Press Preview: July 17 was a by-invitation-only event but when these passes were counterfeited an expected audience of fifteen thousand swelled to thirty-three thousand attendees who stormed the just-opened gates. Incredibly, the “guest list” was actually even vaster; thanks to the Dateline DisneylandTV special, telecast live on ABC, the whole nation was also invited to join in the festivities.
Art Linkletter: Awaiting the arrival of Walt Disney at Main Street Station with his children, TV personality Art Linkletter emceed the live Opening Day broadcast, along with movie star Bob Cummings, and TV and film actor (and future President of the United States) Ronald Reagan. A friend of Walt’s and already a veteran of live television, Art took the miscues and glitches of this unprecedentedly complex telecast with humor and aplomb.
Walt arrives: Railroad enthusiast Walt arrived at Main Street Station for the official dedication of his sparkling new Magic Kingdom in style: at the controls of the E.P Ripley, engine No. 2, accompanied by (from left to right) the train conductor, Santa Fe Railroad president Fred Gurley, and California Governor Goodwin J. Knight. Also aboard: children of the foreign counsels located in Los Angeles, honored guests for this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Governor Knight: Walt Disney, dignitaries and guests listen as Governor Knight praises the newly opened park as "a wondrous community with all the charm of the old world and all of the progress and ingenuity of the new world." An estimated 90 million viewers also listened in—making Disneyland Park’s Opening Day one of the biggest bashes in history.
Flag raising: As the National Anthem played, representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces raise the stars and stripes above Town Square. Television coverage of the Opening Day ceremonies incorporated 29 cameras at a time when the average was three or less, sixteen miles of cables on loan from television stations as distant as Chicago, with signals fed through five multi-monitor control rooms.
4:45 pm: “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land.” At 4:45 pm on July 17, 1955, Walt Disney officially proclaims the now beloved words dedicating Disneyland Park “to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” Among the dignitaries participating in the dedication ceremony is Reverend Glenn D. Puder (Walt’s nephew), who offered the opening invocation.
Davy Crockett: Riding straight out of Walt Disney’s television phenomenon, Fess Parker as Davy Crockett and Buddy Ebsen as Davy’s sidekick, Georgie Russel, are among the biggest stars of the Opening Day parade. Also in the parade’s Frontierland unit: Frank Clement, Governor of Tennessee. After all, Davy was “born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free.”
Native Americans: Each section of the Opening Day parade celebrated one of the Disneyland realms, such as Frontierland. Native Americans performed authentic dances at the Indian Village, a Frontierland mainstay from 1955 through 1971.
Bob Gurr: Actor Don DeFore from the ABC comedy series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet rides in the parade in an Autopia attraction vehicle, with Imagineer Bob Gurr in the driver’s seat.
Tomorrowland on parade: The Autopia cars from the “super highway of the future” were a big part of the big parade. Look closely and you’ll spot one of the many hydraulic forklifts utilized to raise the era’s enormous television cameras for wider views.
Bob Gurr 2: Just a few days before Opening Day, Walt Disney said, “I want to pay tribute to the many studio artists, craftsmen and engineers whose untiring efforts helped bring this dream in to a reality. Without their skills and imagination, Disneyland would not have been possible.” How appropriate then that Imagineers such as Bob Gurr were involved in the festivities. And how appropriate that Bob drove this particular vehicle in the parade—after all, he designed the Autopia cars.
Fantasyland on parade: Bold knights and their noble steeds lead the Fantasyland pageant. The Opening Day parade was the first in a grand Disneyland tradition. Since 1955, dozens of parades, pageants and processions have marched down Main Street U.S.A., including the latest spectacular: Paint the Night, specially created for the Disneyland Diamond Celebration.
Mouseketeers: The Mouseketeers make their first public appearance at the Disneyland Opening Day parade: Karen and Cubby are ready to step off in the foreground, with Annette just behind. The Mickey Mouse ear hats introduced by the Mouseketeers are the most popular Disneyland souvenirs of all time, with more than 84 million “ears” sold since 1955.
Ronald Reagan: Co-host Ronald Reagan prepares to welcome television viewers to Frontierland, where the gate of the stockade— made from Ponderosa pine logs—are about to be officially opened for first time
Dance: A rare color shot from this TV special, broadcast in black-and-white, the Frontierland dancers, kicking up their heels to “Old Betsy,” a musical paean to Davy Crockett’s trusty rifle.
More Mouseketeers: MouseketeerRoll Call, sound off now! For the first time, the young stars of the Mickey Mouse Club TV series (premiering on ABC in October 1955) perform for television audiences in Fantasyland as an Opening Day highlight, performing the “Talent Roundup” song.
Castle: From the start, Sleeping Beauty Castle was the symbol of Disneyland. Inside the castle’s courts are such attractions as the now-famed “dark rides” such as Peter Pan’s Flight, one of the park’s 18 Opening Day attractions. Today, as Disneyland celebrates its Diamond anniversary, the park offers more than 60 attractions.
Young guests: “Open the Fantasyland castle in the name of the children of the world!” the storybook knight proclaimed— and the Sleeping Beauty Castle drawbridge was lowered for the first time to welcome these lucky youngsters on July 17, 1955.
Fantasyland: Early ads promoting the opening of Disneyland referred to the new park as “The World’s Most Fabulous Wonderland”—and nowhere in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom is that wonder more evident than in Fantasyland. Nearly thirty years later, these children—and their own children—were invited back to Disneyland to be the first to enter the New Fantasyland in 1983 when the drawbridge was lowered for the second time.