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When my parents & I came to the United States from Austria in 1954 we moved into a compound of duplexes and bungalows in Burbank, California, something you don’t see anymore. The owner and manager, Mr. Koehler, lived in a big white house that was adjacent to the property. From the day we moved in, he told my mom about this amazing place that was being built for families and kids of all ages by cartoonist, Walt Disney, among the Orange Groves down in Anaheim… He obviously was following the construction of the park. I think he had been an engineer. And he painted such a glorious picture of what Disneyland was going to be, we were among some of the first people to visit that wonderful place… which I have had the luck of having as part of my childhood and then later adulthood memories.
I was too young to remember our first visit, but a yearly trip to Disneyland became part of our family tradition from that day on. Not that Walt nor Disneyland needed any help, but my parents were wonderful at making things special and building family traditions for us, since we were here in America, starting from nothing. My Disneyland memories are second only to Christmas, which my parents made sooo very special as well.
To this day, when I go to Disneyland, I feel like a little girl again, and like my family is there with me. I always feel the Magic that Walt had envisioned the second I near the parking lot; like I’m being sprinkled with fairy dust. I wish I could have done as good of a job instilling those feelings in my own children as my parents did in us! I’m not sure if it was that life was simpler then and we weren’t all as spoiled or jaded, or that children really did remain children for a lot longer? Maybe it was knowing that you had to choose and decide between rides because tickets were limited, making each ride special… Or perhaps it was that my parents were caught up in the magic of that place right along with us?
It really was, and still is if you let it be, a place where you can escape from reality, and step into another time, era, or just make-believe for a day. We would start looking forward to our next yearly trip as we were leaving the park at 1:00AM or 1:30AM… some of the last guests to ride the tram back to our waiting car every year. We lived in the San Fernando Valley and would leave home early enough to get there just as the gates opened and stayed until they literally swept us out. One of the best parts was that our parents enjoyed the day as much as we did. And it was a day and a place for just the 5 of us. Not till we were much older or went on our own did we take or go with friends.
We had a certain path that we followed, so we wouldn’t waste any time criss-crossing the park. We always started with jucie or a lemon tart at the Sunkist House in the morning and then headed to Adventureland; the Jungle Boat being our first ride of the day. I knew every word of the guides speech, just like I knew every word of the Storybook Land tour. As the park grew we made the circle to New Orleans Square and Bear Country, but in the early days, we just followed the path from Adventureland to Frontierland. For some reason, we always skipped the Tiki Room and came back to see it at night on our second swing around the park. We would then always see the noonish parade and have lunch. From there we would do Fantasyland and then Tomorrowland, rationing our D & E tickets in the early days!! We would have dinner at the same restaurant near Main Street at the edge of Tomorrowland, just in time to watch Tinkerbelle fly across the park and start the fireworks show.
After that lots of people with small children would leave and we would then set our plan for the rest of the evening… My dad would splurge for a few extra D & E tickets. On our evening swing, my mom would wait in the long lines for us and save our place, cause she enjoyed people watching as much as riding, so we could squeeze in a few extra rides. My dad would run back and forth with us and ride, being needed for duties like spinning the tea cups till we felt like the whole cup and saucer would take off into space. We would ride till they announced that the rides were closed and then slowly made our way to the Carnation House on Main Street for ice cream sundaes, followed by a mad dash to the Emporium. We were each allowed to buy one thing at Disneyland each year, but not till the very end, so we wouldn’t have to carry it (or no doubt lose it). Mind you …one thing in the days when you couldn’t buy anything Disney anywhere but at the park .. the only park in the World. We would be getting to the trams as virtually the last people in the park and were already excited about next time.
For the ride home, my mom would sit in the back seat of the car with my sister and brother, cause they would all fall asleep. I would sit upfront and yak with my dad to keep him awake. It was part of the fun and tradition for me. We always had a grand time!
Walt Disney made us all believe that dreams can come true by wishing upon a star. The success of Disneyland changed the landscape and vision of Orange County forever and as Kevin Starr said, “The park that Walt built was a utopian statement that became a paradigm for what Orange County would become.”
Thank you Walt for some of my fondest childhood memories. I am glad to hear that they light the lamp in your apartment every night, for I know that your spirit still resides there. And to this day… I dream of flying across that park as Tinkerbell every night.. I would do it for free!! If they would just call…
I still haven’t managed to make that flight, but my daughter has been Minnie Mouse in the Electrical Parade.