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Remember the good old days at Disney? They weren't quite as good as you remember

Jim Hill

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Remember the good old days at Disney? They weren't quite as good as you remember

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And how was your weekend?

Nancy and mine was going great there for a while. On Saturday, we were getting ready to celebrate her ... er ... 29th - yeah, that's it - 29th birthday when a freak October Nor'Easter came through and dropped two feet of snow on us.

We did okay through most of Saturday. But then - just before midnight - the power went out. And then didn't come back on 'til yesterday afternoon.

The snow is still on the pumpkins but the frost is at least off the bumpkins. Now that the
heat and light has finally come back on at our house

Mind you, I shouldn't really be complaining. We were only mildly inconvenienced compared to what the people in Bedford & Merrimack, NH are now dealing with. There's so much fallen-trees-and-branches-taking-out-electrical-wires damage in those two towns that they'll be without power for at least a week. And given Bedford & Merrimack, NH are just over the hill from New Boston ... Well, there but for the Grace of God ...

Anyway, Nancy and I did what we could to use our time-without-electricity productively. I finally got started on a project that I have literally been putting off for a decade or more now. Which is organizing that toxic landfill that I laughingly call my office.

Which is already reaping some benefits. To explain: You know how - as you go through those security checkpoints at the Disney theme parks these days - you quietly grumble to yourself that the world didn't used to be like this. That there were times in the not-so-distant past when we could go to places like WDW's Magic Kingdom and then leave our cares behind. That you could then wander around that theme park and not have to worry about crazy people doing stupid things.

Magic Kingdom security checkpoint

Well, that isn't entirely true.

Want proof? As I was attempting to uncover the top of my desk yesterday, I came across a "Flash from 4500." Which was the way that Walt Disney World management - back in the early 1970s, anyway -- used to get genuinely urgent information out to the 5500 Cast Members who then worked on property. By issuing a memo.

Anywho, this "Flash from 4500" reads as follows:

A bright & shiny new Walt Disney World Resort circa 1972

The following statement was released today Friday February 4 (1972), to press representatives:

On Thursday, Feb. 3, Walt Disney World received several calls from an unidentified male threatening an explosion and seeking money.

During the evening, after the regular closing hours of the Magic Kingdom theme park, the caller said he had planted a bomb. Within a few minutes employees located a suspicious looking case in a non-public area of Frontierland. The case was turned over to law enforcement officials. Up to this time, we have not been informed whether it actually contained an explosive substance or device. Since this happened at night after closing there was no involvement of guests in the incident.

The view from the old Frontierland train station in the early 1970s

An attempt was made to carry out the caller's demands for payment of money but no one attempted to collect the funds. There has been no communication with the caller since Thursday night.

Necessary precautions and investigative procedures have been instituted. We feel additional details at this time could be detrimental to an orderly investigation.

Now take a look at the date of this "Flash from 4500." February 4, 1972. Walt Disney World had barely been open four months at this point. And here was the real world already intruding on the Magic Kingdom in a very dark & sinister way.

A newly landscaped beach area at the Seven Seas Lagoon with the recently opened
Contemporary Resort Hotel in the background

There is a happy ending (of sorts) to this story. Given that the bomb (or whatever it was) had been placed in a part of Frontierland that the Guests couldn't easily get to (to be specific, it was a utility shed), investigators immediately realized that they were dealing with a disgruntled Cast Member. Someone who thought that they could frighten the Company into making this huge cash payout (in this case, he asked for $90,000) by pretending to be a mad bomber.

More to the point, they did eventually catch this guy. He was Robert Hara, a then 23-year-old college graduate who -- putting an additional weird little twist on this story -- was actually the son of Tupperware Home Products president Joseph Hara.

Anyway, according to a June 28th story in the St. Petersburg Independent (and a tip-of-the-hat to JHM reader James Martin for pointing out where to go to find this additional info):

Copyright 1972 Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved

(Hara) was indicted on Tuesday for planting a live bomb and twice trying to extort money in telephoned threats to the huge amusement center.

On February 3, a time bomb was discovered in a utility shed in the park's Frontierland three hours before it was set to explode. That day a young extortionist had demanded $90,000 in $20 bills and told a park switchboard operator, "If you don't think I can blow up that place just look in the utility shed."

