Disneyland’s 59th Anniversary – Love Letters & Memories

Photo-locations-post-Castle-10_06_DL_-3654Today, Disneyland celebrates its 59th Anniversary. On July 17, 1955, what is arguably the most famous theme park in the world was dedicated “to all who come to this happy place” by a beaming Walt Disney. The following day, Disneyland opened its gates to an eager public, and for the next five plus decades, the Happiest Place on Earth would truly serve “as a source of joy and inspiration to all the world” and the more than 600,000,000 guests that have passed through its main gate and through the entry tunnels to Main Street, U.S.A., and the magical lands beyond.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Disneyland is the fact that while we all share a collective experience as guests whenever we go to the park, everything there is also very personal – triggering memories and emotions that are as varied and unique as the individuals experiencing them. Each of us has favorite attractions, shows, restaurants or spots throughout Disneyland: the Auctioneer in Pirates of the Caribbean, Madame Leota’s incantation in The Haunted Mansion, the giant eye peering at us through the Mighty Microscope in Adventure Thru Inner Space, making faces for the camera at the end of Space Mountain, anniversary dinners at the Blue Bayou, Monte Cristo sandwiches at Cafe Orleans, night time excursions aboard the Mark Twain, zipping down Chickapin Hill on Splash Mountain, Big Al singing “Blood On The Saddle” during the Country Bear Jamboree, listening to the talking mailboxes in Mickey’s Toontown, summer night fireworks and The Main Street Electrical Parade, corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon on Main Street, feeding ducks from the lower level of Hungry Bear Restaurant, dancing the night away at Videopolis, the dragon igniting Rivers of America during Fantasmic!, those small yellow Disneyland flashlights every kid had to have, stealing a kiss at Snow White’s Grotto, trying not to get nauseated on the Mad Tea Party, late-night rides on the PeopleMover with best friends, visiting Naboo aboard Star Tours, introducing your child to Mickey Mouse for the first time, gnawing a giant turkey leg while strolling through Adventureland, the dynamite-chewing goat on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, singing “It’s a Small World” over and over, browsing through the Disney Gallery, looking up at the grinning bobcat or Devil’s Paint Pots on Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, or ending a visit with a grand circle tour of the Magic Kingdom aboard the Disneyland Railroad.

The list is endless, and the impressions priceless.

To celebrate Disneyland’s 59th Anniversary, we asked TPAers of all walks to share their own Disneyland memories with us. The response was amazing; choosing a handful of entries was challenging – the outpouring of love that fans have for Disneyland is boundless. If you don’t find your submission here, you will likely identify and find yourself nodding, smiling, and perhaps shedding a tear as you share in others’ own fond memories of that so very special place in Anaheim…

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“I can sum up most of my feelings about Disneyland with just one word: “HOME”. Growing up in San Diego, my I remember my parents taking me to Disneyland at a very young age which is where the seed for my obsession with theme parks was planted. Disneyland wasn’t just another amusement park; each trip felt so special and different, like nowhere else on Earth. Each year when my parents asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I would ask to be taken to Disneyland. As new attractions opened, I would travel to the park with friends to ride. Grad Night 1988… I was there with my schoolmates. And when I met the woman of my dreams, who I would eventually ask to marry me, the first place that I took her was Disneyland. I grew up with Disneyland, and even though I’ve moved across the country, when my sons were old enough, I took them both to Disneyland. Now my daughter is about to turn five and you know what? I can’t wait to take her “home” with me to Disneyland the next chance I get.” – Lance Hart, Screamscape.com

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6_09_DLR_100943_5998_11441“I am one of those lucky people who can say I grew up on Walt’s Main Street. From my lucky viewpoint, I witnessed so many magical moments. From a group of hard bikers walking around with smiles and Mickey Mouse hats on their heads, to parents watching fireworks through tear-filled eyes, holding on tight to their little girls’ hand as they replayed their own youth through every colorful burst. The memories of that special day when I told my wife “I do” around Snow White’s Grotto. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the friends… the things I will never forget. Thank you, Disneyland, for putting the magic in my life.” – Don Schockow, Theme Park Audio Archives

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“Since a small child, Disneyland has been the place I go to for respite, excitement, inspiration, imagination and wonder. Certainly the park has changed (a lot!) over the years, but with each and every visit there is a moment of discovery, surprise and magic that reveals the park to me in a new way. None of us would be doing what we do without Disneyland and remains a constant both as a classic and a contemporary embodiment of our industry.” – Craig Hanna, Chief Creative Officer, Thinkwell

