The 1970 Yippie Invasion of Disneylandby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
It was a surreal day in 1970 during a turbulent time that would live in Disneyland history infamy.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
"ANAHEIM, Calif., Aug. 6--HIPPIE DISTURBANCE CLOSES DISNEYLAND--Police wearing flak jackets seal off sections of Disneyland as officials closed the famed Anaheim, Calif., amusement park tonight because of demonstrations by hippie-types, who had announced they wanted to 'liberate' Disneyland as a symbol of the establishment. There were arrests. About 29,000 people were in the park when the closing was announced."
During the summer of its 15th anniversary in 1970, Disneyland found itself in a unique situation where it was invaded by roughly 300 counter-culture young revolutionaries who effectively shut down the park for only the second time in its history.
Disneyland has closed for a day a total of five times in its history: after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Yippie invasion, during a 1987 winter storm, in 1994 for an inspection after the Northridge earthquake, and after 9/11. The park didn't even shut down for the death of Walt Disney in 1966 or Roy Disney in 1971.
The Yippie Invasion took place on Thursday August 6, 1970 and much has been written about it. However some details of that day have also been exaggerated even by some usually reliable sources who were actually there at the time, so the event has become part of urban legend.
It was certainly a major disturbance and a nuisance but basically it was not dangerous or violent until the end. There was some vandalism to landscaping, buildings and cars in the parking lot: some very upsetting language; and filling the Adventures Thru Inner Space attraction with dense marijuana smog. The Yippies openly smoked joints almost everywhere in the park and some were involved with using harder drugs like acid.
While hippies were still an active part of the culture, The Youth International Party (YIP) better known as Yippies had become prominent in reaction to the stereotypes of the hippie movement being co-opted by mainstream marketing, merchandise and the media.
Established in December 1967 by radicals Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, the movement employed street theater theatrics and pranks to advance its anti-authoritarian agenda and protests against the Vietnam War. Its gatherings were often called "Pow Wows" and basically their actions were intended to mock the establishment by doing silly things in public venues. The group was sometimes jokingly referred to as the Groucho Marxists.
Notices began appearing the Los Angeles Free Press in early July of a Yippie get-together called a Pow Wow at Disneyland for August 6. Five hundred flyers (not the 10,000 usually cited) were distributed through the usual local underground channels like shops, newspapers and activities by Yippie leaders David Sacks and Michael Dale. The flyer depicted a smiling Mickey Mouse wearing his trademark tuxedo with outstretched arms. One hand held a top hat while the other held the silhouette of an AK 47 automatic rifle. Surrounding the image of Mickey, the flyer said "Aug. 6 Disneyland. Yippie International Pow Wow!"
August 6, 1970 was chosen as the date for the event because it marked the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.
Disneyland has always been a high-profile target. In this case, the Yippies saw it as representing the evils of capitalism and would be a very visible forum to publicize its protest of the ongoing war in Vietnam.
Among the Yippies' grievances was Bank of America who prominently sponsored the "it's a small world" attraction in the park, but also supported the Vietnam War including financially. A Bank of America near the UC Santa Barbara campus had been torched in an earlier anti-war protest.
The Disneyland protest would also include demonstrations against the supposed racist and anti-feminist values expressed in Disneyland, in addition to the park's arbitrary dress code for guests that had already started to be relaxed years earlier and allowed some of the long-haired protestors to gain entry to the park.
The flyer listed the itinerary for the day:
Black Panther Hot Breakfast: 9am—10am at Aunt Jemima's Pancake House
Young Pirates League: 11am on Captain Hook's boat
Women's Liberation: 12 noon rally to liberate Minnie Mouse in front of Fantasyland
Self Defense Collective: 1pm—2pm at shooting gallery in Frontierland
Mid-Day Feast: 3pm barbecue of Porky Pig
Late in the afternoon Yippies plan to infiltrate and liberate Tom Sawyer's Island. Declaring a free state, brothers and sisters will then have a smoke-in and festival.
Get it on over to Disneyland, August 6. YIPPIE!"
Sacks just created the itinerary off the top of his head, trying to incorporate some of the humor that was the trademark of the group. After all, Porky Pig was not a Disney character but an icon of Warner Brothers cartoons.
Although a small handful of people (but no members of the Black Panthers) did apparently show up uneventfully for the breakfast with an occasional raised fist salute, the only listed activities that actually occurred was the boarding of the Captain Hook pirate ship in Fantasyland and the storming of Tom Sawyer's Island.
Of the 27,400 Disneyland guests who purchased admission that day, only 200-300 might be classified as Yippies. The Berkeley Tribe undergound newspaper had speculated that "up to 100,000 dope-crazed, bizarro Yippies and Yippie-symps" would descend on Disneyland.
Not even Hoffman or Rubin showed up, leaving the group more or less directionless. Even the organizers themselves admitted that at least half of that number was composed of merely apolitical curiosity seekers who showed up to score some marijuana, get high at the park with some others and just have a little fun. That small turnout was a disappointment to the organizers, the police, and the press but was still an annoyance to the families who had looked forward to a pleasant Disneyland vacation.
