I recently wrote a book entitled Secret Stories of Disneyland: Trivia Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes that is now available at Amazon.com. How many secrets are really left to be discovered about Disneyland?
It is important to remember that even if you are one of those Disneyland fans with dozens of books about the park on your bookshelves, quick links to multiple popular Disneyland websites including this one or even a well-used annual pass, there is always something new to learn even if it is just a different perspective on a familiar fact.
It is also important to remember that many Disneyland fans are new to the wonders of the park and sometimes something that may seem common knowledge to you will be a secret to them.
For instance, are you aware that in the queue to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain there is a vein of gold ore that is, in fact, real gold ore from Rosamund, California where several scenes in the Disney live action movie Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) were filmed?
That has been common knowledge to me for years but I think there may be a few people who didn’t know it although they may have known that the steam engine in the queue line is from the Disney live action film Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978). Or maybe not.
“It has been said that Disneyland will never be completed. In fact, I said it. That there will always be something new and unusual and that’s our hope,” stated Walt Disney in 1961.
Because of these constant changes, this book was not meant to be the ultimate, definitive guide to Disneyland secrets. I sincerely doubt such a volume could ever exist.
As the subtitle states, this book is merely some “Trivia Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes”. It is meant to be nothing more significant that a few moments of frivolous amusement for those who love the Happiest Place on Earth and to perhaps enhance their appreciation in a different way than other guides.
Previously, I have written two volumes of Secret Stories of Walt Disney World and am currently working on a third volume. Of course, unlike Disneyland, Walt Disney World has four theme parks, two water parks, two dozen resorts and more that all have stories and facts that have never been properly documented.
Since WDW is often ignored, I felt a great obligation to get that information in print for current guests and future researchers. With the success of those books, my publisher at Theme Park Press strongly urged me to write a similar volume for Disneyland.
I carefully explained to him that there were already multiple books out there that detailed the secrets, hidden treasures, trivia, legends and lore of the Happiest Place on Earth. Many of those books are in my personal library and are quite good. I emphasized that the world really does not need another book listing these delightful fun facts.
He replied that the world may need a better book about Disneyland stories, a book that only I could write because of my knowledge and experience. Eventually, I took it as a challenge to find something more than the same familiar stories, correct some false stories that have been repeated and reprinted and maybe find a different perspective or new information about a favorite tale.
That was much harder than you might imagine but apparently, not impossible.
Where do the stories come from?
That was the title of an episode of the ABC Disneyland weekly television show that originally aired on April 4,1956.
“We have often been asked where do we get the ideas for our stories,” smiled Walt Disney at the beginning of the show. “Potential story ideas exist all around us.”
I’ve often been asked a similar question about the stories that appear in the many books and articles I have written over the decades. Sometimes these books are the only place where a reader can find information about Walt Disney’s involvement in the DeMolay organization or a complete listing of the educational films made featuring Figment or Walt’s mother’s recipe for apple pie.
How do I know all these things if they don’t appear elsewhere? For nearly forty years I have been writing stories about Disney history that have been shared in a variety of media so I have amassed a huge collection on which to draw. At one point, I even worked for the Disney Company and had access to people, resources and material that others did not and wrote articles and did historical presentations for the company.
Growing up in the Los Angeles area near the Disney Studio, I had the opportunity to personally interview animators, Imagineers, executives, theme park cast members, Disney family and more who knew and worked with Walt. I also was able to attend countless events where people shared their Disney stories and got to interact with them afterwards.
I spent time and money acquiring a personal library of documents from vintage newspaper and magazine clippings to private letters to publicity material to obscure books and more. All of this was my foundation to begin writing. However, just because someone says something or it appears in print does not make it true.
Sometimes people had faulty memories, only saw their part of the project, had a personal agenda they wanted to assert, wanted to promote something aggressively, simply repeated stories that “everyone knows” but no one ever really checked or other things that obstruct the truth.
So while having this rich foundation of information to begin work, it was only just the beginning. The hardest work was to try to verify it through several independent sources.
