Yesterland PopCult Magazine Interview
May 23, 2002
screen capture of PopCult Website of the week screen
PopCult Magazine is an online publication that bills itself as “the obsessive journal of quality pop culture.” For May 2, 2002, PopCult picked Yesterland as their Website of the Week, a feature which always includes a Q&A session. Coury Turczyn, the editor of PopCult, came up with a good list of questions about Disneyland and my site. With Mr. Turczyn’s kind permission, here are his questions and my answers.

— Werner Weiss

This Week: Yesterland

Amusement is often a fleeting experience—the things that entertained our society in past eras can look awfully dull or silly to us now. Thus, America’s original theme park, Disneyland, constantly updates or replaces its attractions, hoping to snare new visitors. But sometimes its antiquated amusements are still important in ways other than just entertainment; they can be viewed as pieces of cultural history or even as works of art. While most of these outdated rides are lost forever, their histories are chronicled at Werner Weiss’ Yesterland, a virtual theme park of ghostly amusements. Out of his Illinois basement, this Internet technology specialist (who’s “slightly older than Disneyland”) creates one of the most unique “Disneyana” sites on the Web.

When did you first visit Disneyland?
What do you remember most about it?

I was four years old when my parents took me to Disneyland for the first time. I still remember riding the Midget Autopia and Mine Train, visiting the Satellite View of America, watching the gasoline-powered model planes and cars at the Flight Circle, and walking up the little hill where the Matterhorn would later be built.

How did the experience make you feel?

I was amazed and delighted by Disneyland. Almost 45 years later, I’m still fascinated by the Disney theme parks. I not only find them to be entertaining, but I admire them as works of art.

How many times have you visited the park?
What was your favorite attraction?

I went to Disneyland an average of twice a year from 1960 through 1975. After that, my visits became less frequent. Because of my website, people assume I visit Disneyland frequently. But I’ve only been there around 10 days over the past 25 years. I take my family to Walt Disney World much more frequently than to Disneyland. To me, Pirates of the Caribbean was and is the best Disneyland attraction. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any chance that it’s heading to Yesterland.

Theme parks were popular regional attractions previous to Disneyland.
What made Disneyland the “nation’s theme park”?

Actually, those regional attractions were amusement parks, not theme parks. Back in 1955, there really weren’t any theme parks—although Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and Greenfield Village in Dearborn each provided some elements of what we would now consider a theme park experience. Walt Disney invented the theme park. Disneyland owes more to movie studio back lots than to amusement parks. When Disneyland opened, it had no roller coaster, no Ferris wheel, no games with obnoxious barkers, no surly ride operators and no trash on the ground. Instead, guests were immersed in an idealized world that took them to the past and the future, to the exotic jungles, and into realms of fantasy.

What was Walt Disney trying to achieve with Disneyland?
(beyond monetary profit)

Walt Disney wanted to create a place where families could have fun together and experience things they might never be able to do in the real world. When Walt Disney built the Matterhorn, his goal wasn’t a themed roller coaster. He wanted guests to feel the experience of racing a bobsled. How many people would ever have a chance to travel in a submarine? Walt Disney made sure that at Disneyland they would get that chance—and his submarines would have windows, making them better than the real thing (even if his submarines never really went below the surface). And as far as monetary profit was concerned, Walt Disney took a huge risk, driven by his belief that the public would respond favorably to his vision.

How often are attractions replaced?
How many total do you estimate?

Quite a few rides from 1955 are still around, although they’ve been updated and enhanced over the years. Some recent rides and shows, including the Rocket Rods and Light Magic, were retired so quickly that those guests who only visit every two of three years missed them entirely. I really can’t give you a total number because it depends on what you consider an attraction. If you count rides, stage shows, parades, exhibits and events, the number is huge.

What was the first attraction to be torn down?

The strange-looking Phantom Boats attraction opened in 1955… and closed permanently in 1955.

What happens to the removed attractions—are they ever stored?

Sometimes parts of old attractions are reused for new attractions. For example, the organ in the ballroom of the Haunted Mansion came from the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea walkthrough attraction. The majority of the Audio-Animatronic characters in Splash Mountain once entertained guests in America Sings. The Disney Company auctioned off one of the Mike Fink Keel Boats and even the old Harbor Boulevard Disneyland sign on eBay.

What do you feel is the biggest loss?

I miss the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. The Mine Train took guests on a leisurely ride through a mountain wilderness, a surprisingly large desert, and a cave with colorful waterfalls. Nature’s Wonderland was replaced by Big Thunder Mountain, featuring much faster mine trains. I’m sure it was a good business decision, and Big Thunder Mountain is an excellent ride, but I wish I could take my children on the old Mine Train.

How do you think the “feel” of Disneyland has changed?
Is this good or bad?

The “feel” of Disneyland hasn’t changed that much. It’s still a wonderful place, and it continues to evolve. On the positive side, the park is the product of almost 47 years of improvements. On the negative side, the park seems more crowded now, and maintenance standards unfortunately aren’t as high as they once were.

Do you think the new attractions are better or worse than older ones?

I’m surprised that Disneyland has never topped their masterpieces from the 1960s—It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. The Disney Company has built many good attractions since then at 10 Disney theme parks around the world (eight of which I’ve visited)—but even at those parks the top attractions are the updated versions of the 1960s masterpieces. Some would argue that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Florida or the Indiana Jones Adventure in California are now the best attractions, and it’s true that they have a level of detail that exceeds anything from the 1960s. But I’m still waiting for Disney to top Pirates of the Caribbean.

How did you come up with the idea of cataloging the lost attractions?

In 1994, I signed up for an Internet dial access account. Unbeknownst to me, the account included 10 MB for a personal website. When I realized I had Web space, I decided to teach myself HTML and put up a website. I tried to think of a subject that might actually attract some visitors. I looked through my old color slides and found pictures of defunct Disneyland attractions. So I created a website based on the concept that these attractions were not bulldozed, but that they were now at a park called Yesterland. The grand opening of Yesterland was May 20, 1995.

Where did you get the photos documenting them?

I started with my own color slides from the 1960s and 1970s. I’ve been fortunate that visitors to my site have contributed additional photos. Since I started Yesterland, I’ve been taking snapshots of attractions in anticipation of using those pictures in the future. That’s how I was ready to add Captain EO and the Rocket Rods.

How did you research the background info for each attraction?

I have a good memory, which allows me to describe the experience. I have old Disneyland guide books and back issues of Disney News magazine for more information and to jog my memory. And I have several books about Disneyland history with which I can verify dates and facts.

Is there any attraction that you feel ought to be replaced?

My most recent visit to Disneyland was in 2000. I was not impressed by Innoventions in Tomorrowland. Innoventions is located in the structure that originally housed the Carousel of Progress and later America Sings. But instead of being an entertaining, multi-scene show like its predecessors, Innoventions is just a series of exhibits, only marginally more interesting than the displays at Best Buy or Circuit City.

What kinds of reactions has your site received from visitors?

I get many compliments from visitors to my site. I also get a lot of questions that I can’t answer, such as a recent note asking, “why did they stop making the old-fashioned hats at the Mad Hatter?”

Have you ever gotten any reaction from the Disney Company itself?

I’ve received e-mail from many current and former Disney employees, but never in an official capacity.

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Updated October 15, 2009.

Photograph of Submarine (grey): 1974 by Werner Weiss.