On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its gates for the very first time. While this was a momentous and historic occasion for Disney, the day did not go quite as planned. Disneyland opening day was referred to by cast members as “Black Sunday” due to all of the problems experienced at the park. So just what exactly went wrong when Disneyland first opened?
- As Disneyland opened, workers were still busy trying to get the park ready. Trees were still being planted and some of the paint was still wet.
- Due to a problem with counterfeit tickets, over twice the number of invited guests showed up to attend the opening day festivities, making the park quite crowded.
- To make matters worse, each park ticket had a designated time to enter the park to prevent overcrowding. But the guests who entered early in the day were not leaving after a few hours as expected. So, they were letting more people in and no one was exiting the park.
- Because more visitors than expected showed up, the Disneyland restaurants and refreshment stands ran out of food and beverages.
- The asphalt on Main Street had just been poured the night before and was still wet. Women’s high heels were sticking in the pavement.
- Many of the rides broke down on opening day. The Storybook Land Canal Boats had to be pulled by cast members in rubber boots. At the time, there were no guide rails for Autopia; Therefore, some of the cars crashed into each other, making them inoperable.
- Due to a plumbers’ strike during the construction of Disneyland, Walt Disney had to choose between having working bathrooms or working water fountains on opening day. Walt chose bathrooms, which was probably a good choice; however, the temperature that day reached over 100 degrees, leaving guests hot and thirsty.
- A gas leak in Fantasyland lead to the land being temporarily closed for part of the day.
- The Mark Twain riverboat was filled beyond capacity, as the capacity for the boat had not yet been determined. When the crowd moved from one side of the boat to the other to see the sights, the boat began to list from side to side and water came over the deck. A few days later, with over 500 guests on board, the Mark Twain almost sank and became stuck in the mud. Disney then established a capacity of 300 in order to prevent this from happening again.
- Due to the Disneyland opening day disaster, many press reviews speculated that the park would not last long. Walt and his staff worked to correct the problems experienced on opening day, and then invited the press back to experience a normal day at Disneyland.
Despite all of the opening day disasters, Disneyland went on to become a huge success. It is now considered the Happiest Place on Earth and is visited by millions of guests each year.