Twelve Stories of Disneyland: Part One

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Over the decades I have written countless articles about Disney and Christmas, covering everything from animation to the parks to Walt Disney's personal memories. I recommend you take a look at the MousePlanet Archives to find some holiday treasures.

Unfortunately, this makes it even more challenging each year to come up with some new topic or fresh perspective. I have always loved the song The Twelve Days of Christmas and in that spirit decided that this year I would share twelve stories about Disneyland. Six stories this week and six stories next week.

The Secret Origin of Churros

In the January 5, 2003, episode of The Simpsons (Season 14, Episode 298 "Special Edna"), Homer escapes from Epcot to get into the Magic Kingdom and asks for one churro from a vendor that ridiculously costs $14.

In real life, the fried dough pastry still costs a hefty $3.50, considering it is made with just inexpensive dough, sugar and cinnamon.

In 1985, the man responsible for food and beverage in Disneyland's Fantasyland was Jim Lowman. With the scheduled opening of a new dance location for young people called Videopolis, he needed to bring in something new and unique to offer them.

That same year he attended the Long Beach Grand Prix event and saw his first churro booth and that all that was needed was a small warming oven. Snooping around, he found an empty box from J & J Snack Foods. The treat seemed popular, inexpensive, easy to produce and something out-of-the-ordinary.

He later phoned the company to see if they might be interested in working with Disneyland. However, to make the churro a unique Disneyland churro and, to increase the price that they could be sold for to hungry teenagers, Lowman insisted that they enlarge the size from six inches to 12 inches.

Lowman decided to do a little test before Videopolis opened. He felt the treat would theme in with Frontierland and its Mexican food influences, so he stationed a small cart by the exit of the Mark Twain Riverboat. Even as the cart was rolling to that location, it was followed by at least 30 people who were entranced by the smell.

Just at that one temporary location, sales were constant for the next two weeks straight. When Videopolis opened, two churro carts were placed there and, again, became so popular that the carts were expanded to other areas.

Originally, the warming ovens, like the traditional one that Lowman first saw, were propane powered and that created a problem. Because of the popularity of the treat, even with six full propane tanks in each cart, they would run out, often by midday and had to be replaced. Of course, propane is also explosive.

By the end of the first summer, the propane was replaced with electricity. The carts became part of Disneyland's Outdoor Vending Team, the same group that sells popcorn and ice cream around the park, and became a Disneyland tradition.

A Mezuzah on Main Street

A mezuzah is a piece of parchment (usually in a small metal case) featuring particular verses from the Torah. In Rabbinic Judaism it is affixed to the doorframe to fullfill the biblical commandment to inscribe the words of the "Shema Yisrael" (a Jewish prayer) "on the doorposts of your home".

A mezuzah should be placed on the right side of the door or doorpost, in the upper third of the doorpost and is slanted toward the room into which the door opens.

On Disneyland's Main Street USA, there is a doorway along the Emporium west side of the street just before the entrance to the New Century Jewelry store (which was originally the location of the Upjohn Pharmacy, a favorite location for doctors visiting the park in the early days) that features the name of a fictional resident in gold leaf lettering: Dr. Benjamin Silverstein. It is a bit unusual, because the name is not on one of the upper floor windows like so many other names, and it does not represent a person who contributed to Disneyland.

To the right of the door is a mezuzah. Dr. Silverstein does not exist on the Main Street at Walt Disney World, only Disneyland.

In 1995, Former Disneyland President Paul Pressler expressed concern that, during the holidays, there was nothing in recognition of the celebration of Chanukah.

In the tradition of its founder, Walt Disney, Disneyland was known for welcoming all religions, but during the holiday season, all the decorations in the park seemed to reference only Christmas and Christian symbols. Walt Disney World had an annual exhibit in the American Adventure attraction at Epcot that acknowledged the Jewish seasonal celebration.

So this location at Disneyland was formatted to acknowledge a simple turn-of-the-century general practitioner, and a menorah is placed in one of the upstairs windows. The welcoming sign on the door states: "Have a fever? Have the flu? Come on in and we'll cure you!"

In September 2004, the mezuzah was stolen and had to be replaced.

