I borrowed a DVD from Jenny this week. It's part of the Disney Treasures series - a special on Disneyland. I thought I might watch a little, seeing as this year is Disneyland's 50th anniversary...oh and I'm going to Disneyland in 2 days.
So last night I sat down with a basket of laundry to fold and popped in the disc. What I found was the original live television broadcast of opening day at the park, July 17, 1955. The broadcast began showing families gathered around their TV sets, little kids with their noses pressed to the screen. I did some quick math and realized that my own parents were about the same age as these kids, no doubt pressing their own noses to the screens of their own TVs with my aunts as this broadcast was aired, along with every other kid in the country.
I smiled as the broadcasters dragged out the beginning as long as they could, waiting on the tracks of the Santa Fe, on the outer edge of the park for the E.P. Ripley, showing the eager kids back home the cars filing into the parking lot. It must have been killing them.
It was a star-studded affair. Folks like Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra walking by with their kids. I folded towels on my couch at home in 2005 and watched a young actor named Ronald Reagan interview park goers. Funny.
Finally, they move past the flower bed shaped like Mickey's head and under an archway I know oh so well and onto Main Street, USA. I forgot the laundry for a bit and examined this little street I've walked myself hundreds of times. It looks just the same. The Penny Arcade, the Emporium, the ice cream shops and stores. The kids lining the sidewalks for the parade. The broadcasters lingered for an equally long time on Main Street. I smiled, thinking of my parents in agony at home, wanting to see the real park. I was a little excited too.
As Walt read his opening day speech, I recited it along with him. "To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land..." I'd read it, of course -- it's inscribed on a plaque in the park -- but I'd never seen Walt actually deliver it. The laundry basket lay completely forgotten at my feet.
In Frontierland, we met Davy Crocket and there were real dancing girls doing the can-can in the Golden Horseshoe theater. The streets of New Orleans were packed with folks doing the charleston to the infamous Firehouse Five (plus two). There's a restaurant in that spot now. I've eaten there.
I wondered what my parents were most eager to see, sitting at home that day. Was it the rocket ship to the moon (which they were extremely vague about, I might add)? Was it the boat cruise through the jungles of the world? (Yes, indeed, my friends. The very same jungle cruise we have today where you can see that 8th wonder of the world - say it with me now - The Back Side of Water!)
Me, sitting there with my laundry basket, I was aching to get through those castle gates and into Fantasyland. Fantasyland was completely redone when I was very small and I wanted to see what was in there back in 1955 so badly that I was wringing wrinkles into my freshly washed shirts.
They interviewed scientists in a Tomorrowland that boasted the future of 1986 and christened the Mark Twain riverboat with the combined waters of rivers from all over the country. I waited on the couch with the kids of 1955. They interviewed Annie Oakley in Frontierland and showed Autopia cars zooming around the track. Still we waited together, across decades, with bated breath. They talked to the governor of California and a couple who were planning to build a little hotel next to the park called the Disneyland Hotel. Still we waited.
When the drawbridge to Sleeping Beauty's castle finally lowered and the kids went streaming across it with Mickey Mouse leading the way, I was bawling into a bunch of clean socks I was supposed to be grouping into pairs.
You've got to hand it to Walt Disney for knowing how to build suspense and tug on heart strings, surviving the years and trickling down through the generations. The man knew how to tell a good story. That's what Disneyland is, really, what sets it apart. It's a good story, and you can walk right into it, sink right into the pages and explore it.
How much fun it would be to reach across time and take those smaller versions of my parents by the hands and explore Disneyland with them? What a trip it must have been for them to explore it with me when I was just a tiny one myself?
Of course, the technology for time travel hasn't caught up with us, not just yet. Unless you count the television and a historic broadcast of opening day of a little park nested in orange groves. That's time travel in its own little way.
That and one good story-teller.