Sunday, December 15, 2013

#MyFirst ... Fulfilled Wish

It's that time again - when I take up Kerri Sackville's challenge. Each week on her website Life and Other Crises, she relates one of her firsts. This week it is her first fulfilled wish.

Sure, there were other small wishes growing up - like the things I wanted for my birthday, but I have already covered that in #MyFirst Obsession, and in a way, this might be considered related to obsession (and photography) as well. However, this was a big wish ... and one that I thought would never be fulfilled.

Like most kids my age - in the US at least - I grew up knowing that my Sunday nights would mean watching Walt Disney and Ed Sullivan. Naturally I was more interested in Walt than Ed, though I did enjoy Topo Gigio. But of course it was a different mouse that I looked forward to seeing, and that was Mickey. Over the years Walt Disney's presence on Sunday night was legendary. Although the name of the show changed many times, my favorite segments were always those that showed Walt's "little park", Disneyland. I loved watching all of the rides and attractions, and the people enjoying them. The only problem was that Disneyland was on the totally opposite side of the country, so while I enjoyed watching the shows about Disneyland, I never seriously thought I would be there. People really weren't in the habit of flying for vacations yet. And this being the fifties and the sixties, there was still only one Disney theme park. I watched all the TV shows about it, I read all the books and stories about it, but still ... I wished I could see it in person!

I watched with great excitement as Walt talked about four new projects though. He told us that a lifelike Lincoln who would stand up and speak was being developed. And how about that ride where you would drive a car through history, from the dinosaurs to the caveman to the present and the future? Or that other history ride where you would sit in a theater which moved from scene to scene from the beginning of the twentieth century to the very modern present of 1964!! And finally he told us about a boat ride through the countries of the world - with little children singing a wonderful Sherman brothers' song. (Shhhh ... I heard that!)

What made this so exciting for me was the fact that I would actually be able to experience all of these attractions! They were being prepared for the State of Illinois, Ford Motor Company, General Electric and Pepsi/UNICEF. They were going to be at the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair, and since I lived in New York City I knew I would see each of them a number of times. And I did.

And then, before school was out for the summer of 1968, my parents (teachers by profession) informed me and my brother and sister that we would spend our 10 weeks of summer vacation driving cross country. You know what that meant? We would be in California ... and Disneyland was in California. (Oh yeah, a few other things as well, but ... Disneyland!!!)

The end of June came ... school was out for the summer ... and we were on the road! Yes indeed we saw some great things on the way out there, but Disneyland was the "wienie" as Walt would have put it. And then, on July 26th, 1968 the day came that I finally got to go to Disneyland. (I just realized for the first time that 10 years to the day later, my daughter - the current Walt Disney World Cast Member - would be born.) I remember the excitement as we saw the Disneyland sign from the highway ... the highway which the California Department of Transportation had decreed would have no signs mentioning the park. How exciting it was to finally be in the parking lot, about to have my parents buy that booklet with the famous A-B-C-D-and E tickets in it? The wonderful things I saw on my black and white television (we wouldn't have color TV until late in 1969) now appeared before me (as they would say on TV) in living color ... ready to capture with the same Ansco Cadet camera that I had used at the NY World's Fair!

As we walked into the park and underneath the Disneyland Railroad, Main Street and the castle (The Castle!!!) appeared before us.

I couldn't wait to walk down the street and look into all the stores which I had seen on Walt Disney's Sunday night television shows.

How many times had I seen an animated Tinkerbell (who I still insist is a jealous/murderous sprite ... a strange choice as a corporate spokesfairy) splash the front of the castle in an array of color to start another Sunday night Disney show? To me it looked so large and amazing standing there at the end of Main Street - the famous "wienie" Walt wanted in the center of the park.

But of course, the most exciting things were the attractions. I wanted to ride the Jungle Cruise, which I had seen so much of on TV. I had to experience something that was still unique to Disneyland back then - the steel rollercoaster type ride that was the Matterhorn. I couldn't wait to ride the traditional dark rides which were not super scary as they were back home in Brooklyn (at Coney Island), but much more family friendly with Disney characters. And what about Walt's fleet of submarines - or the skyride ... or the monorail ... and the other rides and attractions that I had seen on TV for so long?  I had to do it all. But I think the attraction that I wanted to see the most, was the newest. I watched it take shape over the years on the Sunday night TV program, and now I would get to see it in person ... The Pirates of the Caribbean! And I wasn't disappointed. (The Haunted Mansion, which became my all time favorite - and still is - wouldn't be open until my 1969 visit. My son would be working in the yet to be built Walt Disney World version at the moment 1999 became 2000. Walt Disney World would open in October, 1971.)

I also had to see the four World's Fair attractions which I had experienced just a few years earlier back at home; Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (Illinois), The Grand Canyon Diorama on the train trip around the park (Ford), Carousel of Progress (General Electric) and It's a Small World (Pepsi/UNICEF).

It was exciting finding out which type of ticket each attraction required, then ripping the appropriate one out of the booklet for admission. And as always ... the day ended much too soon. I would be back the next summer, and again a few times since I have been married, but nothing can match the excitement of that first time.

Today, as a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, I get a completely different feeling upon walking in to that first park (Walt Disney World in Florida is comprised of 4 theme parks - and a lot more) - whichever it is on that trip - from the excitement of my first time in Disneyland. Today it is more of a comfortable "I'm home again" feeling.

But that first time in Disneyland .... ahhh ... but then ... Disney and the theme parks are all about wish fulfillment!


  1. I went to Disneyland as an adult a couple of years ago. It's exhausting and expensive and an absolute endurance event.... but still... it is TOTALLY magical. Love it.

  2. My niece (lives here in Oz) LOVES Disneyland. Like... loves loves LOVES all things Disney. She and her parents (ie. my brother) have just spent 2-3 weeks in the USA at one / both. And it was her 4th visit I think. They even bought a time share apartment there. She's 17 and I'm constantly astounded that her love of Disney has lasted this long.

    As a child of the 70s I remember the show - screening here on a Sunday night as well. It could be a bit hit and miss, but I tuned in every week anyway. (Never went to Disneyland though... and I think that window of desire shut a long time ago for me!)

    1. Perhaps, then, it is time to reconsider. My wife and I (as I said) grew up in the 50's and our love of DIsney parks hasn't faded at all. In fact, there is a rumor that I sold my daughter to The Mouse just for her discounts! Yes, she has worked for Disney World for 13 years now. My son has also worked there for a while so I guess our feelings are contagious! (He has 4 year old twins who have already made 3 trips to Disney World. One of those trips were for my daughter's wedding which was in DIsney World.)

      As magical as Disneyland (in California) is ... Walt Disney World (in Florida) is a world of its own. You can spend a week or more without leaving the DIsney property ... which is twice the size of Manhattan island, and contains 4 theme parks - along with so much more.

      Maybe it's worth a try.

    2. Oh - and by the 70's, Disney's Sunday night show was not nearly the same as it was in the 50's and 60's when it was hosted by Walt himself. When he died (47 years ago today) the show became a pale vision of what it had been.