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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bringing Back Disney's Glory Days

Last week we just happened to be in Disneyland during their 63 year anniversary of the park opening on July 17, 1955. The celebrations were not as big as the 50th and 60th events but the date was still being recognized.

One thing that struck me was the new wave of classic retro apparel that features old logos, Mickey images and nods to their humble beginnings. This visit was the first one for me with a favorite old photo of mine in tow on my cell phone. I instantly began showing it to people who were wearing the flashback shirts but obviously not old enough to have experienced the original Disneyland vibe.
This photo from 1956 speaks for itself. It is my younger sister, Holly, and myself in the parking lot at the Disneyland Hotel. No touching up or PhotoShop. The classic cars behind us were the real deal.

                                                  Disneyland's first birthday in 1956

The reactions I received to this photo were all over the board. People were surprised, humored, in disbelief, curious, doubting and even just bewildered. However, they were mostly happy for the trip back in time presented in person by someone who was actually there for the park's first birthday.

In case you haven't noticed Disneyland has changed dramatically over the years and not always for the better. Being victims of their own success it is now very crowded, costly and commercialized. At times you wonder if the whole point of the place is just to promote and merchandise their movies.
Novice fans and Disney evangelists will debate the merits of all this growth probably forever but my favorite new pastime in the park is offering a sincere glimpse of the way it was via this tiny photo.

If the listener was game, my story continues with part two about the time I actually met Walt Disney himself. They were normally so enamored with the beautiful innocence of the photo that most were all ears for me to continue. That story took place when we were having breakfast in the Disneyland Hotel and Walt was walking the property to make sure everything was up to his high standards. My older sister, Gayle, spotted him and asked if he would agree to an autograph. I must admit at only nine years old she was pretty sharp and bold enough to make this request. In her later years she was kind enough to gift it to me. She had it mounted and framed with this stock photo of Walt holding a model of the Nautilus from the Disney film, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

Walt Disney's Autograph  

The enlarged image of the autograph shows it was written on a menu from the hotel restaurant which was shaped like a train. I was getting such great response to my stories that I felt compelled to also share them with park employees. The correct term for these workers is "Cast Members" and most of them are too young to have experienced the original Disneyland even as small children.

The Cast Members' reactions are my absolute favorites. They have a passion for where they work and they are well trained to treat park visitors as guests for the best experience possible. However, being so young means their vision of Walt Disney is just a mythical legend. So meeting someone in person who had direct contact with that legend somehow brings it all closer to home.

The "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" attraction is one of the longest running shows at the park. We always enjoy it because it is also full of Disneyland history. While waiting for the presentation to begin I was chatting up three of the Cast Members who were working the program. When I showed them the autograph they quickly led me over to a case displaying one of the original child menus just like Walt had signed for us. I was delighted to see the entire menu intact and it reaffirmed my signature's authenticity.

Display case at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

When it was pretty obvious that I was not a newcomer to Disney one of the cast members named Alex invited us to watch their legendary fireworks show from a special viewing area. We walked all the way to the front of the lines and watched right next to the famous bronze "Partners" statue of Walt and Mickey in front of the Cinderella Castle. This invitation was one of just several red carpets we received during our visit which all began with the simple sharing my little 64 year old snapshot.

As crowded, expensive and stressful as Disneyland can be today I left feeling that the Kingdom can still have Magic. All it takes is a little imagineering to the early days of Walt and his vision of it being the Happiest Place on Earth.

                                                          (Photo: Google Images)