Scottish Daily Mail

How a Scot became the very first person to visit Disneyland

...and why six decades later, he still goes back every single year thanks to his VERY exclusive Golden Ticket

- by Jonathan Brockleban­k J.brockleban­

THE newspapers had been calling it ‘Walt’s folly’ for weeks before the theme park opened for a special Press day on Sunday, July 17, 1955. After that debacle, the headlines read ‘Walt’s nightmare’. Disneyland had come in way over budget at $17million – and now, as TV and newspaper reporters toured the new attraction, women’s stiletto heels sank into the freshly laid tarmac. The restaurant­s were woefully under-stocked, the drinking fountains were low on water due to a plumbers’ strike and, thanks to a counterfei­ter printing thousands of fake VIP tickets, the place was swarming with gate-crashers.

Then there were the rides. Rocket to the Moon was still weeks from blast off; Dumbo the Flying Elephant was grounded. A gas leak briefly threatened to burn down Sleeping Beauty Castle and, to top it all, at one point Walt Disney was locked in his apartment above the fire station and couldn’t get out.

All of which could explain why the place was deserted when 22-year-old Dave MacPherson turned up at Disneyland shortly after midnight on July 18 with the vague notion he might be the first in the queue for the grand opening.

Beyond the locked gates, he could hear employees testing animal sounds for what he later discovered was the Jungle Cruise. But it was nearly two hours before other members of the public took their place behind him in the queue.

Walt Disney need not have worried. By the time the sun came up, it was clear that California had rediscover­ed its appetite for fantasy. There were 6,000 in the queue – and at the head of it, about to make history, was a Scotsman.

Mr MacPherson certainly considered himself Scottish, even though he was yet to visit the country. Born in upstate New York, his people originally came from the village of Uig on the Isle of Skye.

In 1955, he was based in Long Beach, California, studying English at the local state university and working on the college newspaper. Having seen the press launch on ABC-TV – including a 44-year-old Ronald Reagan scaling the wall of Frontierla­nd to do a piece to camera – he packed his notebook and camera and rode to Anaheim on his motorbike to take in the colour of Disneyland’s opening day.

‘I thought maybe somebody was camped out there and I could do a story,’ says Mr MacPherson, now 82 and living in rural Kansas. ‘I got there a little after midnight and nobody was there. The next person came at about 2am and they said to me, “You had better stand over by the ticket booth and we’ll vouch that you were there first”.’

By now the student was beginning to realise the significan­ce of his place in the queue. Even if it was Walt’s folly, the TV and newspapers had still made a huge fuss over it. Perhaps there would be a prize – even a personal welcome from Disney himself – for the person at the front of the line.

As the queue grew, Mr MacPherson became increasing­ly conscious of later arrivals coveting his position. Would they try to steal a march on him? He needed some kind of certificat­ion that he was there first – so he drew it up himself.

‘I had a large sheet of paper with me and I wrote something to the effect of “This is to certify that David MacPherson was first in line” and I had those who were doing last-minute work at Disneyland sign it. I guess it was something like the US Declaratio­n of Independen­ce. Sure enough, just before Walt Disney came up to welcome everyone – which was covered on live TV and radio – a woman with two little kids acted like they wanted to get ahead of me.

‘I held up the sheet of paper, with a determined look on my face and she and the kids shrunk back like Dracula seeing a cross.’

He adds: ‘When it comes to standing in line, manners in the UK are much better than ours.’

Neverthele­ss, for years his place at the head of the queue on day one of

the first Disney theme park went largely unrecognis­ed. That was because Walt Disney wanted to pose for photograph­s with children – not 22-year-old college students.

The entertainm­ent mogul walked straight past Mr MacPherson.

INSTEAD, the big publicity shot of the day showed Disney smiling broadly as he welcomed five-year-old Christine Vess and her sevenyear-old cousin Michael Schwartner to the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’. Caption writers proclaimed them the first paying guests and the fiction came to be repeated as fact.

Vess later said she thought one of the reasons she had been selected was that they were near the front of the queue and she had been crying after falling and scraping her leg.

And, rememberin­g the day he posed with Disney, Schwartner said in 2005: ‘He asked if I could wiggle my ears. I squished up my face and tried. Then I asked him if he could, and he wiggled his ears for us.’

Luckily for Mr MacPherson, a photograph­er from the Long Beach Press-Telegram took his picture too. Several newspapers also carried a short paragraph naming him as the first person in the queue.

All this would soon become significan­t. Walt’s attraction did not remain a folly. Within weeks, all the rides were open and, before two months had gone by, the park had welcomed its millionth visitor. The attendance figure for Disney theme parks now exceeds two billion.

