Myths and Legends about Disney at A Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts”

Part 1 of 4

Lists are all the rage on the Internet these days. They typically have names that begin with “20 Things You Didn’t Know About…” or “25 Amazing Facts About…” or “You Won’t Believe These…”

Adding an extra dose of hyperbole, MSN (Microsoft Network) recently published “41 Insane Facts You Definitely Don’t Know About Disneyland” with this promise: “There’s some mind-blowing facts out there that even the ultimate Disney fan doesn’t know.”

MSN got the list from PopSugar. It consists largely of “facts” harvested from similar lists on other sites. I captured the list from MSN on March 23, 2015. In Part 1 of this series, here’s my take on which claims are true, false, or just somewhat true. You can decide for yourself if these facts are “mind-blowing” or not.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, March 27, 2015

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Concept art for Burbank site by Harper Goff © Disney

Claim 1: “Originally, Walt Disney envisioned Disneyland in Burbank, CA, right across the street from Walt Disney Studios.”

Status: True

Walt Disney wanted to build a family park on a 16-acre parcel across Riverside Drive from the Walt Disney Productions lot. The Burbank City Council did not cooperate and Walt Disney’s plans grew—leading to the new site in Anaheim. Although some of the features of the proposed Burbank park, including a steam train and riverboat, later appeared at Disneyland, drawings show a much smaller, simpler park than what was eventually built.

The original parcel—part of which was sliced off for construction of the Ventura Freeway (Route 134)—is now the site of the Roy E. Disney Animation Building and the Riverside Building, home of ABC.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Claim 2: “All the plants in Tomorrowland are edible.”

Status: Mixed

When the 1998 version of Tomorrowland opened, new plantings featured fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Who knew that cabbage could be so decorative? There were even orange trees, a fitting nod to Disneyland’s location in former orange groves. This landscaping approach has continued to the present day. In this case, “edible” does not mean that guests are encouraged to nibble on the landscaping.

According to the official Disneyland website, “The visionary landscaping doubles as a potential farm, projecting an ecologically astute future, where humanity makes the most of its resources.”

However, it cannot be said that all plants in Tomorrowland are edible. There are plenty of traditional plants in Tomorrowland, such as the landscaping along the Autopia roadways.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo taken at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World, by Werner Weiss, 2008

Claim 3: “There is a fake pet cemetery hidden behind the Haunted Mansion. Mr. Toad has a gravestone in the area.”

Status: Mixed

Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion actually has two pet cemeteries. One is along the main queue. The other is on the west side of the building, where it’s usually hidden from guests. Neither one has a gravestone for Mr. Toad.

To acknowledge the permanent closure in 1998 of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Magic Kingdom Park in Florida, the Haunted Mansion pet cemetery at that park features a memorial for J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. But Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is still alive and well at Disneyland, so no gravestone is needed.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Charles R. Lympany, courtesy of Chris Taylor.

Claim 4: “Disneyland only had 18 attractions on opening day. Fourteen of those attractions are still running today.”

Status: Mixed

According to an official Disneyland Resort Public Relations fact sheet, “Disneyland Park opened July 17, 1955, with 18 major attractions. Today, there are more than 60 adventures and attractions.” So the first part of the claim is true.

But the second part of the claim—that 14 of those attractions are still running today—is probably based on Disneyland’s list of 14 “Class of ‘55” attractions during the park’s 50th anniversary in 2005. But that list also included attractions that opened in 1955 after July 17.

Of the following 18 attractions that were open on July 17, 1955, 12 are still available to guests. All these attractions have changed to some degree. The Disneyland Railroad is now a single attraction, with up to four sets of open-air passenger cars stopping at four stations; the yellow passenger coaches are gone.

  1. Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad Passenger Train at Main Street Station - GONE
  2. Horse-Drawn Streetcars
  3. Horse-Drawn Fire Wagon - GONE
  4. Horse-Drawn Surreys - GONE
  5. Main Street Cinema
  6. Jungle Cruise
  7. Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad Freight Train at Frontierland Station
  8. Stage Coach - GONE
  9. Mule Pack - GONE
  10. Mark Twain Riverboat
  11. King Arthur Carrousel
  12. Snow White’s Adventures
  13. Peter Pan Flight
  14. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  15. Mad Tea Party
  16. Canal Boats of the World (became Storybook Land Canal Boats)
  17. Tomorrowland Autopia
  18. Monsanto Hall of Chemistry - GONE

Some of the attractions that were supposed to be open on July 17, 1955 did not debut until days or weeks later. Circarama, U.S.A. opened July 18; Rocket to the Moon opened July 22; Casey Jr. Circus Train opened July 31.

By the end of 1955, the list of attractions had grown longer—Yesterland’s 1955 list has 36 entries.

It’s hard to nail down exact counts of attractions. It depends on what one counts as an attraction. Only ticketed attraction? Shows? Major sponsored exhibits? Minor sponsored exhibits?

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2015

Claim 5: “Mickey Mouse ear hats are the most popular Disneyland Resort souvenirs of all time.”

Status: True, according to Disneyland PR

The line is taken from “Disneyland Resort 59th Anniversary Fun Facts July 17, 2014,” issued by Disneyland Public Relations—except that MSN left out the most interesting part, the number sold. The full line was, “Mickey Mouse ear hats are the most popular Disneyland Resort souvenirs of all time, with more than 84 million ‘ears’ sold since 1955.”

