57 Years ago today, Disneyland opened its gates for the first time to select (and not so select – tickets were easily duplicated!) invited guests, and the world got its first glimpse of a true phenomenon. Though the day proved to be hectic to say the least – overcrowding, freshly poured asphalt sinking high heels into Main Street, jumbled broadcasting – there was truly nothing like it, and the public, if not the critics, ate up every minute of it. What could have turned into one of the biggest follies the Disney company had ever known turned into success instead. As hard as it is to imagine in today’s information age of instant everything, this was truly a first glimpse of everything. With no internet fan sites providing inch by inch sneak photos of construction progress, criticisms and skepticism, all the public had to go off was occasional updates from the Disneyland TV show and the reputation of Disney: both the company and Walt himself.
But that was enough.
What many couldn’t fathom in their own mind was captured perfectly from Walt’s imagination and put into action in wonderful ways. Guests could fly over London with Peter Pan. Go for a spin in a teacup. Visit the old west. Pretend they were on a safari in the deepest jungles of Africa. Visit the far off future of 1986 – imagine the wonders of life by then! Relive an Americana so perfect it could only exist on Main Street, USA. This wasn’t a cheap park built off of roller coasters and ferris wheels – it was the first true theme park.
While nothing ever ran as smooth as expected, the park only gained in popularity as time went by. Ten years later, the worldwide sensation was even more sensational, and once again, those who weren’t there gathered around their televisions to celebrate.
Fifty-seven years later, Disneyland is still going strong. Sure, other parks have opened, mistakes have been made along with achievements, but the magic is still there. I see it in the face of my child. I see it on the heads of full grown adults wearing hats shaped like Goofy. I hear it in the laughter and screams of someone enjoying a ride, whether it be the first or one hundred and first time for them. I feel it in my heart. I walk through the gate, and part of me is home.
So happy birthday, Disneyland. You’ve come a long way, and always have a long way to go. There’s plenty of imagination left in all of us, and can’t wait to see what the future holds for the young and young at heart.
And as always, thanks, Walt. I’ve said it before and will say it again: Some stars just refuse to fade.