Unhappiest Place on Earth

68 Years Ago, Disneyland Opened — And It Was A Laughably Horrible Mess

That first day was coined "Black Sunday."

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circa 1955:  A person in a Mickey Mouse costume at the gate of the Magic Kingdom at the Disneyland t...
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On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its gate for the first time. The leadup to the park’s opening was highly anticipated, and it was already marketed to become the “Happiest Place on Earth.” But best-laid plans don’t always pan out, and that’s true for Disneyland. It was so bad that the day has been coined “Black Sunday,” thanks to some major park mishaps.

Considering the success of Disney parks since then, it may seem slightly shocking that its opening was so bad, it was borderline joke. Here are five things that went horribly wrong when Disneyland opened for the very first time.

5. Counterfeit tickets overloaded the park

According to History.com, Disneyland was expecting a crowd of 15,000 on its opening day for its invite-only event. Tickets were mailed out and reserved for people who were in the press, family of employees, and special guests, but that’s not what happened when the park doors opened.

Instead, the park was flooded with more than 28,000 people thanks to counterfeit tickets and people who scaled the park's fence.

4. Historic traffic jams

With nearly double the number of expected guests, it caused a traffic jam on the way to Disneyland and long lines waiting to get into the park.

“Passengers baked in their cars, and kids were forced to take bathroom breaks on the side of the freeway,” History.com reports, “and even in the Disneyland parking lot.”

3. There was no food and no water

It didn’t take long for the restaurants and concession stands at the park to run out of food on that first day. “Virtually all food and drink inventory was wiped out within hours,” Mental Floss writes.

Also, at the time, water fountains were not working because of a plumbers strike that meant the park had to choose between working toilets for opening day or water.

“A few weeks before the opening, there was a major meeting,” Richard Nunis, chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, told WIRED in 2010. “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.’”

2. The park was gross

Temperatures rose to over 100 degrees on opening day at Disneyland, which was out of the park’s control, but it played a huge factor in the mishap that happened to the pavement of Main Street, U.S.A.

As the LA Times reports, the scorching temperatures caused the newly poured asphalt on Main Street to get sticky. The result: “Women’s high-heeled shoes sank into the fresh asphalt.” To match the sticky asphalt, there was also an abundance of weeds everywhere.

1. The rides struggled

With so much else not quite ready for opening day, it’s not surprising that not all the rides were ready, either. History.com reports many of the kids in attendance were disappointed since “The Rocket to the Moon, Peter Pan and Dumbo the Flying Elephant rides were all closed.”

On top of that, the Mark Twain riverboat attraction was overfilled, causing water to splash out all over the deck.

Despite all the issues, people kept coming back.

It didn’t seem to matter much in the end that there were so many first-day mishaps. As several sources have explained, it only took seven weeks for the park’s attendance to surpass million visitors, and quickly did become known as the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

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