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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17, 1955

Today is Tuesday, July 17, 2012. I suppose this means that we're going to take another trip back through time to a significant event in the world of pop culture. Unlike other Tuesday Timeline entries where I had several possibilities to choose from, this day had one event that basically screamed “pick me”!

So, I did.

Of course, no Tuesday Timeline would be complete without taking a look back at the other significant events that also took place on July 17th.

So, on this date in...

180 – Twelve inhabitants of Scillium in North Africa are executed because they were Christians

1203 – The Fourth Crusade captures Constantinople by assault, forcing Byzantine Emperor Alexius III Angelus flees in exile

1717 – Aside from the coolness of the date being written as 7/17/1717, on this date, King George I sails down River Thames with a barge of 50 musicians, where George Friedric Handel's “Water Music” is premiered

1791 – Members of the French National Guard under General Lafayette's command open fire on a group of radical Jacobins at the Champ de Mars in Paris, France, killing as many as 50 people

1794 – The sixteen Carmelite Martyrs of Compeigne are executed ten days prior to the end of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror

1856 – The Great Train Wreck of 1856 kills over 60 people in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania

1867 – The first school of dentistry, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, is opened in the United States

1899 – NEC Corporation is organized at the first Japanese joint venture with foreign capital

1912 – House Party host Art Linkletter is born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada

1917 – King George V issues proclamation stating that the male descendants of the British Royal Family will bear the surname Windsor

1918 – The RMS Carpathia sinks off the coast of Ireland by the German SM U-55, killing five people...the boat was made famous six years earlier after assisting in the Titanic rescue efforts

1932 – Altona Bloody Sunday occurs

1933 – Lithuanian research aircraft Lituanica crashes in Europe after successfully crossing the Atlantic Ocean

1938 – Douglas Corrigan earns the nickname “Wrong Way Corrigan” after taking off from Brooklyn, New York to fly the wrong way to Ireland

1944 – Two ammunition loaded ships crash into each other in the San Francisco Bay outside of Port Chicago, California, killing 320 people

1945 – The three Allied Nations leaders (Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Harry S. Truman) meet to discuss a defeated Germany's future

1959 – Singer Billie Holliday dies in New York City at the age of 44

1976 – East Timor is annexed, and becomes the 27th Indonesian province, while the opening ceremonies of the Montreal Olympic Games are marred by 25 African teams boycotting the New Zealand team

1981 – At the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, 114 are killed and at least 200 injured after a walkway collapses in the hotel's main lobby

1989 – The first flight of the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber

1996 – TWA Flight 800 from New York City to Paris, France explodes shortly after takeoff, killing all 230 people on board

2007 – TAM Airlines Flight 3054 crashes in San Paolo, Brazil, killing 199 people, and making it Brazil's deadliest aviation accident

2009 – The double bombings of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels in Jakarta kill nine people on the same day that Walter Cronkite passes away at the age of 92

WOW...July 17 was an unusually deadly day in history. Plane crashes, partial building collapses, and train disasters. What an unlucky day. I suppose it's a good thing that I chose a relatively happy event in comparison.

Before we get to that, I want to wish the following people a happy birthday. A happy July 17th birthday to Phyllis Diller, Jimmy Scott, Diahann Carroll, Donald Sutherland, Connie Hawkins, Don Kessinger, Catherine Schell, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Charlie Steiner, P.J. Soles, Lucie Arnaz, David Hasselhoff, Angela Merkel, J. Michael Straczynski, Bryan Trottier, Dawn Upshaw, Regina Belle, John Ventimiglia, Craig Morgan, Beth Littleford, Bitty Schram, Andre Royo, Jason Rullo, Tony Dovolani, Eric Moulds, Luke Bryan, Eric Winter, Marc Savard, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, Mike Vogel, Natasha Hamilton (Atomic Kitten), Sarah Jones, and Brooke Kinsella.

So, what year are we visiting this time around?