While more and more people began writing about Disney history, it quickly became apparent that they were concentrating on the same old stories and sometimes just repeating falsehoods that had previously appeared somewhere without doing any original research to affirm or debunk. Even today those falsehoods often crop up with alarming regularity especially on the internet.
No one seemed to be writing about the stories that I knew. I felt an obligation to share the stories that had been so generously shared with me, especially by people who were no longer around to share them with others.
However, unlike the seriousness I took in documenting the stories of Walt Disney World, I took a more lighthearted but still factual approach to Secret Stories of Disneyland. I gathered over ninety stories, formatted them so they each took up two pages and were self-contained, and tried to pack in as many facts, quotes and more into that restricted space.
Here are a few short edited excerpts from the book for your enjoyment. If you found them interesting you might want to read the longer chapter and others as well. I do have enough stories left over for a second volume but it depends upon the sales and reaction to this one.
The Grand Canyon Diorama:
The Grand Canyon Diorama was added to the Disneyland theme park on March 21, 1958. A 96-year-old Hopi Indian chief, Chief Nevangnewa, blessed the trains on the diorama’s opening day. Walt Disney and Fred Gurley, chairman of the Santa Fe Railroad, wore railroad caps and proudly smiled standing by a sign proclaiming the entrance to the attraction.
Painted on a single piece of seamless, hand-woven canvas and representing the view from the canyon’s south rim, the rear of the diorama measures 306-feet long, 34-feet high, 45-feet wide and is covered with 300 gallons of paint. The cost was $367,000 and took more than 80,000 labor hours to construct.
Within the diorama it’s possible to find a mountain lion, porcupines, skunks, a golden eagle, rattlesnakes, rabbits, deer, crows, wild turkeys and plenty of sheep, surrounded by aspens and pine.
All of the animals were real taxidermied animals, so instead of seeing artificial animals that move like on the Jungle Cruise, here were real ones that didn’t move. However, the use of taxidermy at Disneyland stopped when Walt opened a freezer at the park one day and found the bloody carcass of a skinned coyote that had been left there by a taxidermist.
Walt Disney felt badly that guests could not see real animals on the Jungle Cruise attraction. Inspired by the nearby Buena Park Alligator Farm that featured alligators from Florida, Walt created a small enclosure at the top of the queue line that had baby alligators.
Disney Legend Bill “Sully” Sullivan, one of the original Jungle Cruise skippers in 1955, told me:
“Most people don’t remember that but in the beginning there was a little pool by the entrance to the ride that had baby alligators in it because Walt wanted real animals, not just the mechanical ones. I guess it made it all more exotic or something or gave the guests something to look at that they hadn’t seen. It didn’t last long because these babies kept getting out and it was a pain.”
“There were four gators and it was fenced with poles and fishnet. They would climb the fishnet and get out. There was a guy who worked with us who was from Florida and he could call them. He could make this sound like an alligator and that would help us catch them when they came toward that sound. I guess they thought it was their mother.”
Disneyland’s Nazi Artist:
The mural in the breezeway of Cinderella Castle depicting in several panels the story of Cinderella was brought into a physical reality by famed mosaicist Hanns-Joachim Scharff and his wife along with his daughter-in-law Monika. Dorothea Redmond came up with the design but Scharff was the one who did the tedious work of cutting, trimming and pasting together the individual pieces of glass and tile.
Scharff studied art history at the University of Leipzig and was inspired and drawn to mosaics as a youth during a visit to Italy. He was also later responsible along with Monika for the mosaic entrance to The Land pavilion at Epcot.
However, his first assignment for a Disney theme park was in 1966 for New Orleans Square in Disneyland. Scharff did thirty table tops in the Creole Café, the mosaic thresholds for the French Market, and work on two of the quaint specialty shops. The threshold designs were based on original art work from mid-19th century New Orleans.
Scharff was also a German Luftwaffe interrogator for the Nazis during World War II. He was called the “Master Interrogator” for all of Nazi Germany and was often called in to assist other interrogators.
