Yesterland Guest Contributor
Photo of the Mark Twain,1959
The sternwheeler Mark Twain circling Tom Sawyer Island, 1959
Memories of Early Disneyland
by Mike Bonk

My family did not move to California until late 1955, so the Park was several months old by the time of my first visit. But after that, I was never away more than six months during the following 25 years. Many early memories are just bits and pieces now:

  • Circling Tom Sawyer Island on the rafts when there was no ship on the Rivers of America.
  • Staring in horror at the “medical” leeches in a huge bell jar at Upjohn Pharmacy.
  • Waving to “Uncle Walt” when he looked out the window of his apartment over the fire station.
  • Fishing off Tom Sawyer Island (happily, never catching anything; there was never a good solution for what to do with fish if caught, and they invariably ended up in lockers...where they usually remained unclaimed at the end of the day).
  • Barely making the requirements to ride alone on the Flying Saucers... and finding that I didn’t provide enough mass to do anything but bob in place for the whole (brief) ride.
  • Begging for my first “coonskin” cap in the Davy Crockett Shop, and reading in awe the histories of the historic gun collection in back.
  • Watching the “mountaineers” climb the Matterhorn, the bad guys shoot it out with the Sheriff (Marshall?) in Frontierland, live “mermaids” swim in the submarine lagoon, and Tinker Bell fly across the Park during the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks.
  • Turning large steel wheels that made columns of colored water rise and fall (Monsanto? 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?)

Eventually I went to work at the Park, and collected too many memories to try and sort out here. But as Guest or Cast Member, my absolute favorite moments were always in late winter, when there were barely enough Guests for the Park to be open, and a light rain would fall. Then there was no place I would rather be than sitting bundled-up outside the One-of-a-Kind shop in New Orleans Square, sipping hot chocolate and nibbling a fritter while watching the Mark Twain churn slowly by in the fog coming off the Rivers of America.

— Mike Bonk

Mike Bonk (faireguy @ is the author of The Directorie of Renaissance Faires.

Growing Up in Disneyland
The Final Electrical Parade

© 2007 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated November 24, 2006.

Photograph of the Mark Twain: 1959 by Fred M. Nelson, Sr.