Why, July 17, 1955, of course. You see, July 17, 1955 saw the dedication of a theme park right in the heart of California...Anaheim to be exact. The park was dedicated at 4:43 in the afternoon of that date by the very man whom the park was named after. And, amusingly enough, that day didn't exactly go as planned. In fact, the dedication ceremony itself was filled with one disaster after another, leaving executives of the park to refer to the event as “Black Sunday”. The day was so filled with disaster that for the first decade that the park was opened, the executives and staff of the park would insist on celebrating the anniversary of the park on July 18 instead! These days, it appears as though the park has accepted its original date of dedication, as every July 17, cast members and employees of the park are required to wear a pin celebrating the park's birthday.

Would you like to read the original speech that was read to the public announcing the opening of the new theme park on July 17, 1955? Here you go!

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 the 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.
  • Walt Disney, July 17, 1955

That's right. Today's entry is all about the the magical place known as Disneyland, Walt Disney's first theme park, and the only park that Walt Disney directly supervised before his death in 1966. Disneyland of course wouldn't be the only theme park (Walt Disney World opened in Florida in October 1971, and there are now Disney theme parks in Tokyo, Paris, Shanghai, and Hong Kong), but its founding, as well as the mishaps that occurred at the opening are worth mentioning, just to illustrate how far the park has come.

So, what inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland? Well, it began while he was taking his daughters, Sharon and Diane, to Los Angeles' Griffith Park. He watched them riding the merry-go-round there, and the gears in his brain began to turn. Why couldn't he create a place where both kids and adults could have a lot of fun and share some wonderful memories?

When Disney received quite a few letters in the mail from fans who wanted to visit the studios, Walt Disney didn't think that the studios had the sufficient space needed to accommodate thousands of visitors each week. But he thought about opening up a small park near the studios which could handle the traffic. His first concept of Disneyland started off as a venture that he named “Mickey Mouse Park”. And, initially, his plan only used eight acres of land. But after visiting other theme parks all over the world for inspiration, he quickly discovered that eight acres just wasn't enough.

He hired a consultant, Harrison Price from the Stanford Research Institute to research areas where he could build his park, and based on Price's report, Disney purchased 160 acres filled with orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, California. To fund the project, Disney used the power of television, creating a new television show with the name of “Disneyland”. It was broadcast on the struggling ABC network, and in exchange, ABC promised to help finance the building of the new park. By 1952, Disney had a name for his park picked out. It was to originally be called Disneylandia, but two years later, taking the advice of the ABC network, shortened the name to Disneyland. The construction of the park began on July 16, 1954, and reportedly cost $17 million to build.

TRIVIA: At the same time that Disneyland was being built, so was U.S. Route 101 (later renamed Interstate 5). Because of the traffic that everyone expected that the completed Disneyland would bring, the decision was made to add two more lanes to the finished design, and was completed just before the park was set to open.

One year plus a day later, Disneyland was ready to be opened to the public. Although the park and its 20 attractions were scheduled to be opened on Monday, July 18, 1955, Walt Disney had arranged for a press conference to take place at the park itself that Sunday, and only invited guests and the media were allowed on the premises for the “International Press Preview”. There were 28,000 people who attended the event, but the kicker was that only 14,000 were there legitimately, and held real tickets. The rest had purchased counterfeit tickets. So, that was problem number one.

The dedication ceremony was broadcast nationally on ABC live, and it was anchored by Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter, and Bob Cummings. But the decision to air the dedication event on live television was plagued with its own set of problems. Because of the large crowd that gathered at the park, the cables that were attached to the television cameras were constantly stepped on, and as a result, the cameras kept cutting in and out during the shoot. Reportedly, the cameras also caught one of the hosts, Bob Cummings, kissing one of the dancers outside of Frontierland, which probably wouldn't have been so scandalous had he not been married to his third wife at the time!

Later in the day, Walt Disney began to read the inscription on the plaque dedicating Tomorrowland when out of nowhere, Disney stopped reading after a technician said something to him off camera, which threw him off. It got so confusing that Disney had to start over again. Things didn't improve any when the action shifted from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, where Linkletter attempted to shift coverage over to Cummings who was on the pirate ship. But when Cummings wasn't ready, he tried to switch back to Linkletter, who had by that point lost his microphone, and Cummings was forced to do a play-by-play as Linkletter searched for the microphone around Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!

If you thought that was bad enough, get a load of some of the other mishaps that happened that day.