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“Disneyland is my Neverland. Brought there as an infant with the expectation that I would never have to grow up. I have had many adventures with other Lost Boys and Girls. We have followed each other around many mountains, flown over lands of Tomorrow and Fantasy, paddled through rivers in Indian war canoes, and frequently braved the dangers of cursed pirates. I won’t grow up as long as there is a Disneyland left in this world.” – Josh Shipley, Creative Designer, Walt Disney Imagineering

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“Night time is always the most magical time at Disneyland; the park sparkling with lights, fireworks and Fantasmic! One of my most vivid memories as a child is seeing Fantasmic! for the first time. I remember waiting all year to go to Disneyland, and listening to the Fantasmic! soundtrack over and over in anticipation. When the day finally came to make my journey to Disneyland, I was so ecstatic, especially when the sun went down and the clock struck 9 P.M. Rivers of America was pitch black as the music escalated and Mickey appeared in the spotlight; the show began, and tears of joy ran down from my eyes. The whole show was as epic as I imagined… I abosolutely love the music, the dragon breathing fire, and the villains together in a show together. An experience I will never forget. Thank you, Disneyland!” – Mary Imagination, The Fright Zone

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Bob Gurr (top) working on the first Disneyland Monorail in July 1959. Photo courtesy Bob Gurr

“Disneyland is the best engineering college I ever went to. No entry requirements, just a ready willingness to design and build the never-before-built, learn materials selection, even stress analysis – both metal and mental. No other college would have allowed the untrained and unqualified to be responsible for the fun and safety of millions. Best part? No tuition and you got paid!” – Bob Gurr, Disney Legend

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“Disneyland for me, was my birthday place! As far back as I can recall, April 1st, my birthday, was when my dad and mom took me and a friend of my choice to this magical place! The parking lot was always foggy on those April mornings, and the smell of the tram’s diesel exhaust, mixed with the sounds of the approaching entrance, was like walking right into every Disney film or storybook my childhood was privy to. The day would be loaded with adventure and enchantment that always ended with our final stop at the Magic Shop on Main Street, where I got to pick out my souvenir for the day. Day would slowly fade into starlight as I fell asleep in the back seat of the car on the way home on the 5 Freeway. If it were not for me awaking the next morning to find my Mickey balloon, typically with one ear deflated, on the floor of my room… you could have convinced me it was all a dream.” – Tom “Thor” Thordarson, Senior Creative Director, BRC Imagination Arts

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DL-H-22“I remember one of my many trips to Disneyland, back in the late ’80s. Freshly enrolled in the San Jose State University School of Art and Design (where Mary Blair once attended, he said bumptiously), I was at the park with some old friends, trying to pack in as many rides as possible, as was typical. Racing toward our third go-around in the Haunted Mansion, something caught my eye on the road ahead between New Orleans Square and Bear Country. Some of the walls which had been hiding construction of the mysterious Splash Mountain had been removed, and an artist was carefully sculpting one of the huge weathered boulders that lined the pathway along the front of the huge drop. Bit by bit and scrape by scrape, from a heap of clay, a million-year-old perfectly natural bolder emerged. Scrape, scrape, scrape. Time slowed as I was caught up in my revelation. I was mesmerized, to the agony of my impatient compatriots. It was the first trip that demonstrated to me that my personal joy from all future visits to Disneyland would be marked by discovery of the art and ingenuity behind the unabashedly synthetic reality created by the Imagineers. To this day, I’m constantly on the prowl for a little hole in a construction wall, or an overheard snippet of conversation from suspiciously suited corporate-types. As Van Arsdale France used to say audaciously of Disneyland and its residents, “We create happiness”; and for me, the Imagineers who have created Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom have indeed created happiness, while their work continues to inspire me in my career as an artist.” – Jeff Baham, Doombuggies.com

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“Growing up, I was fortunate to have an incredible dad that took me to every Southern California theme park. It was probably his fault I became a theme park fan, not that I blame him! But there was always something very special about a specific park… and that was Disneyland. I’ve been a Disneyland Annual Passholder for a number of years now, yet entering the park and experiencing my favorite attractions still brings me chills and happiness. Disneyland is an emotional experience that is hard to explain, which is the best part – a magical place can make you feel that way. Disneyland is what inspires me – from The Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones Adventure, to Fantasmic! – this theme park is what shaped me. I will forever be grateful to call Disneyland my local theme park – a place that Walt Disney personally created and walked through only 35 miles away from my home. Disneyland is what piqued my interest to be a part of the themed entertainment industry… and well, here I am today with the most incredible dream job I’ve ever had because of one little park in Anaheim.” – Johanna Atilano, Coordinator, BRC Imagination Arts / Owner, Theme Park Adventure 

