Could you imagine working for 50 years in the Happiest Place on Earth? These Disney World employees don’t have to imagine it, because it’s a dream come true for them.
The Associated Press recently talked to four of the original employees who worked at the park from when it opened to today. In total, about two dozen employees still work at the park who got their start in 1971. This Friday, Oct. 1, marks the 50th anniversary of the park, and these employees reminisced about the moment that changed their lives forever.
George Kalogridis decided to apply to work at Walt Disney World as a high school graduate, joining the ranks of hotel workers. Chuck Milam learned about the job from a Disney exec whose house he was landscaping. Earliene Anderson visited Disneyland in California two years ago and couldn’t wait to get a job at the new park. And Forrest Bahruth joined the crew as a show director, choreographing and staging different shows and parades at the park.
When those four Disney World employees started working, they were among 6,000 total who helped open Magic Kingdom in 1971. Now, the park boasts more than 77,000 employees, three additional theme parks, and two dozen more hotels. And there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.
“Disney has been my love, and it still is,” Anderson said. She now works in merchandising at a Magic Kingdom hotel. “I love Disney.”
Bahruth also loves his work and being surrounded by people who feel the same.
“There are people all over the world who get up to go work. They’re unhappy about it. They don’t really like their jobs,” Bahruth said. “As you can tell from us, there’s an enthusiasm. We are privileged to be at a place where we love what we do.”
Disney World Employees Remember Opening Day 50 Years Ago
A lot of obstacles stood in the way of Disney World opening back in 1971. Walt had died five years before, leaving his brother Roy to scramble to finish all the last-minute details for this “East Coast Disneyland.”
“It was like an army of ants. Everything was under construction. Interiors were still being put in. Roofing was still being put on top,” Bahruth said. “There was painting, landscaping. Things were arriving by the moment. It was like trucks going everywhere.”
But two specific moments stand out in the minds of the original employees. They remember a photo taken of thousands of employees standing in front of Cinderella’s castle, along with the costumed characters. The photo would show up on the cover of Life magazine two weeks later.
“They brought all the characters up, staged them first, and then they tried to keep all the different workers together based on the color of their costumes,” Milam said. “If you were from Fantasyland and in yellow, you would go over there.”
The Disney World employees also remember the parade. Hundreds of white doves and multi-colored balloons filled the air, as 4,000 entertainers marched through the streets. Broadway composer Meredith Wilson conducted a 1,076-member marching band.
“It was the biggest thing I had ever seen,” Bahruth said.
While only 10,000 visitors showed up that first day, by Thanksgiving, cars lined up down the interstate to try and get into the park.