As Disneyland’s first paying visitor, Mr MacPherson is the proud owner of a ‘golden ticket’ giving him free entry to all Disney theme parks.

‘I’ve only ever paid $1 to get into Disneyland and that was on my first visit,’ says the octogenari­an, who, with his wife Wanda, has made several return visits both to the California theme park and Walt Disney World in Florida.

‘As you can see, I’m living up to my Scottish name,’ he says. ‘Nowadays it costs $20 (£13.50) just to park your car there.’

So what does the golden ticket holder remember of those first minutes after the gates opened at 10am? Which ride did he make a beeline for first?

‘I didn’t go on any rides at all. After standing in line so long, the first thing I did was go to the restroom. I can’t remember buying anything or seeing a parade, but as I recall the attraction­s had very long lines that first day. I heard that folks standing in the long line to get in were passing out from the heat.

‘I have no real sharp memories of the various parts of the park. I was very tired from being up all night, so I went briefly around to see at a glance, so to speak, the entire layout. I needed to get some rest because I wasn’t thinking straight.

‘I had my camera with me and I didn’t even take any pictures. I didn’t realise these pictures would be valuable some day.’

Nor, at the time, did Mr MacPherson realise the significan­ce of his ticket stub, which bore the number two – Roy Oliver Disney, older brother of Walt, had pre-purchased ticket number one for his grandchild­ren’s memorabili­a collection.

That meant the earliest numbered ticket for Disneyland was the one which Mr MacPherson held in his hand – until he sold it for the dollar he had paid for it on his way out of the park.

‘Since the line behind was very long and since it was hot, I thought that someone way back might want to buy my ticket that I had paid a dollar for. As I recall, I foolishly sold it for a dollar to a young man. I wish I had kept it.’

Neverthele­ss, Mr MacPherson did receive a lifetime pass for four people a few weeks later. As a result, he says: ‘I was the most popular guy in college.’

Each January, an updated pass would arrive – until, a few years ago, he was sent a Golden Pass, valid for the rest of his life.

‘I keep it in our safe deposit box at our bank whenever we’re not using it,’ he says.

Little wonder, perhaps, that on the This Day in Disney History website, he describes 1955 as ‘a very good year for a youthful Scotsman’.

HIS connection to Scotland dates back to 1829 when his greatgrand­father Norman, from Skye, migrated to Nova Scotia in Canada with his parents. ‘The ship sprang a leak part of the way out across and they didn’t want to turn back to Scotland, so they bailed water all the way across the Atlantic,’ he says.

‘I’ve been to see his grave on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.’

In 1972, he travelled to the land of his roots for the first time, making sure that he took in Port Glasgow, Renfrewshi­re, birthplace of Margaret Macdonald, a key figure in a Christian movement in the US which believes in ‘the rapture’ – or secret return of Christ before the Second Coming.

While Mr MacPherson says he has no truck with such a belief, he has emerged as one of America’s leading authoritie­s on it, writing several books on its history, including The Rapture Plot.

He says: ‘I have researched throughout England and Scotland and found tons of overlooked and covered-up early documents.’

The pensioner, who still freelances for local newspapers and TV stations, delivers one of his favourite lines: ‘It’s good that I went to Disneyland because I never dreamed that, years later, I would be exposing Mickey Mouse theology taught by Goofy preachers.’

Looking back, he says, his only real regret is never actually meeting Walt Disney.

‘I wanted to get his autograph but he did a vanishing act, probably because he didn’t want to be trampled by the queues. He and his wife would be up in the apartment. But I understand he had hidden microphone­s so that he could secretly hear how people were reacting to the various attraction­s.’

By then, Disney was 53. He had been distinctly unimpresse­d with the amusement parks he and his two daughters had visited in the 1930s and 1940s and thought he could do better.

If the Press believed he had failed in that endeavour, the public didn’t listen. Within weeks, Walt’s folly was his cash cow.

As for Mr MacPherson, he brings his scrapbook with him when he visits Disneyland nowadays.

‘It isn’t unusual, after I give a copy of that scrapbook page to anyone manning the entrance gate, to have that official shout to the crowd, “Folks, this man bought the first ticket to Disneyland when it opened in 1955.”

‘You can’t believe how many folks from different parts of the world have then come over and asked for my autograph or shot a picture of my wife Wanda and myself.’

Unlike the pickier Mr Disney, Mr MacPherson obliges them all.

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 ??  ?? Magic: Mickey and Minnie Mouse in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Dave MacPherson, who bought the first Disneyland ticket in 1955, inset left, returns for regular visits, inset right
Magic: Mickey and Minnie Mouse in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Dave MacPherson, who bought the first Disneyland ticket in 1955, inset left, returns for regular visits, inset right
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