Was Disneyland’s First Opening So Screwed Up That They Pretended It Didn’t Happen for More Than a Decade?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to amusement parks and whether they are true or false.

AMUSEMENT PARK URBAN LEGEND: The Opening Day of Disneyland was so fraught with problems that for a decade or so Walt Disney did not acknowledge it as the park’s actual opening.

Every year, on July 17th, workers at Disneyland (at least the “cast members” or whatever the heck they call the people who interact with the public) wear buttons stating how many years it was since Disneyland opened its doors on July 17th, 1955.

However, that Sunday was such a disaster that for over a decade, Disney did not even acknowledge that day AS the opening day for the park!

You see, July 17th was sort of locked in as the opening day for the park because Disney had an arrangement with ABC to have the opening broadcast live on television, so whether the park was totally ready or not, it WAS going to open that day.

And, well…it was not ready.

One of the most famous incidents that day was the fact that, due the asphalt in the parking lot just being poured that day it was not yet totally dry, so women in high heels in particular had problems walking on the ground as their heels would go right into the still soft asphalt!

That wasn’t it for the problems – Disney had the option of one of two pieces of plumbing being operational the first day – the toilets or the water fountains. Disney (wisely, in my view) chose the toilets.

However, the day was a particularly warm one (over 100 degrees) so the lack of operational water fountains did not go over well (even doubly so since Pepsi-Cola was one of Disney’s early sponsors, so the cantakorous likely felt that there was a c-o-n-spiracy going on with the “broken” water fountains).

In addition, while the event was a “By Invitation Only” one, counterfeits sprang up like wildfire, so the event was overcrowded. As such, vendors were unprepared for how many people would be there and, accordingly, ran out of food.

Finally, a gas leak closed down Adventureland, Frontierland, and Fantasyland for the afternoon.

However, you wouldn’t know the problems from the media coverage, as Disney handled it quite smoothly, with the help of some celebrities helping out in the coverage of the day, like Art Linkletter and Bob Cummings.

Oh, and this guy, seen here with Disney…

I wonder what ever became of that guy, “Ronnie” as Walt called him on the special.

In any event, due to the calamities of the day, Walt always referred to the day as “Black Sunday,” and for the rest of his life, Disney actually did not refer to July 17th as Opening Day.

In a press release sent out to celebrate the first year of Disneyland, the Opening Day is clearly stated as July 18th (the first day the public was allowed entrance).

For the next decade or so (basically until a year or so after Disney’s death), the Opening Day of Disneyland was July 18th and July 17th was known as “Dedication Day.”

Here IS the dedication that Disney gave that day…

To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here, age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

Nicely put, Walt.

Anyhow, the ACTUAL opening day became the OFFICIAL opening day during the late 1960s, and it’s been that way ever since.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.


Leave a Reply