On Saturday July 17th, 2010, Disneyland celebrated its 55th birthday and I was there to witness it. 55 years prior, on the same day in 1955, Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan, and Art Linkletter opened Disneyland for the first time to the world.
Each year, Disneyland celebrates its birthday (or anniversary, as some call it) in a unique way, often including special decorations and a dedication ceremony. This year, after passing through the turnstile, the first celebratory mark noticed by guests was in the form of park maps that had a vintage flair on the cover.
I was disappointed to find nothing else was vintage within the map, only the cover, but I suppose it could have been confusing if the actual map depicted original attractions that weren’t there anymore.
As I entered Main Street, I noticed red, white, and blue decorations hanging on all the nearby lamp posts. A cast member told me they were reproductions of how Main Street was decorated on Disneyland’s opening day. The Main Street Cinema marquee even read, “Disneyland Opening Day” – a nice touch. Not only was Disney magically transporting guests to turn-of-the-century life along Main Street, as they do every day, but on this special day guests were also welcomed to a recreation of a monumental day in American history.
Within the Main Street Cinema, gone were the classic Mickey Mouse shorts and in their place was footage from opening day in 1955, plus more from the opening of the Matterhorn, the original Submarine Voyage, and the Monorail from 1965. New color footage of Frontierland particularly intrigued me. I could have watched all of that footage for hours (though it seemed to be on a 5-10 minute loop).
Every cast member who worked that day wore a special button. Later in the day, I also saw a few park guests wearing those buttons – perhaps they were cast members who had gotten off work. I sure wanted one.
I arrived back on Main Street in front of the Train Station around 11:20 a.m. to prepare for the Dedication Ceremony. There, I was shocked to see a huge crowd of people waiting. Standing in the 90-degree heat for 40+ minutes was not pleasant, but I’m glad I did. Once Disney had seated their special guests in white chairs in front of the stage (I didn’t recognize anyone), they allowed the crowd to move in and I found a good view of the ceremony. It was short – 15 minutes or so – but also quite touching. Here’s a video of the ceremony in its entirety:
I felt like I was living a part of history. Walt Disney had dedicated the park 55 years earlier only a few yards away from where I had been standing.
A few favorite snapshots from the ceremony:
Later in the day, I returned to the Train Station for the 4:15 p.m. “Happy Birthday” celebration. Preparing for what was to come, cast members cleared the entire street around the flag pole, though none of them would tell us what we were about to see. All they would say was that we were all going to sing “Happy Birthday” to Disneyland, which would be followed by a special surprise. Here’s a video of the song… and the surprise:
(Scroll to the bottom of this article for a gallery of more photos from both moments.)
Immediately after the Birthday Celebration, I visited Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. It just felt like the right thing to do to celebrate not only Disneyland but also Walt Disney. After the show, I stepped out on Main Street to see a mob of people crowding around someone. As I got closer, I discovered they were crowding around George Kalogridis, president of the Disneyland Resort. He was giving autographs and a few people in my party got in line and got his autograph and took pictures with him.
As I observed him with the park guests (and during his speech earlier in the day) it hit me that this man, as successful as he is, isn’t a “creative.” He’s a suit. There’s nothing wrong with being a suit, but Walt Disney was a perfect blend of business and creative. It is such a shame that to get to George Kalogridis’ position, one only needs to be good at business. (Depending on your point of view, that’s may not even be a prerequisite.) I wonder if we’ll ever see the Disneyland Resort spearheaded by someone truly creative. I’d love to see a Disney Imagineer promoted to that position one day. Or possibly another filmmaker. (I can dream!)
As with any Disney event, Disneyland’s 55th birthday was filled with plenty of exclusive merchandise – none of which I looked at. One of my friends told me he arrived at the park at 7:00 am to stand in line for the merchandise. After 5 hours, he had been through several different lines and spent more than $100. A few hours later, the merchandise was completely sold out, other than a $600 Vinylmation figure. No thanks. I’m glad I stayed away from that craziness.
As I left the park after a day filled with smiles and nostalgia, I snapped this picture of the Firehouse and tipped my hat to Walt.
Happy Birthday, Disneyland!
Jeremiah Daws and his brother Josh are theme park fans and filmmakers living the dream in California.
Follow their adventures at DawsBrothers.com.
Photos from Disneyland’s 55th Birthday celebration: