rest of his career at Disney.

Claude helped design and paint all three of the opening day dark rides in Fantasyland. But "Alice in Wonderland" was the first ride where Coats was given full show design responsibility and he ran with it. Claude designed the ride from concept to completion, the giant flora and fauna outside, the two story ride building, even the caterpillar vehicle were his ideas.

And what great ideas they were. The leafy exterior of the ride building and the pout of your reluctant caterpillar / ride vehicle lets you know that this isn't a normal ride. Lewis Carroll's oddball characters were a great choice for the blacklight treatment and a lot had been learned by Claude and company about using this painting technique to its best effect. The 1958 interior of "Alice" felt like the book, looked like the movie and did it in less than 3 minutes.

June 14, 1959 --Dedication Ceremonies for the Matterhorn, the Monorail and the Submarine at Disneyland: What are the odds that *** Chaney will be at the reopening of the new Space Mountain at Disneyland?

No, I'm not trying to start a new rumor. I was just making a modern day comparison. It seems odd to think of the Vice-President, the second in command of the free world (in theory, anyway) coming to a theme park to dedicate a ride. But that's what happened in 1959. Somewhere between having his car almost flipped over in Venezuela and a month before having the "Kitchen Debate" with Khrushchev, Richard Nixon, then Vice-president of the United States and his family came to open Disneyland's newest attractions for the summer.

Can you imagine a vice president dedicating a ride today? I think I'd stay home and watch it on the news because I haven't felt the need to be strip searched. And I think that's the only way you'd be allowed into the park.

Eisner and Iger dream of such publicity and coverage. But on June 14, 1959 Nixon wasn't just the Vice President at a "photo op." Nixon came and opened the first three E-ticket rides as Walt's friend.

And -- if you were going to dedicate something at Disneyland -- July of '59 was a pretty good time to do it. The list of attractions that came on line at the Anaheim theme park that month were pretty impressive

The Matterhorn was the park's first roller coaster and it was a marvel. Disney and Arrow Development from Northern California came up with a tubular track with urethane wheels. And the system changed roller coasters.

The new design meant a smoother ride and the ability to have more than one car on the track at the same time. More than one car meant more people could ride in an hour and more money could be made. It also meant faster lines and less wait time. But the real revolution was the potential for speed. The new technology meant later coasters would go really--really fast.

The Matterhorn was no speed demon. Its 18 mph was hardly a breakthrough. But the experience of dips and curves and riding in and out of a mountain (A mountain!), coupled with the spray of water at the end was a pretty cool rush. The addition of a ground breaking, state-of-the-art coaster meant Walt had now reinvented every old school ride in the amusement park arsenal and raised the bar on every try. Walt's park was obviously more than a novelty.

By itself, the "Submarine Voyage" would have been an expensive undertaking. Add the Matterhorn and the Monorail and their engineering challenges and all three cost the Disney company a huge steaming pile of cash.

The statistics for the submarine ride was impressive: A 4,000,000 gallon lagoon, a watertight show building designed under the Autopia, $80,000 dollars were spent just on the custom submarines, all to create an 8-minute-long show. Did Walt really need to spend all that money? No. But that's what people loved about Walt's park whether they knew it or not.

In the 1950's, Walt was doing well and he finally had some expendable income. His movies were earning a few bucks, the animated characters he had developed generated good revenue, his shows on television were well received and people were coming to Disneyland.

So what did he do with his new money? Did he buy expensive cars? Yes. Did he throw crazy parties? Yes. Did he build a big pool? Yeah, it was so big, he bought a couple subs to put in it and for 5 dollars American, you could experience every one of his wildly extravagant purchases.

Logic says the submarine ride should have been a dark ride. Walt could have shaved a few million off the construction of a lagoon and watertight show building and saved millions on maintenance, because a ride on land is much easier to maintain than an underwater one.

Would the ride have been as successful if it was a dark ride? Why wouldn't it? If there's no submarine ride to compare it to, you're going to compare it to the dark rides. Do you need a submarine to enhance the underwater scene in Small World? Do you need a remote controlled helicopter to feel like you're flying over London in Peter Pan? Logically you didn't need a lagoon and iron subs. But Walt did it anyway.

Did traveling in water actually enhance the submarine experience? Oh, yeah. In fact, Walt had an early run of the ride with Naval officers aboard. And they wanted to know how deep they were diving. The experience fooled the experts. That had to be a defining and reaffirming moment.

The Monorail is another example of Walt's wonderful extravagance. When it opened, it traveled in a circle above the park. That's it. It didn't go to the hotel and it didn't have any other stops. A cool looking vehicle with an Imagineer-designed front cab. Smells kinda like a mid-life Ferrari to me.

But Walt spent millions on the Monorail instead of a Ferrari because -- to him -- a Monorail was cooler. He put a huge pool in Tomorrowland instead of in his backyard because the pool could be bigger at Disneyland. The park was Walt's extravagance and he lavished it with every extra he could afford to. It was his expensive toy and his exotic car and his wild party all rolled into one.

Sure, it can be argued that Walt saw the transportation value of the Monorail and he wanted to say to cities all across the world: "Isn't this great looking? Don't you want one of these in your neighborhood?" But he could have made a documentary and run it on his TV show and made the point to a larger audience. But he didn't.

And Walt didn't really need to redesign the original boxy German Monorail cab. But he did.

And that's what showed in 1959. Disneyland was full of bold, inventive and futuristic new rides packed with details so cool, it got the Vice-President of the United States and his family to come out to Anaheim and come take a ride.

Oh, if you'd like to know why Walt may have built three expensive rides at the same time, you can read Jim's article here.

Birthdays

Cliff Edwards (June 14, 1895 - 1971): Cliff Edwards was born in Hannibal Missouri, the hometown of legendary author Mark Twain. He left home at 14 and began to perform in clubs, bars and saloons. Since he was on the move, Edwards decided to learn an instrument he could carry with him. Cliff chose the ukulele because it was the cheapest instrument in the store. A club owner who could never remember his name called him Ukulele Ike. And -- for the next two decades -- the name stuck

Since Cliff didn't have any formal training, he did what came naturally. So Edwards began to play around with a form of scat singing popular with jazz singers. The main difference with Ukelele Ike's approach was his nearly three octave singing range. Which gave Cliff some pretty impressive high notes. The combination of the Ukulele and Edwards' jazzy style made Ukulele Ike a big hit in the 1920s. In fact, "Ike" made the ukulele so popular that publishers started adding ukulele chords to sheet music.

In the 1930s, Cliff had his own radio show and had made numerous movie appearances when Walt cast him as Jiminy Cricket. In 1940, "Pinocchio" was released and "When You Wish Upon a Star" won the Oscar for best song.

Sadly, Edwards life had a dark side. He drank heavily, gambled constantly and married easily. In spite of money and fame, Ukelele Ike declared bankruptcy 3 times in his life. In his later years, Cliff would hang around the Disney studios waiting for voice work.

While his declining years may have left him penniless, Edwards' voice is anything but forgotten. "When You Wish Upon a Star" has become the Walt Disney Company's unofficial theme song and Cliff can be heard inside the castles of Magic Kingdoms around the world every day.

 

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