Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 at Disneyland

September 11, 2001 was the only day that week which I wasn't scheduled to work. September 9 I worked a closing GCS City Hall shift. GCS stands for Guest Comment System, or what's used (was used?) to track compliments and concerns from Guests. I was always pretty quick with the data entry, and so I was able to finagle some extra time to go over and tape the final Country Bear show. Well, one of the two final shows--they split up the crowd into two theaters and started the shows simultaneously.

I was more than happy to pick up a sixth day closing the Information Board on Main Street for September 10. Get paid overtime to work my favorite location? Sold! I was happy for the money, too, after a brief but expensive trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort the previous week for the opening of Tokyo DisneySea. Actually, September 11 was my first day free from work or travel and I was looking forward to sleeping in. I was a little disturbed, then, when my sister called me around 6:50 AM, and more disturbed when I was awake enough to comprehend what was going on. (My family was on a California road trip and were that day traveling from Monterey to San Francisco.) I first turned on CNN just after the South Tower collapsed, and the anchors said they didn't know if it was still standing. I remember thinking, "How could you not know if the tower is there?"

But this is about September 11 at Disneyland. My roommate, who also worked in Guest Relations, was scheduled either on a VIP Tour or in the Disney Special Activities office, helping to coordinate tours for the day. Although the vast majority of Park Cast Members were paid to stay home that day, he was requested to come in to help with possible chaos at the Resort Hotels. As I watched the news all day, I heard a few times from my friend and co-worker David, who showed up at work before management decided on the closure, and worked there all day. A skeleton Guest Relations crew staffed the Phone Room. Mid-afternoon he called me up and said they desperately needed something to eat, and asked if I wanted to accompany him to get some food and then return to Disneyland.

I jumped at the chance. I had been watching news coverage alone in my apartment for probably eight hours, and I could use the break. The possibility of seeing an empty Disneyland also intrigued me. Based on David's advice about the day's security, I dressed up. He picked me up and we went to Sav-on to pick up some snacks, and then went to the Park. We didn't have much of a problem getting past Security to the Main Entry Plaza, but we did have to call one of our Leads to open up a gate for us to get into the Park. There weren't too many Guest Relations people working--perhaps between ten and twelve. The most memorable part of the visit was when our manager said she had borrowed a golf cart and needed me and David to drop it off somewhere--anywhere--else in the Park. We took this opportunity to drive completely around the Park On Stage.

I apologize for the quality of the photos. We only had a disposable camera to work with. David had already taken a couple photos earlier in the day, including the somber image above. I look at it and wonder if that day there were fewer people at the Park than at any other time since before its opening. On the regular winter closure days, there would have been a whole slew of maintenance and craftspeople on the clock; on September 11, there were very few people to be found anywhere.

This is another photograph shot earlier in the day... I'll never get used to seeing Disneyland so empty.

We only had a limited number of photos available with the disposable camera, but I just had to get this really sad-looking closure announcement. (Sad because of how non-Disney it looks!) It reads:

The Country Bear Playhouse has closed permanently, and our Bears have gone into permanent hibernation.

We invite you to visit Splash Mountain or the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes! Thank you.

MARCH 24, 1972 - SEPTEMBER 9, 2001
Did I mention how few people there were around anywhere? I don't remember seeing a single person on our golf cart jaunt until we got to Fantasyland.

These four shots are impossible to get empty under any normal circumstances.

David and I thought the Anaheim PD vehicle to be very interesting; neither of us had seen it before. The officers were doing the same thing we were doing--out taking pictures of an empty Park!

As much as I love photos of Disneyland without Guests, it's impossible to look at these photos and not think about how important Guests are to the Park. This is literally all I remember of September 11. I don't remember what happened after I left the Park. I had closing GCS shifts Wednesday through Saturday, and I remember how moving it was to go out to the Flag Retreat Ceremony each evening with other Guest Relations Cast Members. On Friday, a large contingent of Cast Members gathered, as can be seen in the following photo I downloaded from at the time:

I'll certainly never forget my time at Disneyland on or following September 11.


Anonymous said...

Hello It's Lauren John I liked your story, I love your pictures , it has nothing to do with the fact that I am the cast member closest to the camera on this last picture lined up on Main Street. Anyways- I agree it was very moving going everyday and watching people actually attending the flag ceremony- people would cry and I definitely shed a tear or two. Thanks for the memories, and I loved when the park was empty too, not just on this day but also first thing in the mornings opening lost and found- eerie but still magical!

Major Pepperidge said...

Very interesting account of what happened that terrible day. I remember hearing that the park had closed on concerns that it might be a terrorist target, and thought it was silly - - and then thought maybe it wasn't silly.

I visited the park about a month later, and after the regular fireworks show they did an extra "salute to America" (or something), and I remember seeing MANY folks around me (including my date) with tears streaming down their faces. During the brief pauses between songs and fireworks, you could hear people sniffling and crying. It was strange, to say the least.

Anyway, thanks for the great post!

outsidetheberm said...

Really nice tribute.

Thank you.

Michelle said...

Amazing photos....eerie...the photo of the flag ceremony is amazing. Thanks for posting this....great blog!

Mike said...

Great post. Kinda sickening to think back on that day---especially at an empty Disneyland. Literally, the joy went out of America and even the Happiest Place on Earth was left deserted. Fitting.

Jungle Is "101"

Christina Hildebrand said...

Wow these are some stunning, yet still sad pictures of that horrible day.

Anonymous said...

It's a day I'll never forget, as part of entertainment. We had just finished filming a movie for our awards banquet on the night of the tenth. As we were putting costumes away, management asked us if we wanted to stay for the kids in the hotels. A large group of us stayed. Seeing your photos brought back so many memories. Before packing up to go to the hotel, two friends and myself walked out on to Main Street at about 6 or 7am. It's an image that is burned into my memory.