  • The traffic was backed up on Harbor Boulevard for hours on the day of the dedication
  • It was originally planned for the planned celebrity guests to arrive on a staggered schedule every two hours, but instead the guests showed up all at once!
  • The temperature on that particular day exceeded 100 F. As if that wasn't bad enough, due to a plumber's strike that was happening at the time, Disney was faced with having working drinking fountains and working bathrooms! What a choice to make!
  • As expected, Disney felt it was better to have working toilets than drinking fountains, so on one of the hottest days of the year, the fountains were dry. As if things couldn't get any worse, the event ended up getting negative reaction from the invited guests...given the fact that Pepsi was one of the park's main sponsors, some believed that the out of order fountains were purposely made that way so that Pepsi could sell more of their product!
  • The newly-poured asphalt wasn't fully hardened at the time of the was reported that the heels of some women's shoes had gotten stuck as they walked through the park!
  • Some of the vendors at the park ran out of food before the end of the day, and a gas leak ended up shutting down three attractions for the rest of the day.
It was an absolute disaster that day. With so many mishaps, it's a wonder that Disneyland even made it to the official grand opening at all! The dedication event received a lot of bad publicity, and it prompted Walt Disney to invite the attendees back to Disneyland for a private “second day” to get the proper Disneyland experience.

Despite the various blunders of the dedication day, the opening of the park to the public the next day seemed to attract a lot of attention. It was reported that people started lining up at two in the morning, and approximately 50,000 people attended Disneyland on its official grand opening.

And over the course of Disneyland's 57-year-history, the park has continued to grow. The park had three major expansions. New Orleans Square was opened up in 1966, Bear Country (now known as Critter Country) opened up in 1972, and in 1993, Mickey's Toon Town was added. And of course, there are notable other features in Disneyland, which include Main Street U.S.A., Space Mountain, and the Walt Disney Enchanted Tiki Room. And Disneyland still attracts an average of sixteen million visitors a year, so clearly it managed to rise above its dismal opening to have a strong finish.

There's a lot more trivia associated with Disneyland as well. Here are just a few of the tidbits that I discovered in my research.

Did you know that Doritos were invented in Disneyland in 1964? At the Case de Fritos stand, they were created as a way to use up discarded tortillas, and were given the name Doritos, which were Spanish for “little golden things”. Two years later, Frito-Lay brought out Doritos nationwide, and they have been popular ever since!

Did you know that Nikita Khrushchev was famously denied entry into Disneyland in 1959 due to Cold War tension? It happens to be true. In the 1960s, the Shah of Iran was invited to Disneyland by Walt Disney himself.

For the park's 50th anniversary in 2005, the eighteen month event known as the “Happiest Homecoming on Earth” commemorated 50 years of Disney theme parks. The park was decorated with 50 golden Mickey ears, and many attractions were restored to their former glory to mark the occasion.

Visitors to the park are referred to as “guests”, while the employees are referred to as “cast members”.

Originally, Disneyland contained a helipad which transported passengers via helicopter from Los Angeles International Airport to the park, but after two fatal accidents in 1968, the service was suspended.

Disneyland spends an average of $41,000 each night the park holds a fireworks display! That's a lot of bang for their buck, wouldn't you say?

In May of 1981, the cost to get into Disneyland for a day was a mere $10.75. In May of 2012, the cost was $87.00!

In all the years of operation, Disneyland has ever only had three unscheduled closures. The first one was in November 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The second was in January 1994 to inspect the park for damages after the January 17 Northridge quake. The third and final time so far happened on September 11, 2001, following the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C.

Really, I could go on and on with the trivia. I actually encourage all of you to look at some of the facts that are associated with Disneyland, because it is quite neat to read about.

That's our look back on July 17, 1955. And, now I have a question to ask of all of you.

BONUS QUESTION: Have you ever been to Disneyland before (I have NOT, but want to be a guest one day)? And if you have, what are some of your memories of the place? I'm interested in hearing your stories!

1 comment:

  1. I have been to Disneyland so many times I can't remember. When I was young, my parents got divorced and my father moved to Southern California. When we went to visit him in the summer, we always went to Disneyland. It is still one of my favorite places, and I love sharing that with my children. I feel like such kid when I am there. So many great memories. I am a confessed Disney freak and more than half of my wardrobe consists of Disney t-shirts and sweatshirts!