His techniques were so effective that after the war, he assisted the U.S. military in incorporating his methods in their interrogation training programs. An entire book has been written about his experiences during World War II.
Beginning in 1950, he concentrated solely on his mosaic artistry and became world-renowned and added to the beauty and wonder of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
The Moveable Snore:
On Splash Mountain, just before a short drop down Slippin’ Falls is the cave of Brer Bear and guests can hear his rough, loud snoring.
That snore was originally recorded in the 1930s for the classic Disney animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) by artist Pinto Colvig who was the voice of Sleepy and Grumpy in the film. He had recorded it for the famous “Bed Building” scene that was cut before the film was finished.
The snore remained in the Disney sound library until it was used in one of the second floor hotel rooms of the Rainbow Ridge town façade in the queue for the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train in 1956.
The snore migrated over to the entrance of Bear Country in 1972 coming out of a cliff side cave that was the residence of Rufus from the Country Bear Jamboree. When Splash Mountain opened in 1989, Rufus’ cave and snore was moved up the mountain. Once Country Bear Jamboree closed, Imagineers felt that guests wouldn’t know who Rufus was so changed the cave and snore to represent Brer Bear.
Elementary, Mr. Toad:
After exiting Winky’s pub in the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction, one of the upstairs windows of the buildings in the town has a silhouette of famous detective Sherlock Holmes complete with pipe and deerstalker cap. How did this famous fictional character end up in the ride?
Author of the Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame was a good friend of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the adventures of Holmes. Ratty in Grahame’s book was based on the character of Holmes. Actor Basil Rathbone (who narrated the 1949 Disney animated featurette based on Grahame’s book) gave an iconic performance as Holmes in several films so the often overlooked tribute is an allusion to him as well
In 1983, Disneyland decided to re-record the song “I’m Wishing” that played in the Snow White Wishing Well for a clearer, crisper sound. Over the decades, other performers had done Snow White’s voice but occasionally, it had been done at promotional events by Adrianna Caselotti who had performed it for the original film when she was just seventeen years old.
She was invited back to audition even though nearly half a century later, her voice had changed and she was unable to reach the necessary high notes during the recording. Knowing that she would have to be replaced, she took a moment and turned away from the microphone and looked skyward.
She whispered, “Mr. Disney, if you are up there — please help me find Snow White’s voice.” She returned for one last take, during which she nailed every note perfectly and that is the recording that was used.
She died January 19, 1997 but in 1976 designed and built her home that included a dwarf bridge and a wishing well in the front yard. She often dressed in a Snow White costume and greeted children on the front lawn.
The song “I’m Wishing” begins with the lines of Snow White talking to some friendly birds: “Listen. Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?” Those two lines inspired Beatle John Lennon to write one of the Beatles’ first hit singles in 1963, “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” Lennon’s mother would sing the songs from Snow White to help him go to sleep when he was a child and it made an impression.
Here is One Final Secret:
You will only find this secret here at MiceChat. Look closely at the cover of the book. Every book of Disneyland fun facts seems to have a cover featuring Sleeping Beauty Castle in some form and sometimes fireworks. I wanted to make sure that my book could be recognized as different but didn’t want to re-invent the wheel.
I used a photo of Disneyland’s Main Street City Hall because that is where people go to get information. I also selected a photo of it at night because it meant that the park had closed for the evening and the guests were gone so it was easier to go backstage.
Historian Dave DeCaro who runs the highly recommended davelandweb.com website graciously allowed me to use his distinctive picture for the cover. By the way, on the printed copy, look up in the heavens on the left hand side and make a wish… is that Miss Tinker Bell or a shooting star?
Jim Korkis is an internationally acknowledged authority on Walt Disney and Disney history with over twenty books and hundreds of articles and presentations on the subject. His original research has been used for a variety of different departments of the Disney Company as well as the Disney Family Museum. He is not currently a Disney cast member although still does work for the company as an independent contractor.