There is a real doctor acknowledged on Main Street in the window above the Baby Care Center window: Alexander Irvine. He was the ophthalmologist father of Richard Irvine who was president of WED (now Walt Disney Imagineering), Walt Disney's personal eye doctor and founder of the Doheny Eye Institute.

Mr. Limpet's Hidden Cameo

The Incredible Mr. Limpet was a film released by Warner Brothers in 1964. It was a combination of live-action and animation. The film was the last animation work done by the Warner Brothers studio, famed for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig, before officially shutting down all production and outsourcing future animation to other companies run by former employees, like Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones.

Look carefully, a nod to Mr. Limpet can be found inside Ariel's Undersea Adventure at Disney California Adventure.

Actor Don Knotts played a mild-mannered fellow named Henry Limpet who, in 1941, is classified as 4F and cannot join the Navy to serve his country as World War II rages. Deeply depressed, Limpet, on a trip to Coney Island, falls into the water and magically (through the miracle of hand drawn, cel-painted animation) transforms into a blue-colored tilefish, still sporting his distinctively round lens glasses.

He is now able to help the U.S. Navy hunt down and destroy Nazi U-boats to help win the war.

During World War I and World War II, there was a device known as a limpet, a type of naval mine attached to a target by magnets.

Knotts later appeared in numerous Disney films, including The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) and as the voice of Turkey Lurkey in Chicken Little (2005).

The character designer and animation director (who was later replaced by Robert McKimson because of health issues) was the legendary Vladimir "Bill" Tytla, renowned for his memorable Disney animation on Chernabog from Fantasia, Stromboli the evil puppeteer in Pinocchio, and little baby Dumbo taking a bath in a tub.

Disney animators so admired Tytla's work that, as an homage, they included Mr. Limpet in the final frozen pose at the end of the song "Under the Sea" in the animated feature The Little Mermaid (1989). Look carefully in the upper right hand corner and there is a blue tilefish wearing Limpet's glasses and the unmistakable Don Knotts' lips.

At Disney California Adventure in The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure is a brief unauthorized cameo.

Just beyond Ariel in the "Under the Sea" scene directly across and to the right, hidden behind a clam shell, in the seaweed and not lit, Mr. Limpet peers at Flounder dancing with the Carmen Miranda fish across the track.

Animators and Imagineers often put in little "jokes" and "homages" for their own amusement and, in the old days, they were completely undiscovered by Disney fans. However, with today's technology, nothing seems to escape the notice of Disney detectives. So as early as the soft openings of the attraction, photos and directions on how to find Mr. Limpet were posted prominently on the internet.

Train Station Clock Capers

The Main Street Train Station at the front of Disneyland was designed to coordinate architecturally with the turn-of-the-last-century theme of Main Street using a Queen Anne-style with mansard roofs, gingerbread trim and a widow&339;s walk. It was extremely important to be authentic, because it is the first Disneyland structure visitors see upon entering the park.

A sign on the roof shows an elevation of 138 feet above sea level, but that figure is only approximate and a population number that roughly corresponds with the number of visitors to the park over the past 60 years.

One of its most distinctive features is its clock tower. The actual clock was one of the last things installed in the station, and a camera was placed inside the clock face opening to record the building of Town Square and Main Street without interfering with the construction.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, for the first few months, one of the most frequent complaints from the guests was that the clock on the Main Street Train Station showed the incorrect time. They were trying to use it to coordinate their day, and it was always wrong. Each day, the Maintenance Department was sent to correct the problem, but the complaints continued.

Again and again, a diligent maintenance staff member went to the station, set up a ladder and carefully reset the clock. Later that day, the complaints continued.

Was there something wrong with the gears? Was the California heat affecting the mechanisms? Was there foul play from a disgruntled employee?

Management set out to investigate and questioned the person who would re-set the clock.

"I try to be as accurate as possible," stated the man. "I call the operator at the Park to get the correct time, set my own watch and then climb the tower to set the station clock."

Further investigation continued of the incorrect time on the clock. Finally, it was decided to check every step of the procedure. A man was stationed next to the operator in the Main Street City Hall. When she received the call from Maintenance for the correct time, she looked out her window and told him the time she saw on the train station clock.

Disneyland Comic Books

Western Printing and Lithographing was the parent company of Whitman Publishing and Simon & Schuster, Inc. and had the exclusive book rights to all the Walt Disney characters beginning in 1933.