Despite fears that the group would climb the fences and walls surrounding the park to get in, all of them who entered Disneyland paid full admission and entered through the turnstiles.
Those who appeared suspicious or were dressed in hippie style clothing were pulled aside at the turnstiles and their bags searched. They were advised that if they were just there to have fun like everyone else they were certainly welcome. However, if they had come to make any type of trouble, they would be asked to leave the park.
A few dozen Yippies appeared throughout the day outside the gates protesting loudly that private property should be outlawed and turned down Vice President Dick Nunis' offer of a discounted group admission of $0.50 per person to enter. Normal adult admission at that time was $3.50.
There had been a dozen meetings on the strategy to use that day, especially in light of what had happened earlier in Chicago when the police overreacted to protestors.
On that Monday, three days before the event, Disneyland leaders Dick Nunis, Ron Dominguez and Jim Cora held a meeting of all park supervisors in the Mickey Mouse Theater in Fantasyland to give out assignments and to be briefed by an Anaheim police officer. Some were given "plainsclothes" assignments to "blend in" with the crowd on Thursday and monitor any activity and report with concealed walkie-talkies in bags and wrapped packages using a special code that had been developed to call for backup.
Nunis contacted all the local newspapers, radio and television stations to ask them not to give any advance publicity to the reported event and that he would establish a media room that day in the administration building behind Main Street where they could gather. A special command and communications center was set up backstage.
Hundreds of police officers from Anaheim and Fullerton among other cities gathered backstage of Main Street starting before the park even opened. Additional staging areas were at the Disneyland Hotel and the Anaheim Convention Center. El Toro Marine Base supplied a company of Marines with more awaiting orders to fly in by helicopter if necessary. Security patrols paced on the top of buildings. In retrospect, Disneyland may have been too overly prepared.
Everyone was expecting an overwhelming contingent of drugged out young people who were capable of doing anything. Additional cast members were required to work that day to keep all areas safe and to look for possible bombs.
A small smoke bomb was found inside of "it's a small world" attraction. Special courts were set up in case they had to handle mass arrests and the National Guard was told to stand ready in case things really got out of hand.
Two Bank of America security officers dressed as tourists spent the day taking photos of anyone in or near the bank that might be used in any future legal proceedings.
The day started without any major incident with guests generally ignoring and avoiding the colorful young people who gathered in groups. Disneyland managers and even Nunis himself would approach groups that gathered in the park and begged them to "be cool" and to be respectful of the families who came to visit the Happiest Place on Earth that day.
There were a few minor scuffles, mostly shoving, throughout the day but never anything significant that was reported. Most of the Yippies found themselves shadowed by polite, soft-spoken Disneyland personnel who despite their efforts to be inconspicuous were easily spotted with the Yippies pointing at them and yelling, "Narc!"
In articles and editorials, Disneyland management was praised for initially taking a hands-off approach to try to prevent the potential powder keg from exploding and only resorted to a deliberate show of force when things started to get out of hand. Cast members were lauded for their patience in dealing with the unruly guests.
Dick Nunis was so reassured that Disneyland had averted a crisis and an embarrassment that he actually held a 3:20pm press briefing saying that the Yippies "weren't that different than other kids throughout the country. They may look a little different, but they are just here to have fun. Maybe we ought to listen to them a little more."
However, as that hot summer day dragged on things became more interesting. A group of about 30 got up on the second floor of the Chicken of the Sea restaurant in Fantasyland that was in the shape of Captain Hook's pirate ship. They climbed the mast, got up in the rigging, got stoned, sang, chanted and shouted obscenities but none of that prevented guests from ordering food on the first floor.
When the Disneyland Band came marching down Main Street, a group of Yippies started singing their own rendition of Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, while running in-between the musicians to throw them off. They began singing The Mickey Mouse March along with We Are Marching To Cambodia. The band, fearing that the activity might result in the marching musicians getting a horn mouthpiece to the teeth among other things, retreated backstage.
About 4 p.m. a group met inside the Main Street Cinema and devised a plan to take over Tom Sawyer Island.
Around 5 p.m. several raft loads of Yippies boarded Tom Sawyer Island and took over Fort Wilderness where they lowered the American flag and replaced it with a Viet Cong flag. They chanted "Free Charlie Manson!" and "Legalize marijuana!" while they got stoned, sang and played Frisbee. To contain the situation, the park stopped sending rafts to the island and only offered transportation off the location.
Some contemplated skinny dipping but they saw some security hiding in the bushes and decided to try it later although one security report indicated some guy running around the area naked.
Disneyland executives were concerned that the Yippies would remain on the island past the dusk curfew and perhaps hide in the rough terrain and wait for the park to close to reappear and cause chaos. However, the group got bored and someone suggested that they storm the Bank of America on Main Street, which might get them more attention and publicity so they left the island.
