Sunday, July 17, 2005

Travel: Happiest Homecoming brings back memories for Disneyland's first guests

Greensboro News & Record (NC)-July 17, 2005
Author/Byline: JANET BRINDLE REDDICK Staff Writer

Edition: ALL
Section: LIFE
Page: D1

        Nine-year-old Sybil Stanton and her cousin William "Billy" Krauch had an adventure of a lifetime more than 50 years ago.

        A man named Walt Disney was their personal tour guide on a private, exclusive tour of a soon-to-be-opened little theme park called Disneyland.

        Stanton shared her memories of the special day during the kickoff of Disneyland's 18-month Happiest Homecoming on Earth celebration in May, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the park.

        Stanton's uncle was the managing editor of the Los Angeles Herald Express, which merged with the now defunct Herald Examiner in 1962. A Disney publicist called the paper at the end of June 1955, asking if he knew of any kids who would be available to come visit the park so the paper could cover it and write a story about it. A few days later, Stanton and Krauch entered Disneyland, under the train bridge and onto Main Street, where the kids rode the horse-drawn trolley, walked on Main Street, crossed the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty Castle and sailed on the Jungle Cruise. Along the way, Stanton noticed that as Disney oversaw the completion of the park, he greeted every employee by name.

        "What struck me was how normal he was," Stanton said. "He was just a very nice man in a paternal way."

        As she and Krauch toured the park with a photographer chronicling their day in photos, Stanton said she did feel very privileged, but it wasn't until later that she realized how special her experience really was.

        One highlight for her was a walk around the floor of the Peter Pan's Flight ride, seeing London from the ground, instead of "flying" up above in the pirate ships that would carry passengers when the park opened a few weeks later.

        Stanton never met Disney again, but she has continued to visit the park from her Newport Beach, Calif., home. She has watched all of the changes to the area, including the addition of Disney's California Adventure, a shopping and restaurant district, lots of new hotels and many more rides in Disneyland. She said everything is just bigger and intensified.

        Her early experience gave her a unique connection to Disney's vision.

        "I have a feeling of ownership in the park," she said. "Sometimes I even feel like Walt Disney is sort of with me looking over my shoulder, like Jiminy Cricket."

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