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photo (13)“In my life, I have had two heroes: my father, and Walt Disney. When I would go to Disneyland as a child, I could walk in Walt’s footsteps as my father would point out all the beautiful details of his wonderful place. My day would always start the same; head over to the left side (always the left side), read the plaque, step through the porthole and enter another world, and look around seeing ALL the beauty Main Street has to offer. We’d walk over to the Emporium and look in the windows, seeing all the wonderful vignettes from upcoming movies. Then came the torture. I see kids and parents running down Main Street to the Matterhorn or Pirates to avoid any lines. But what was I doing? Being forced to play a game of checkers with my dad next to a potbellied stove. IT DROVE ME CRAZY!!!!! My whole childhood… It was checkers first, then off to ride. I hated it! When I was in my mid 20s, I went to the park with my dad. First thing on the agenda: checkers with my dad. My daughter just went to Disneyland for the first time without me. Yep, plaque, left side, vignettes. Third generation of traditions. Oh yeah; gotta ride the train around the park last. To me, whether it’s teaching my kids to walk, my bachelor party, or checkers, Disneyland is about family. Thank you, Walt Disney, for building my favorite place in the entire world.” – Dutch Ryan

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“Happy Birthday Disneyland! Disneyland continues to represent the happy place it always has been. I still have the pixie dust and excitement entering Walt’s park and walking down Main Street U.S.A. No matter what our background or connection to the park, it holds the same magic it always has for all of us. Things may change around us, but Disneyland will always survive as an American icon. I am so proud to be a part of her history. Here’s to Walt Disney’s dream of Disneyland, and the many fans and staff that continue to love her. See you at the park!” – Bob Baranick, Themed Entertainment Industry Veteran

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“My favorite memory of Disneyland is seeing it for the first time on the Travel Channel. I grew up going with my family to Disneyland ever since I was little, but it was when I saw Disneyland on the Travel Channel that my mind (and heart) completely changed how I thought about Disney. I started to realize that there was a reality behind all the magic; that there was a special process (Disney’s Imagineers) to creating these rides. However, during that time when I was just a teenager, I never knew that 10 years later I would want to work in themed entertainment. It must have really been a future vision that I saw 10 years ago. The profession that I thought was the most unimagineable when I was a teenager, is now the one I am working to get into. Technically, I’m still a prospective candidate in themed entertainment, but I currently work for ScareLA, which I’m really glad about, because I get to work with a talented team that loves theme parks!” – Damaris Dubon

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“I still get a little giddy every time I see the peak of the Matterhorn come into view. I still get a little misty every time I remember crying inside Rainbow Caverns. I love the smell of the Subs. I love going to Hell. I love Paul Frees’ voice. I love Disneyland, because it feels like Walt made it just for me. Disneyland put me on path I’m still walking. Disneyland changed my DNA.” – Robert Coker, Senior Show Writer/Creative Development, Super 78

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Brady 20 months & Brooks Bowen 3-1/2 from Pollock ID. Photo release on file.“To write just a paragraph about what Disneyland means to me is a huge challenge. Whether it is being scared beyond recognition as a three-year old boy by 999 happy haunts, or my mom – despite her disliking of thrill rides – taking me for my very first roller coaster ride via a runaway mine train, there are many fond memories dating back to the early 1970s. Disneyland has played a huge factor in both my professional and personal life. The common thread is the people, whether Cast Members working or fellow guests accompanying me on a vicarious adventure, are why this theme park holds a very special place in my heart. For example, even though it was not officially our first date – the first time hanging out one-on-one in a social situation with Michelle (the love of my life) was at Disneyland. Since 2004, it remains our dating tradition. Thank you so much to Disneyland, its creators and designers, Cast Members, colleagues, and my family, friends, and – more importantly – Michelle, for making it a true Magic Kingdom. Cheers!” – Ken Saba, Themed Entertainment Industry Producer/Editor/Creative Director

