On July 17, 1957, Disneyland employees sported badges celebrating the second anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney’s fabulous theme park in Anaheim, California. Walt’s memories of July 17, 1955 were less than rosy, however. In fact, he and his company’s executives had good reason to look back on “Black Sunday” as a public relations nightmare.
Opening day for Disneyland’s 20 attractions was to be celebrated with a nationwide television broadcast called an “International Press Preview”. Three of Walt’s good friends in the entertainment industry – Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and Ronald Reagan – anchored ABC’s live coverage. Eleven thousand honored guests and media were invited, but a flood of counterfeit tickets swelled the attendance to 28,154. Movie stars scheduled to appear at staged 2-hour intervals showed up all at once. The usually mild climate gave way to a scorching temperature of 101 F. A plumber’s strike required Walt to make a difficult executive decision: water fountains or working toilets – choose one. Walt chose toilets, and the hot and thirsty crowd accused Opening Day sponsor Pepsi of a orchestrating a cynical soda sales push. Asphalt newly poured that morning softened in the heat, trapping well- and high-heeled female guests. Vendors ran out of food for the unexpected crowds; a gas leak shut Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland early in the afternoon. The day went so badly that Walt invited everyone back for a private second day.
Crowds began lining up at 2:00 AM for the July 18th public opening. Before the day was through, around 50,000 people had experienced the “magic kingdom” that Walt envisioned as “a happy place . . . a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” Less than three months later, Disneyland welcomed its 1 millionth visitor.
Image Credit: Tom Simpson & Neato Coolville/The Walt Disney Archives/www.designingdisney.com