Today, Disneyland draws over 16 million visitors a year. The bustling park is always packed with children, teens, families, who enjoy Disney's iconic rides and attractions that I'm sure many of us have enjoyed over the years.
Walt Disney first opened the doors to Disneyland on July 17, 1955, there were two children, a young boy and girl, who were allowed in, becoming the first official guests at the historic theme park.
In a crowd of thousands of hopeful park attendees, seven-year-old Michael Schwartner was already at Disneyland against the odds. His family initially planned on taking a trip to Mexico, but after asking time and time again, his parents were eventually persuaded to go visit Disneyland's opening day instead.
While waiting at the entrance, Michael stood with his five-year-old cousin Christine Vess (now known as Kristina Graef) as their parents went to buy tickets, which cost a mere $1 per adult and 75 or 50 cents per child, depending on their age.
While waiting Christine tripped and skinned her knee and her cries drew the attention of a park employee. Michael's mother, Mildred Schwartner, recalls Christine's cries being so loud that she feared they wouldn't be allowed in.
The kids were making such a ruckus. I thought they were going to kick us out.
But Walt Disney's reputation of being a man who makes children around the world smile preceded him and Christine's cries were quickly turned into a day of historic smiles.
The two children were escorted past the line of 15,000 people and were led directly to Walt Disney himself, making Michael and Christine the first official boy and girl to set foot in Disneyland.
Today, 67-year-old Michael and 65-year-old Christine still have fond, albeit faint memories of meeting Walt Disney and their day together at Disneyland. While the children took pictures with Walt, Michael says he kept them occupied with questions then discussed park details with their parents:
I was just a kid, but he talked to me like a real person. He asked me if I could wiggle my ears. I said, ‘No, can you?’ He said, ‘Nope, but I can wiggle my nose.’ And he did – mustache and all.
Their group spent the day enjoying the park Disney built for them without having to wait in a single line. The family went home when the park finally closed at 10pm, with happy smiles on their faces and two lifetime tickets for Michael and Christine, signed by Walt Disney.
While they're 60 years past that first day at Disneyland, both Michael and Christine claim that July 17, 1955 changed their lives. Michael since became an army veteran and suffered a stroke five years ago, but still speaks with a boyish sense of wonder when reliving that day.
Christine also calls Disneyland a "haven" and a place that has brought joy to further generations of her family.
With their lifetime passes, they are welcome back with open arms anytime. It's not always easy for them to get to Anaheim these days, but when they do Disneyland treats them like celebrities.
To hear more about the fascinating experience of the first two children to visit Disneyland, check out Orange County Register's video below:
Mildred Schwartner, 90 years old today, is still expressing gratitude to Walt Disney for the happiness he brought into the lives of her daughter, niece, and their families:
We want to thank Disney for everything. It’s been wonderful fun and unreal when I think about it. It’s been quite an adventure.
I think anyone who has enjoyed anything of Walt Disney's creation can agree that thanks for the laughs and adventures are in order.
(Source: Orange County Register)