Close Encounters of the first kind for WDI Imagineers during the construction of Disneyland Paris ?
Today's article is about the strangest case ever to happen at Disneyland Paris, and probably in any Disney theme park. Two months ago I was talking with my good friend Jeff Burke from California, who was Disneyland Paris' Frontierland show-producer when Jeff suddenly said to me, "Have I ever told you the strange things that happened when we built DLP, in the early 90's? We had really strange encounters... I mean, CLOSE Encounters." I said, "What are you talking about, Jeff ?!?" to which Jeff replied, "Let me find the pictures, you'll be amazed". Days later, looking at these pictures I was indeed amazed, as WDI Imagineers obviously experienced for one month in August 1991, some really close encounters "of the first kind" with unidentified flying object which appeared over the park and vanished in less time than it takes to explain it.
The first picture above was shot by Jeff Burke himself, while standing in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West, which was not yet filled with water. He recalls, "I was there, in front of Big Thunder, shooting pictures that I was supposed to send to Mickey Steinberg in Glendale who, as Executive Project Manager, wanted to check the work's progress. I took three pictures from different angles. On the first two there was nothing, and suddenly, when I shot the last picture, these three objects came out of nowhere over BTM. They weren't moving, nothing. No noise, either, as far as I remember. And suddenly they disappeared, instantly. The whole experience, or "encounter" as we may call it, lasted less than two minutes, but I had time to alert Pat Burke and some of Big Thunder workers who were just as amazed as I was".
Two weeks later the same group of UFOs appeared again, this time over Fantasyland. This time the pictures were shoot by Eddie Sotto who was in front of the castle. "I had stopped to shoot a series of pictures, as I wanted to do a panoramic of the works on Central Plaza and the Castle," recalls Eddie. "The Plaza Gardens restaurant was already finished at that time, and I was standing on the roof over Victoria's Home-Style restaurant. When I saw these three UFOs in the clouds on the right of the castle, I had just enough time to take out my camera again and shoot two pictures before they disappeared. On the second one you can see them much better, emerging from the clouds".
Around mid-August it was Imagineer Bill Gorgensen's turn to have a close encounter. Bill, at that time show-designer on Pirates of Caribbean, was walking through Adventureland towards POTC to meet Chris Tietz. Bill recalls, "I'm not the one who shot the picture. I was walking quite quickly through Adventureland with Imagineer Chaz McEwan, and I remember that we were late for an important meeting with Chris. Suddenly, Chaz stopped me and said "Bill, do you see what I see?". We couldn't believe our eyes. The UFO stayed stationery for a few minutes on the west side of Swiss Robinson Tree before disappearing at an incredible speed.
Bill continues, "The workers who were on that side of Swiss Robinson Tree saw it, everybody could see it for at least two minutes. If you enlarge the picture you can even see one of the workers standing on the tree, almost hypnotized by the scene".
This UFO didn't reappear over DLP for the next three weeks, but early September it was Tom Morris' turn to see it while he was in front of Toad Hall in Fantasyland. "To tell the truth, I was checking the pavement work and I didn't noticed anything. It's only when I got back the prints some days later that I saw it on the picture, and I was stunned," recalls Tom.
"The weather was pretty cloudy that day, and the UFO was partly hidden by the clouds. I had to scan the picture and raise the contrast to get a perfect image of the UFO".
Tom continues, "I think it was the last time they appeared during the daytime, but I know that shortly before the park opened, when we were shooting promotional pictures at night, it reappeared again. Try to find the photographer who did the marketing pictures, he'll tell you about it."
It took me some time to find the photographer who did the shooting 18 years ago (by the way, all my thanks to DLP photo library which was very helpful to find this photographer), but I'm happy he still had the pic as it is probably the best one, as you can see below.
Allan Hynek was organizing the photo session in Discoveryland - at that time Space Mountain was not yet built - and he remembers perfectly what happened: "It was amazing, we had dozens of extras standing still in Discoveryland for this big panoramic promotional picture, all waiting for me to shout "nobody moves!" as we were shooting at sunset, and it was already pretty dark. And suddenly the UFO was there. Nobody saw it coming, it stayed in the sky less than one minute, with flashing lights but no noise except a strange vibration, something like a high-frequency sound... and then it disappeared. Vanished would be a better word as it was just like somebody who switch off a light. In fact, it gave everyone who had seen it the feeling that the object, UFO, space ship, call it whatever you like, vanished in another dimension".
Allan Hynek continues, "Some months later i was reading a book written by Jacques Vallée (Note: the most serious UFO specialist who was Steven Spielberg's inspiration for the character played by François Truffaut in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") in which Vallée talks about his encounter with a brahman in India who told him: "They are not coming from another planet, they are coming from another plane, another dimension". And it's exactly the feeling we all had during this incredible night".
Of course, I asked Jeff Burke why we never heard about these amazing encounters before: "Well, first, there were only a few of us who saw them, who were at the right place at the right time" says Jeff, "Thousands of workers were working on the park at that time but considering each UFO's appearance lasted no more than two or three minutes and that everybody was doing their job which was not to look at the sky, only a few saw them. We informed Mickey Steinberg at Glendale that strange things were happening, but Mickey told us to not talk about it. At that time, the opening of Disneyland Paris was almost considered in France as a U.S invasion, so if we had added a UFO invasion it would have been the icing on the cake! (laughs) Frankly, i think it was a good idea to keep it secret at that time".
Amazing story, wasn't it? Your thoughts?
All my thanks to all Imagineers and Allan Hynek who kindly agreed to deliver their testimonies on this mysterious case.
Pictures: copyright Disney