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“My love affair with Disney attractions (and themed entertainment in general) began with a visit to the New York World’s Fair in 1964 where, as a six-year-old, I was completely and utterly mesmerized and blown away by Disney’s four pavilions. A few years later the deal was sealed when I made my first pilgrimage to Disneyland. I just couldn’t believe a place like that could exist in the world: the immersive attractions, the grandeur, the clever (but cleverly concealed) technology, the sense of optimism and hope. I was hooked for life. And hooked so deeply, that I spent decades trying to figure out how I could get involved in the industry. Now, as a journalist covering theme parks, I am having the time of my life and feel blessed to be able to have a career that reflects my passion and gives me great joy. I owe it all to Disneyland, and I’m deeply grateful. I make this pledge to the park’s guardians: You keep making the magic, and I’ll keep writing about it. Deal?” – Arthur Levine, About.com Theme Park Expert

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“Disneyland has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Growing up in Southern California meant it was always in my backyard and was a frequently visited location. But it’s grown to be more than that to me. Place of solace at hard times in life, place of joy and celebration in happier times. I’ve been fortunate to have seen many places in this world, and some of those places are truly special. Disneyland is one of them. It exudes a wonderful energy that brings out our child-like wonder that we so often lose in the real world. A living, breathing place brought to life by the wonderful Cast Members, whose sole purpose is to create happy memories for those who walk through those gates, cross under the train tracks and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. Happy birthday, old friend!” – Jim Disney, Westcoaster.net

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TikiRoomSW

Scott Weitz as a kid (center) outside Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 1968. Photo courtesy Scott Weitz

“I first encountered the creative potential of themed entertainment when I was five years old, and happily I’ve never been the same since. That’s me in the pith helmet outside the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland in the summer of 1968. When Walt Disney’s Imagineers created a tropical thunderstorm in sunny Anaheim or served lunch on a moonlit bayou in the middle of the day, I was hooked and haven’t stopped loving these grand illusions since. Disneyland will always remain my favorite theme park in the world because you can still feel his showman’s hand and creative genius around every corner of this truly magical kingdom. Thanks Walt!” – Scott Weitz, Scott Weitz Show Creations

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“Disneyland will always mean the joy of childhood to me. I will never forget the first time my little brother and I got to go to Disneyland. My parents had timed it around December, so they could tell us we were going to the Christmas tree farm. I remember passing under the “Welcome to Disneyland: The Happiest Place on Earth” sign, and the joy and realization of being at Disneyland. There’s nothing quite like seeing a child’s eyes light up!” – Marissa Bomgardner

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Rick West (left) with his grandfather in Town Square, 1972. Photo courtesy Rick West

“Disneyland has been many things to me over the years. A childhood fantasy destination, a workplace, a weekend escape for a few hours of leisure, and a source of inspiration as a creative in the themed entertainment industry. Naturally, I could write volumes on each of those phases of my life – which I have, and will continue to do in the future. However, as I reflect on what Disneyland means to me as it reaches its 59th Anniversary, my memories fall heavily back to those magical trips with my grandfather, which started at a very early age for me; I believe I was two the first time I ever visited Disneyland, and I am pretty sure this picture captures that special day, as my grandfather and I pose for the camera in Town Square. He was my best friend, and Disneyland was our place. Sure, most of the time there were people with us – other family members, sometimes my friends. But the special memories I have really are of just the two of us experiencing Disneyland together and stumbling upon its little details through the years. I can remember sitting on a bench with him in Bear Country, and him directing my attention to a rocky outcropping on a hill, where we could hear Rufus snoring loudly in his cave. I remember sitting on his shoulders in sweltering heat while in line for Pirates of the Caribbean; it must have been nightmarish for him, but he never complained once as I took in the sights and sounds from my perch up high in the summer sun. And oh, how he loved to sing loudly to me, ‘Yo ho, yo ho! A pirate’s life for me!‘ as we rode our favorite attraction. He also loved singing to and with me in the Tiki Room and Country Bear Jamboree. And the fireworks – God, how he loved the fireworks at the end of the day! Over the years, I came to realize that my grandpa was a true Disneyland fan, long before it became a “thing”. He loved that park, and loved spending time with me there as I grew up. I don’t remember our final trip to Disneyland together; it was a long time ago, well before he passed away 12 years ago this month. I’d like to think that in a way, our trips continue – that he’s there with me as I experience new adventures and reminisce about old ones. He’s there every time I sing along in Pirates or the Tiki Room, and I often think about our “Rufus spot” as I walk past Splash Mountain. He’s there when I ride the Disneyland Railroad around the park at night, and I know he’s still enjoying the fireworks. He’d have been amazed by Indiana Jones, and would have a hard time comprehending the technical wizardry of Star Tours. My buddy and me; our trips to Disneyland together haven’t stopped; they’ve just changed a bit. Walt Disney created much more than a theme park in Anaheim. He created a place within a berm where real magic exists – where the old become young again, the woes of the world are banned beyond the main gate, and where our memories – and those we shared them with – are just as real as they ever were, once upon a time. Happy Birthday, Disneyland; from two of your life-long fans!” – Rick West, Founder, Theme Park Adventure

