Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Khrushchev at Disneyland (or Not)

This may warrant a fuller post when I have time to do more digging. I've recently begun to explore Disneyland at the National Archives and last Wednesday had the sudden realization that there must be a lot of material on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's September 1959 visit to the United States. We Disneyland fans remember his non-visit to Disneyland (on September 19), but he had a full plate of activities across the country, including New York, Washington, D.C., and even Iowa. The State Department coordinated his visit with Soviet officials. Within Record Group 59 (General Records of the Department of State), I've managed to locate a fair amount of material on his visit in general, but not as much on the Disneyland visit as I would have liked. But, I still have some leads to trace.

In the meantime, you can lunch on this excerpt from a confidential "Summary of Planning for the Khrushchev Tour." The report itself is undated, but is attached to a memorandum from September 25, 1959. The following comes from the final pages (6 and 7) of the report:

Items Eliminated by Mutual Agreement

Texas (ranches and oil industry)
Oklahoma City (agricultural fair)
Auto trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco

Among the items that were eliminated from the Los Angeles program were a visit to the community of Anaheim and to Disneyland. The visit to Anaheim, which is an extremely rapid growing community, was first suggested to Ambassador Menshikov on August 21. The basis of this suggestion was on invitation from the City Manager of Anaheim [Keith Murdoch] dated August 7, 1959. In that invitation the City Manager suggested that Mr. Khrushchev would be very much interested in the awe-inspiring sights of Disneyland, which is located close to the community of Anaheim.

This item was retained on the tentative program until approximately the first week in September. It was eliminated following a survey of Disneyland made by security agents of both the Department of State and the Soviet Government. After returning from their survey of Los Angeles, Soveit security agents Zakharov and Bardin commented in a conversation with Protocol officers of the Department of State that Soviet security requirements precluded a visit to Disneyland by Mr. Khrushchev.

Two reasons led to the recommendation that Disneyland be eliminated. First, since the visit was to take place on a Saturday, extraordinary security problems would be involved. However, it was the judgment of the security officers that the security problems were not insurmountable. Nevertheless, this question, in conjunction with the time factor, strengthened their recommendation. It was estimated that it would take approximately an hour and a half to two hours to travel from the luncheon at 20th Century-Fox to Disneyland and return to the hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Because of the shortness of time, the inclusion of this item would have left little time to visit Disneyland, let alone inspect a housing development in the community of Anaheim. For these reasons, Disneyland was quietly dropped from the tentative program by mutual agreement on both sides. The Department has no record that Ambassador Menshikov registered any complaints regarding the elimination of this item.

Other accounts of his visit cite the involvment of the Los Angeles Police Department, but there's no hint of them in this report.

On the day that his visit might have occurred, Khrushchev apparently blew up in anger when he found out he couldn't go. Either he was grossly ill-informed over his travel schedule, or it was all an act. But it may also have been that he didn't really want to be in LA. Internal State Department conversations indicate that, of San Francisco or LA, Khrushchev strongly preferred San Francisco. He didn't have any desire to visit Hollywood, which he found unrepresentative of America!

I'd really love to find the records of the State Department office that coordinated the security--and especially find a written report on security at Disneyland. The recent post at Miscellainey reminds me that there could be other interesting State Department records related to Walt Disney. I'll share my discoveries, whatever they may be, here in the future!


Daveland said...

Not sure if you read this, but I was contacted by the first guy hired to climb the Matterhorn. He said he was on the Matterhorn for 4 hours, waiting for Krushchev's arrival; if that is correct, that would indicate that there was uncertainty as to whether he would make it or not right up until the day of his non-park appearance.

Jason Schultz said...

Dave, I did read that and forgot about it by the time I wrote this. Wade Sampson also has Marty Sklar saying that they were ready for his arrival. One alternative explanation is that they were there "just in case" something happened, with the likelihood of his visit very small. That's why I'm hoping to find some more definitive State Department records, like a postmortem from that day.

Major Pepperidge said...

I'd like to imagine that if Khrushchev HAD visited Disneyland, he would have insisted that the Soviet Union needed a bigger and better park. Just think about it!