On March 13th, another bomb threat was phoned to the park by a man demanding $250,000, authorities say. However, no explosive was found.

Copyright 1977 Universal Pictures, Inc. All rights reserved

Getting back to Robert Hara's story now: After a grand jury handed down its sealed indictment, the would-be mad bomber was released on a $10,000 bond. And due to all of the pre-trial publicity, Hara's trial was then moved to a Jacksonville, FL courthouse with a trial date set for September 18th. I have yet to be able to uncover whatever became of Robert Hara after this point.

Though -- that said -- I did hear that this whole unfortunate episode then became the inspiration of a 1977 Universal Pictures release, "Rollercoaster." Where a terrorist (played by Timothy Bottoms) then placed radio-controlled bombs on thrill rides all over the country. Scenes for this Sensurround extravaganza were shot at Kings Dominion & Ocean View Park in Virginia as well as at Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. With the film's climax taking place on board of that theme park's then-new Great American Revolution coaster.

So I guess the point that I'm trying to make here is the good old days weren't always so good. The only difference between then and now is - back then - we thought that we were safe but weren't. Whereas nowadays, we're constantly bombarded with all of these messages about how dangerous the world has become. When the reality is - according to a report that the FBI released back on September 20th - is:

Copyright 1988 Touchstone Pictures / Amblin Productions. All rights reserved

Violent crime dropped 6 percent in 2010, marking the fourth straight year-to-year decline, while property crime was down for the eighth straight year, falling 2.7 percent, the FBI said Monday, referring to crimes reported to authorities.

The rate for murder and non-negligent manslaughter fell to 4.8 per 100,000 population, less than half what it was two decades ago. The last time that rate was lower was in 1963, according to FBI crime data.

So I guess what I'm passing along this morning is kind of a mixed message. In that the good old days (circa 1972, anyway) weren't always as good as you thought they were / remembered them being. But on the other hand, today isn't just quite as bad as it may seem. So there's cause for some hope.

Copyright Universal Studios Hollywood. All rights reserved

Anyhow ... Nancy and I have some storm-related errands to run today. So I'm afraid that JHM won't be resuming its regularly scheduled programming 'til tomorrow. Which should be a fun story, given that - while trying to organize my library these past three days - I came across some amazing info about how Walt Disney actually had a hand in the creation of the Universal Studio Tour in  Hollywood back in the early 1960s.

Come back tomorrow and - provided that there's not another freak Nor'Easter and/or large rocks start falling out of the sky - I'll share it with you then.

Your thoughts?

The article was updated / corrected on November 3, 2011 to fold in additional information

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  • Jim this reminds me of a recent experience. My relatives once owned Playland at the Beach in San Francisco which is now defunct. It was demolished in 1972. I was just nine years old. I had been looking at some black and white photos when some online friends shared some color photos. They were nice but there was one problem. Playland had a lot of rust toward the end due to deferred maintainence. The rust really stood out in the color photos but couldn't be seen in the black and white photos. After some long thought I commented on the photos that I like the black and white photos better. When I was asked why, I answered: "because I can see the color better in black and white."  I was mixing the black and white photos along with my idealized memories. Seeing the color photos were great but it interfered with how how I wanted to remember "my" amusement park. You get what I mean.

  • A search of the Ggogle News archive finds the name of the would-be bomber: Robert Hara.

  • Oh, just go ahead and quote Billy Joel when he sang, "the good old days wern't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."  ("Keeping the Faith.")

  • The world is not any better then it used to be and not any worse though things change human nature stays the same. Kids today are no worse then the kids of the 70s just differences in how they are reported change our perception.

  • Great minds think alike, Eric! I thought of that line while reading this article.

  • Me, I'm mostly intrigued and slightly puzzled that you used the Toon Patrol as an illustration for this.

  • There really hasn't been huge differences except for social media. Now we know things that we either wouldn't have or wouldn't have known for so much longer because of our NOW society.

  • That is not how you spell "quiet".

  • Sorry about that last post... the title sentence was cut off reading the article on my phone and I thought you had written that things weren't as quiet as we thought they were.  My mistake.  Your spelling is stellar.

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