A gas leak and sinking shoes: The history of Disneyland's disastrous opening day.


For decades, Disneyland has been known as the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’.

The theme park, which first opened 64 years ago in Anaheim, California, was the brainchild of Walt Disney himself.

After visiting a number of amusement parks with his daughters in the 1930s and 1940s, the Mickey Mouse creator came up with an outlandish plan – he was going to transform a 160-acre Californian orange grove into a $17 million Disney theme park.

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After years upon years of planning, financial hardship and an increasingly frenzied schedule, Disneyland officially opened to the public on July 17, 1955.

At the time, the opening took place just one year and one day after construction on the park began. In fact, painting and construction work continued right up until the moment a live broadcast of Disneyland’s official opening began on the ABC.

But although the broadcast, which was co-hosted by future U.S. president and actor Ronald Reagan, was watched by an estimated 70 million people in the United States, things didn’t exactly go to plan as the day unfolded.


In the new Disney Plus documentary series The Imagineering Story, viewers are offered an unprecedented look inside what it takes to create and build Disney theme parks.

Created by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks, the six-episode series takes viewers behind the scenes at Walt Disney Imagineering, which is the design centre of The Walt Disney Company.

In the new docuseries, the disastrous official opening day of Disneyland, which is often referred to as ‘Black Sunday’, is recounted in full detail.

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Here are just some of the disastrous things that went wrong on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955.

The park was overloaded with party crashers.

On Disneyland’s opening day, tickets were reserved and mailed out to special guests, including the media, family and friends of employees and celebrities, including Debbie Reynolds and Frank Sinatra.

Despite the “invite-only” tickets, however, thousands of counterfeit tickets were used.

Although the park was expecting 15,000 guests on the day in total, more than 28,000 people entered the park.

It’s believed one man even set up a ladder outside the park and charged people $5 a head to sneak into the park.


The traffic was… epic.

the imagineering story
Image: Getty.

The traffic to Disneyland on opening day was backed up for 11 kilometres, meaning families were left to wait in their cars for hours.

To make matters worse, temperatures reached an intense 37 degrees.

It's reported that families were forced to take bathroom breaks on the side of the freeway as traffic was at a standstill.

They ran out of food.

On Disneyland's opening day, the park had three restaurants and a number of refreshment stands.


As the park experienced an influx of guests, however, the restaurants virtually ran out of food and beverages within hours.

There was also a plumbers' strike during construction, meaning that the majority of the water fountains in the park weren't working... which isn't ideal on a 37-degree day.

"A few weeks before the opening, there was a major meeting," Dick Nunis, chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, recalled according to WIRED.

"There was a plumbing strike. I’ll never forget this. I happened to be in the meeting. So the contractor was telling Walt, 'Walt, there aren’t enough hours in the day to finish the restrooms and to finish all the drinking fountains.' And this is classic Walt. He said, 'Well, you know they could drink Coke and Pepsi, but they can’t pee in the streets. Finish the restrooms.'"

the imagineering story
Image: Getty.

The park wasn't finished.

As construction on the park had such a quick turnaround, the theme park wasn't completely finished on opening day.

Even as guests were entering the park, workers were still painting structures and even planting trees.

In one section, there wasn't enough time to remove weeds. Instead, the theme park added signs with Latin plant names to make it appear as if they were meant to be there.

Likewise, a number of rides were still under construction whereas other rides completely broke down during the day.

As the asphalt on Main Street was so fresh, some guests lost their shoes, as they were stuck in the pavement which had become like sticky tar.

The Mark Twain Riverboat sank.

the imagineering story
Image: Getty.

The Mark Twain Riverboat, which is still an attraction in Disneyland, sank in the mud on opening day when hundreds of people crammed onto the boat, leading it to go off its track.

When the boat was finally put back on its rail and returned to the landing, the pressure of hundreds of people trying to get off the boat at once led the boat to tip into the water once again, which meant guests had to walk through water that had washed into the deck of the boat.

There was a gas leak.

For a few hours on opening day, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Frontierland were closed due to a gas leak. At the time, flames were seen near Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

Feature Image: Getty.

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