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Garner Holt (left) with his dad on his first trip to Disneyland in 1963. Photo courtesy Garner Holt

“Disneyland stopped being simply a theme park to me a long time ago. Here’s a picture of me on my very first trip to the park in about 1963, with my dad in front of one of Bob Gurr’s early monorails. I still remember little bits and pieces of that first trip, but it was another visit about ten years later that changed my life forever. After seeing the Osmond Brothers and Kurt Russell visit the Haunted Mansion and learn all about what it took to build the attraction, I began to see Disneyland not as a randomly assembled mass of pixie dust and magic, but as an intricate machine actually built by people. I begged my parents to take me back, and, after seeing Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and, of course, the Haunted Mansion, I was smitten with the mechanical magic that made the park’s best attractions tick. On the ride home, I informed my parents that I wouldn’t be a veterinarian (as they wanted for me) but would devote my life to creating things like those I saw at Disneyland. 37 years of continuous business at Garner Holt Productions, Inc. later, I’m still in love with Audio-Animatronics and the wonderful little park that gave rise to them. Thank you, Disneyland, thank you, Walt—you inspired my life’s story.” – Garner Holt, Garner Holt Productions, Inc.

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photo“Being of the first generation to grow up with Disneyland, childhood gave me the framework in which to see the park as something very “real”. In the year before Disneyland would open, it existed only through the techno-fantasy of television. There, each week, Walt Disney would unwrap some more dreams for Disneyland and entertain viewers with stories and characters that would soon inhabit its magical worlds. I do not think I could fully comprehend how this would all come together until an incredible first visit to Disneyland made it all “real”.

“Real” is how the park would remain to me from that moment forward. While friends grew up and moved into the responsibilities of life, I was lucky enough to stay with Disneyland, making it my vocation, and eventually, transform that move into an avocation… never having lost that childlike sense of Disneyland’s reality. I have been involved with many Disney parks around the world, but only this first one has to me, stayed “real”. It was created by Walt Disney, with the sole purpose of bringing his incredible dreams to life, and in so doing, he left our world a better place. Like the boy’s ability to hear the Christmas sleigh bell at the end of The Polar Express, I can, and will always, cherish my belief in the absolute reality of Disneyland.” – Tony Baxter, Disney Legend

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The memories we all share of Disneyland are endless. It’s hard to imagine Disneyland has existed for many of us, long before we were born; even more tough to contemplate that it will be here long after each of us have passed on. It’s a beautiful monument not only to one man’s dreams, but truly a communal gathering place where we’ve all shared laughter, tears, momentary thrills and a lifetime of experiences. Disneyland is much more than a vacation spot or theme park. Disneyland is all of us. It may be 59 today – but in reality, Disneyland is ageless. It’s in many ways, the same as it was that hot July afternoon in 1955 when Walt Disney strode into Town Square to read his dedication plaque to a watching world. A fantasy land where kids can spend time with their parents together. Where friends can hang out and enjoy a cool winter day in a group. A place where lovers can spend a “date night” under the summer stars. A place where, if just for a moment, everything is right in the world. That’s how Walt Disney and his team of legendary Imagineers saw it. And 59 years later – that’s exactly how it’s remained.

Happy 59th Anniversary, Disneyland!

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TPAers, we invite you to share your own memories and thoughts about Disneyland as we celebrate its 59th Anniversary together! Tell us about your favorite attractions, moments, and what Disneyland means to you!

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One Response to Disneyland’s 59th Anniversary – Love Letters & Memories

  1. Avatar Dan says:

    Fantastic article, Rick (and all of the other contributors). I spent the majority of my youth at either Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. I have such an extensive list of great memories from within Disneyland involving family, friendship, and relationships. This year will be the first year that I don’t have an annual pass in a very very long time, due to their prices being beyond what I can afford anymore. Luckily I have sites like this, or MiceAge to get my Disney fix. Happy Birthday, Disneyland.

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