As they marched toward Town Square, their ranks swelled with others as they sang about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll including "LSD has a hold on me." They held hands and snaked their way down the street while the sidewalks on both sides were lined with disbelieving police. City Hall cast members formed a chain outside of the building and locked the doors so that the Yippies could be turned away. A crowd of guests gathered on the steps of the train station and in Town Square and began singing God Bless America. The Yippies tried to drown them out by shouting obscenities to no avail.
When the Yippies decided to walk back up Main Street, Nunis appeared and told them it was all over and that Disneyland had gone out of its way but it was time for them to leave the park. They were no longer welcome at the Happiest Place on Earth. Rather than exiting, some of the Yippies broke through the security line and dispersed throughout the park, forcing Nunis to call out the police contingent waiting backstage. Announcements were made that due to the behavior of some people, the park was closing early. It would officially close at 7:10 p.m.
The police, Disneyland cast members and executives slowly cleared the park section by section and then locked down each section. It took a solid two hours to do so. Those who remained on Main Street started shoving people, getting into arguments and insults with it escalating into fights.
As organizer David Sacks recalled in a letter to Disney historian Dave De Caro:
"They got to City Hall, where they have the American flag on a flag post. And there was an empty flag post. Someone pulled out a so-called Yippie flag, red and black with a green marijuana leaf, and started to raise it on the flagpole.
"An Orange County redneck came storming up to them and said 'How dare you raise that flag next to the American flag!' And someone else went to the other flagpole as this guy was trying to rip down the Yippie flag, and said 'If you rip down our flag we'll rip down your flag.'
"He started to try to untie the American flag to bring it down. At which point fisticuffs broke out and Orange County's finest appeared out from behind all the buildings of Disneyland, 800 police in brand new yellow riot gear (this was the first chance that Orange County had had to test out their new riot gear). These guys looked like something out of a comic book.
"It looked hi-tech before that was even a word. All of a sudden, the whole circle promenade was circled with these police."
Some Yippies succeeded in tearing down the red-white-and blue bunting on City Hall. When the police marched out in formation to confront the Yippies, the guests watched and cheered.
Soon after, an intimidating sheriff's helicopter from Anaheim City Hall was hovering over Main Street, as a policeman with a bullhorn ordered everyone below that Disneyland was now closed and they needed to exit. As it got dark, the helicopter remained aloft shining a light on the ground to try to find any Yippies that might be hiding.
When I interviewed Bill "Sully" Sullivan in 2007 about his time at Disneyland, he told me:
"I still remember that day clearly. Dick Nunis was running the park and Roy O. Disney had told him 'Don't let them shut us down'.
"During the disturbance, Dick grabbed one guy by his long hair and yanked him backstage and his wig came off! He was a Secret Service agent or something in disguise who was there to keep an eye on things.
"Another time, Dick grabbed one in a headlock and pushed him toward one of the big heavy doors leading off stage. He used the guy's head to open the door. Some other guy tried to pull down the American flag on Main Street and Dick punched him right in the face."
All of the supervisors reported to their assigned perimeter positions to prevent any Yippies from trying to climb fences and re-enter the park. They were given long steel poles to bash fingers of anyone trying to climb the fence. The police eventually herded the Yippies out of the park into the parking lot, often physically tossing out any who resisted. This action incensed the group who began swearing, chanting, spitting, and harassing the departing guests. They shouted, "Burn the park!"
They set trash cans on fire, setting off firecrackers. Venting their frustration, they threw light bulbs and uprooted plants and flowers from landscaping by the turnstiles at the police and guests who were exiting and trying to find their cars. Some Yippies vandalized several cars in the parking lot, generally breaking off the antennas.
Some broke away and dashed to the Disneyland Hotel to try and take that over, but were intercepted by police cars. Outmatched, the Yippies scattered in all directions as the police gave chase.
Disneyland's sprinklers were turned on at night to flush out any hiding Yippies. Six Yippies who had been hiding to create more mischief once the park was closed were flushed out with sprinklers around 10 p.m. By midnight it was determined that all the Yippies had been removed and the place was secure, so the remaining cast members and police officers were sent home.
Disneyland officials assured all the guests who had been forcibly evicted that the price of their admission tickets would be cheerfully refunded the following morning at any ticket booth. General admission for adults was $3.50 and for juniors $2.50. Attraction tickets, of course, were always valid anytime so were not refunded.
The original news reports claimed that 18 people were arrested, but the final count was 23 on a variety of charges, including assault, disturbing the peace, drug possession, trespassing (since they had refused to leave) and generally causing mischief. No serious injuries were reported.
The next day, Disneyland security was even more diligent about screening guests to prevent any reoccurrence of the prior day's events. Many people were denied entry who would have been let in weeks earlier. For several months, Disneyland strictly enforced its unwritten appearance guidelines for guests.
The poorly orchestrated invasion was at best ineffectual, even though it had eventually created fear in thousands of guests who attended the park that day. The event is just another memorable milestone in Disneyland history.