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Disneyland: Fun on the Rocks

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Disneyland: Fun on the Rocks
by (Your Name Here)

Disneyland occupies 22 acres of rocky earth 1.5 miles from the 5 freeway in Anaheim, California. The land upon which it sits was at one time a seabird habitat and has little natural vegetation. This land was first explored in 1775 by Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala, who named it Recinto de los Raton (literally, "Field of the Mouse").

In 1849, the land was sold to the United States, and in 1854 it became the site of the first inland lighthouse in California. The land was an army barracks in 1859, a military entertainment center in 1868, and a federal picnic area beginning in 1934.

Disneyland (also referred to as "The Kingdom") opened in 1955 on a small scale, with an initial visitor capacity of 450 and some attractions as small as 10 x 4.5 feet. Fortunately, although capacity was low, attempts to leave the park before closing were almost unheard of and the venture was considered a success.

Because of the desire to control the visitor experience, Disneyland had a very strict policy about entering and exiting the park, and would not tolerate guests attempting to leave other than by using the main entrance. Of 36 guests who attempted to leave in unorthodox ways, seven were shot and killed, two drowned, five were not found, and the rest were returned to the park, hand-stamped, and sent out through the turnstiles.

In March 1964, a group of Sioux Indians claimed Disneyland as their own one night after the park was closed and everyone had gone home. Their justification was an 1868 treaty that allowed their tribe to claim any "unoccupied land". Eighty-nine Indians lived at Disneyland until June 1971, when they were forced from the property by federal marshals after they let several popular attractions (Mary Poppins' Chimney Sweeping Adventure and Flubber -- Try It!) burn down.

The park itself was Walt Disney's reaction to the state of post-Prohibition, post-Depression America. The wave of crime and violence that threatened to sweep peace from American culture demanded a response, and Disneyland was that response.

In his search for a location for his new park, Disney sought a place that was remote, so that he could limit visitors' communication with the outside world. For a time he considered a location in Alaska, but he eventually settled on California as more convenient. Working around local residents' concerns about having so many tourists in the vicinity of their homes, he began building his park.

Disney needed a capable manager to keep Disneyland running and selected James A. Johnson, a retired businessman with twelve years experience in the California Department of Corrections. Johnson was to be Disneyland's non-nonsense, hard-nosed manager for the next 14 years.

Disneyland was an experimental venture, designed on a "concentration" model, with a focus on keeping hard-to-manage crowds in specific areas. Nobody had ever attempted to divide a theme park into separate areas in this way before, and only time would tell if it would ultimately be successful. If it worked out, Disneyland was to be the model for a second theme park in Marion, Illinois.

Disneyland was, of course, a success, and over the years it played host to a variety of celebrities, some of whom considered it a home away from home.

Al Capone, for example, was one of the first people to visit Disneyland, and his arrival at the park generated headlines across the country. Capone had a Disneyland annual pass for almost four and a half years, and his relatives moved into a nearby hotel so that Capone could continue to run his Chicago businesses while he was in the park. He eventually had to stop visiting Disneyland due to an advanced case of syphilis (contracted before his first visit to the park).

George "Bubble Gun" Kelly was another famous Disneyland visitor, who came to the park after an extended vacation in Leavenworth, Kansas. He visited the park for 17 years, until he had to return to his Kansas vacation home due to a heart condition.

Probably the most notable of Disneyland's early visitors was Robert Franklin Stroud, nicknamed (because of his hobby of avian studies) the Birdman of Disneyland. Having had trouble with management and guests at other vacation spots, Stroud came to Disneyland, where he found a secluded, shady spot all his own. He spent almost every day in peaceful seclusion for 17 years. After his death, books, TV specials, and a musical animated feature were made about the Birdman.

Although the park was popular, by 1962 it was becoming evident that the world had moved on since its opening. Disneyland was entertaining to guests, but offered no enticement to rehabilitation, its physical structure needed millions of dollars of repairs, and the cost-per-visitor was approaching $100. A new, much more expansive, park was envisioned for Florida, to be built for $10 million.

J. Edgar Hoover himself was said to have been displeased by the possibility that Disneyland would be closed. But even such a prominent individual as this could not change financial reality. On March 21, 1963, Disneyland closed and guests were directed to Walt Disney World in Florida. A short time later, the Disneyland property was significantly reworked and reopened as the Disneyland Resort.


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