The original Mickey Mouse Club television series—famously featuring talented children wearing caps with Mickey Mouse ears—premiered October 3, 1955, less than three months after the opening of Disneyland. Immediately, there was synergy between the show and the park.

The same Disneyland PR fact sheet also had this: “Since opening day in 1955, the Disneyland Resort has welcomed nearly 700 million guests to the happiest place on earth.” That would mean that one in eight bought “ears.” That seems high, especially because the number 700 million refers to attendance, not unique guests.

You really don’t see that many guests wearing “ears” these days, and you didn’t in the past either. Far more guests wear Disney tee-shirts. The popularity of Disney pins exploded when Disney parks introduced pin trading at the time of the Millenium Celebration. Pin collectors often own dozens or even hundreds of pins. But there are no published numbers for tee-shirts and pins sold at the Disneyland Resort since 1955.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Claim 6: “The purple teacup and the orange one with diamond shapes on it are the fastest spinners on the Mad Tea Party ride.”

Status: False (just a legend)

All Disneyland teacups are designed to work the same way. Observations about the two “fastest” teacups were posted on the HiddenMickeys website in 1999 and 2000, but the legend could be older than that.

In early 2004, Disneyland modified the teacups to make them harder to spin around their fixed center wheel. A Los Angeles Times article (“Not Your Father’s Dizzyland” by Kimi Yoshino, February 29, 2004) began like this:

Oh, for the days of those dizzying, stomach-turning whirls in Disneyland’s cherished teacups.

The Mad Tea Party, Fantasyland’s iconic attraction, has lost some of its spin in the name of safety, and longtime fans aren’t happy.

They’ve marched to City Hall on Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. in protest. They have posted hundreds of messages on Internet discussion boards under urgent headings like “Save the Teacups.” There’s even talk of holding a spin-in—if, that is, they can get the darn cups moving.

Later that year, on October 18, Yoshino reported, “Disneyland engineers are devising a safe way to return the stomach-churning spins to the teacups in the Mad Tea Party ride.” Disneyland had listened to its loyal guests. Yoshino added, “Engineers will return the spin to the teacups early next year.” Some fans aren’t so sure the teacups were ever restored fully, but the complaints of 2004 stopped.

Even if two particular teacups were actually marginally easier to spin in 1999, it’s unlikely that such a difference would have survived through 16 years of daily use and normal maintenance, the ride modification of 2004 and its undoing in 2005, and major annual maintenance.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Claim 7: “Every year, 2.8 million churros are sold at Disneyland.”

Status: True, according to Disney—at least it was a decade ago

An official Walt Disney Parks & Resorts publication, Report on Safety, in 2002 included this “fast fact” box:

Last year, Guests at the Disneyland Park alone consumed 4 million hamburgers, 1.6 million hot dogs, 3.4 million orders of French fries, 1.5 million servings of popcorn, 3.2 million servings of ice cream, 1.2 million gallons of soft drinks and 2.8 million churros.

The Fact Book 2005 and the Fact Book 2006 from The Walt Disney Company both had this as one of their facts:

Each year, Disneyland Resort Guests consume 1.6 million servings of popcorn, 3.2 million servings of ice cream and 2.8 million churros.

Attendance is now higher than back then, but the public at large is more conscious of avoiding sugar, fried fats, and empty calories. Still, it’s easy to imagine that Disneyland continues to sell around 2.8 million churros annually.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Claim 8: “The gold trimmings on the outside of the It’s a Small World ride are made of real 22 karat gold.”

Status: True

According to a souvenir book for “it’s a small world” at Disneyland printed in 1973:

For weather durability and unexcelled beauty, 22 karat gold leaf was used for trim throughout the facade. When domestic supplies of gold leaf ran low, Disney engineers secured a European shipment to finish the job… thus adding another “international” touch while creating a striking contrast of gold textures.

Gold leaf is real gold, flattened into thinner-than-a-tissue sheets. Its architectural use is not limited to Disney. For example, the dome of the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines is covered with gold leaf.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo Allen Huffman, 2004

Claim 9: “There’s is a basketball court inside the Matterhorn. Employees go shoot hoops on their breaks.”

Status: True, although calling it a “basketball court” is generous.

A backboard and hoop are attached to the side of a wooden staircase in a break room that’s higher than the top of the bobsled tracks.

There’s a story about the hoop. After Walt Disney submitted the plans for the Matterhorn to the city of Anaheim, a city official phoned him, “Your building permit is denied. The structure exceeds Anaheim height limits. The only structures of that height allowed by the Anaheim building code are sports facilities.”

Walt thought about it for a few seconds. Then he turned to his staff and directed them, “Proceed with the construction of the Matterhorn, but put a basketball hoop in it. It’s now a sports facility.”

It’s a great story, but there’s no truth to it. The real (but mundane) explanation is that early climbers solved the problem of break room boredom with a basketball and a hoop.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo Allen Huffman, 2002

Claim 10: “The abominable snowman in the Matterhorn is named Harold.”

Status: True, at least unofficially

Officially, Disney calls him “Abominable Snowman.” Unofficially, Imagineers dubbed him Harold, and that nickname leaked into use by Cast Members and the public. He has only lived in the Matterhorn since 1978, when the ice caverns were added. Before that, the interior of the Matterhorn was a big hollow space.

Please continue to Part 2.

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Insane Facts, Part 2
The Treehouse Legend

© 2015 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 24, 2015.