Why Disneyland’s Opening Day was Called “Black Sunday”
It was on a simple park bench that Walt Disney dreamed up the idea of Disneyland, wishing that there was a place where children and adults could come together and have a magical time. Walt and his brother Roy set out to create such a place and while Disneyland and Disney World are now incredibly popular theme parks, it wasn’t always a sure thing that Disney would succeed. After decades of planning, the brothers and their team set out to create Disneyland in just one year of construction. With only a year to create Disneyland, the work continued right up to the opening day, it is no wonder that it was such a disaster.
Now dubbed “Black Sunday,” Disneyland’s opening day did not go as planned. Actor and future president Ronald Reagan appeared to co-host on opening day and 90 minutes of the opening ceremonies were broadcast on ABC with around 70 million people watching live. The viewers got a look into the four lands: Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland as well as a peek into Main Street, USA, inspired by Walt’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri. While it looked great on TV, viewers had no idea that the people in attendance were not exactly having a magical time.
For starters, since the project was so rushed, many of the attractions weren’t ready for guests. Some of the most now-iconic rides including The Rocket to the Moon, Peter Pan, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant were closed. Tomorrowland as a whole was unfinished and the high temperatures of the day messed with their hard work. The fresh asphalt on Main Street, USA began melting, and drinking fountains were not working. There was a gas leak that messed with many of the rides. Disneyland was unprepared for the number of guests interested in the opening day festivities and the bathrooms were packed. They also ran out of food and drinks quickly.
Adding to the insane crowds were some people that climbed a fence to get into Disneyland for free or sold counterfeit tickets. There ended up being over 28,000 people visiting Disneyland on opening day when they expected about 15,000. It wasn’t just the first day that Disneyland disappointed guests. As they worked out the kinks in the following months, Disneyland saw a tiger and panther get loose and all of the cars in the attraction Autopia crashed, to name a few problems.
Ultimately, the theme park worked things out and it became a huge success leading to many other Disney theme parks around the world. California did see another opening day curse when they opened Disney California Adventure in 2001, next to Disneyland, meant to showcase the beauty of California and was geared more toward adults. A theme park about California in California did not really do well though, and the park underwent some major renovations starting just a few years later. Now, it boasts some incredible areas like Pixar Pier and Avengers Campus.
Disney is often controversial for its prices and crowds, but overall it remains a huge success and staple in pop culture. If you’re interested in learning more about other Disney disasters like attractions that only lasted a few weeks before they were axed, let us know!