On July 17, 1955, Walt Disney stood near Sleeping Beauty Castle and, as millions of Americans watched live on television, dedicated Disneyland 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 of the world.”
Today, as Disneyland readies itself for its 60th anniversary celebration, the theme park is one of the world’s most successful tourist attractions. However, the “happiest place on Earth” was anything but on that July day. While the opening ceremonies were only intended for invited guests, many crashed the party using forged tickets, and the park grew overcrowded. A plumbers’ strike had left Disney with a choice of having completed bathrooms or water fountains (he chose bathrooms). Many of the rides broke down amid power shortages. Disney himself later would dub the day “Black Sunday.”
Bob Penfield was there working on Disneyland’s opening day. That later helped him earn entry into Club 55, a special group for those present at the park’s very beginning. Penfield was also the last member of the club to retire from Disneyland, which he did in 1997. “I was supposed to work at Peter Pan on the 17th, but it wasn’t running, so I got moved the carousel. It was very hot and [there were] no drinking fountains … So every time I got a break from work, I went over to the Welch’s Grape Juice Stand,” says Penfield.
Disneyland eventually worked out the kinks, and over the next six decades the company would open theme parks all over the world, from Paris to Orlando to Shanghai—where a Disney attraction will open in 2016.