Remembering a grand opening - with glitches

by Michael Martinex (Knight Ridder Newspaper)

Anaheim, Calif. - It was a sweltering that day. And crowded. People gathered at the entrance even if they didn't have tickets, that's how eager they were to get inside. "Hotter than ****" is how Art Linkletter the emcee and Walt Disney's longtime friend, remembers it. "The asphalt had just been rolled and people's shoes got stuck in it. But we carried on. We didn't worry about stuff like that."

Fifty years is a long time, but those who were there when Disneyland opened its gates on July 17, 1955, still remember the tiniest details - rides that broke down, wet paint that rubbed off on guests' clothes, the smile on Walt Disney's face.

It wasn't perfect opening, but Disney's dream- to build a family theme park unlike any other - became a reality that day, despite the glitches.

The memories are flooding back as the Happiest Place on Earth approaches it 50th anniversary with an 18-month long celebration - dubbed the Happiest Homecoming on Earth - that begins Thursday. Employees who there on the first day, or those who worked at the park in its early years, haven't forgotten how it all began.

"I remember the fist day, seeing Walt walking down Main Street," said Bob Penfield, a ride operator when the park opened. "I'm an 18 year old Iowa farm boy, and I'm watching Walt Disney walk down the street. That's one thing I'll always remember."

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