Over the decades they used these characters in coloring books, sticker books, storybooks, Little Golden Books, games, puzzles and more including comic books released through Dell Publishing from 1940 to 1962. In 1962, Western took over producing their own comic book line and called it "Gold Key".

Western Publishing didn't hesitate to invest $200,000 in Disneyland, Inc. giving them 13.8 percent of Walt's new theme park in 1954.

Between 1955 and 1960, Dell produced 10 special Disneyland Giant comic books containing nearly 1,000 pages of new, original content of Mickey Mouse and the gang visiting the Happiest Place on Earth, done by writers and artists who only worked from reference material so the depiction of the park was not always accurate.

The 10 giant-sized issues were Donald Duck in Disneyland No. 1 (1955), Mickey Mouse in Frontierland No. 1 (1956), Mickey Mouse in Fantasyland No. 1 (1957), Uncle Scrooge Goes to Disneyland No. 1 (1957), Walt Disney's Christmas in Disneyland No. 1 (1957), Donald and Mickey in Disneyland No. 1 (1958), Walt Disney's Vacation in Disneyland No. 1 (1958), Disneyland Birthday Party No. 1 (1958), Walt Disney's Vacation in Disneyland Dell Four Color 1025 (1959, only 36 pages), and Walt Disney's Disneyland U.S.A. (1960).

When the Disney Company bought back Western's shares in Disneyland, the publisher continued to produce the regular profitable Disney comic books, but there seemed to be less urgency to create any more comic book stories about Disneyland to help support Western's investment in the park.

In addition, Western ran the Story Book Shop, sometimes referred to as the Arcade Bookstore, on Main Street. It provided a "billboard" that Dell comics were tied directly to the family friendly wholesome world of Disney at a time when comic books were coming under heavy scrutiny and reduced sales.

It was a small space located in the Crystal Arcade just behind the Upjohn Pharmacy. There was an entry through the Emporium and also from West Center Street across from the Carnation Ice Cream Parlor and the Flower Mart.

Today, that location is considered an extension of the Emporium, and is just another area with the usual Disney merchandise. In the early years, Disney comic books were also sold at the newsstand out by the ticket kiosks entrance.

This year as part of Disneyland's 60th anniversary celebration, IDW Publishing released two issues of Disney Magic Kingdom Comics (64 pages each) that collected many of the classic Disneyland park stories published by Western.

The Man Who Sank Disneyland's Mark Twain

As former 1955 Disneyland cast member Terry O'Brien finally admitted in 2005, he was the one responsible for the sinking of the Mark Twain on July 17, 1955. One of O'Brien's first assignments was to tend the "holding pen" for the Mark Twain, the area where people waited to board the boat.

"They gave me a clicker and told me to let people in until the pen was full," he said. "The boat would come in and let one group off and we'd put the other group on. No one was sure just how many people would fit, so they said to try and keep it between 200 to 300."

After a few times, it got kind of boring, so O'Brien started talking to the people and the other workers as he clicked people into the pen, not paying much attention to how many there were. The boat came in, and the next group got on.

"Pretty soon, we heard the toot-toot signal that meant disaster," O'Brien said. "And everyone wondered what had happened."

What had happened was that the boat, which actually made its way around the lagoon on a rail, had sunk off the track and into the mud. There were too many people on board.

"It took about 20 to 30 minutes to get it fixed and back on the rail and it came chugging in," he said. "As soon as it pulled up to the landing, all the people rushed to the side to get off, and the boat tipped into the water again, so they all had to wade off through the water, and some of them were pretty mad"

His boss came to ask O'Brien how many people he'd put on the boat. "And I said about 250. And he said, 'Well, better keep it at about 200.' Then I remembered I had the clicker in my pocket. I looked and was shocked to see I'd put 508 people on the boat. I never told anyone until now. Now, I figure, what can they do to me? They can't fire me."

After that first summer, O'Brien left to go on his Mormon mission to Guatemala. After he got back from that experience he worked again at Disneyland for several summers while he attended Brigham Young University. Eventually, he ended up teaching pre-Columbian art at Cypress College in Fullerton and then retired to Provo, Utah.

Next week, another six stories about Disneyland that I hope will brighten your holiday season.