Secret Historic Artifacts in Disneyland That Most People Don't Know Are There
From the day Disneyland opened in July of 1955, the Southern California theme park has inspired a fervent following that has only grown over time. Attendance at Disney theme parks is now double what Major League Baseball brings in, with Disneyland alone attracting some 17 million visits a year.
You'd think that with so many people there—and considering it's usually the most Instagrammed location in the world—that every corner of the park would be familiar. Yet there are still oddities that most people have never noticed. Allow us to show you the hidden-in-plain-sight details that managed to survive through all these years of change. Even when you can't go to Disneyland, there's always more to discover.
Pictured above: Big Thunder Mountain seen from Tarzan's Treehouse
This is the exterior of the Candy Palace, the working confectionary on the west side of the Main Street, U.S.A., section of the park. See those round vents under the windows? Those are called smellitzers. According to Disney, smellitzers are little machines that pump realistic scents throughout parks. The devices were invented by Imagineer Bob McCarthy in 1981 (here's the patent for his "scent-emitting system," filed in 1984) and were originally used to waft the aroma of an erupting volcano in the now-closed Universe of Energy pavilion at Epcot in Florida.
Why bother? Disney's designers know that the sense of smell is strongly linked to emotion. In her memoir Beyond the Castle, Jody Jean Dreyer, who worked at the Disney parks for three decades, puts it simply: "smell can transport us to a time and feeling that we’d long forgotten.” So when smellitzers shoot the scents of vanilla and candy deep into a crowd, guests have a subconscious warm-and-fuzzy feeling—and maybe feel the urge to buy some candy without realizing why. There are hidden smellitzers elsewhere in Disneyland (ones in the Haunted Mansion make the air smell slightly musty) but the Candy Palace's olfactory machines are the most visible.
You are looking at something that has been alive since the 1800s. The massive tree beside the "RIVER CARGO Exporting" sign is the Dominguez Palm, a Canary Island date palm that was planted as a wedding gift in 1896, nearly 60 years before Disneyland opened. Back then, this land was part of the Dominguez family's 10-acre orange farm. The tree's original location became part of the parking lot, and the parking lot was later replaced with Disney California Adventure. So the spot where the tree was planted probably lies somewhere under Soarin' Around the World. (The original farmhouse, which stood where the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean was built, was moved to an employee-only area.)
The tree played a central role in generations of family photos, so the Dominguez clan hated to think of it being destroyed. The story goes that when they sold the land to Walt Disney, they had two conditions: One was that Walt had to hire their son Ron. The other was that the tree had to stay. Ron started as a ticket taker on opening day in 1955 and retired as a vice president in 1994. Walt moved the totemic tree to Adventureland, where he thought it would look at home. The palm has grown so large that the Jungle Cruise building next door has been trimmed back to accommodate it.
The Dominguez Palm isn't the oldest tree in the park. One that's older is the twisty, 2-foot-tall mugo pine that stands in the Gepetto’s Village section of the Storybook Land Canal Boats in Fantasyland. That tree is thought to be more than 150 years old. Still, the palm is the oldest tree that has always been on this land.
This is the oldest tree in the park. The 5.5-ton Petrified Tree is between 55 and 70 million years old and was acquired for $1,650 from the Pike Forest Fossil Beds, now part of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. Walt Disney bought the relic as a 31st wedding anniversary present for his wife, Lillian. She didn't care for it, and more than that, she didn't want it displayed at the couple's mansion in Holmby Hills, where Walt had already constructed a miniature steam train system in the garden. (Lillian made him build a tunnel for one section so she would have room to plant a garden.)
Diplomatically proclaiming the tree "too large for the mantel," Lillian had the fossil placed along the Rivers of America, across from the Golden Horseshoe, in 1957.
Or so the story goes. Years later, Walt and Lillian's daughter Diane revealed the entire episode as a publicity stunt. Walt just wanted some natural history relics in his park, but the gift gag made for a better story. The stump's afterlife may be a matter of dispute, but while it lived the tree was either a redwood or a sequoia and stood about 200 feet tall.
Ten years after Disneyland opened, the former Red Wagon Restaurant, facing the center of the park, was refurbished and renamed the Plaza Inn. This all-day buffet was given an opulent fin de siècle style, featuring salvaged elements from a 19th-century mansion in Los Angeles. Like many other things, it was something of a pet project for Walt, who spent $1.7 million to upgrade the facility into a place where he could entertain special guests. And as with many of his other pet projects, Disney overloaded the restaurant with ideas that proved unworkable.
In a 1965 episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color on ABC (the network was a founding investor in the park), Disney and designer John Hench enthusiastically showed off a model of the future restaurant. As Hench pointed out the solarium on one end of the complex and an aviary on the other, Disney interrupted, effusively promising there would be "wild birds, singing birds, canary birds, finches" in beautiful cages above diners.
To prepare for his plumed menagerie, Disney installed hooks for cages in the Plaza Inn. But for obvious sanitary reasons, no one wants to eat under a birdcage, so the birds never moved in. Walt died the next year, and as a tribute his idea was retained—only without the live birds. The cages have been there ever since. A little sad, a little silly.
Here's something else left over from the Walt era that most people overlook: the espresso machine at Café Orleans. The coffee maker found its way here in 1966, when the New Orleans Square area opened.
This particular model, the Ideale, dates from the earliest decades of the previous century. The machine isn't just a piece of Disneyland history—it's a landmark in coffee history, too. The first commercially produced item of its kind, the Ideale popularized Italian-style coffee across Europe. The manufacturer, La Pavoni, got started in 1905 and is still in business in Milan today.
Back then, Cafe Orleans was known as the Creole Café. It's probable that Walt and Lillian acquired the espresso maker on one of their frequent European sojourns.
No one knew it when this photo was taken, but Walt only had a few months to live. This was his last major public appearance.
Nowadays, the antique espresso machine isn't used for restaurant service. Because of changes in taste and coffee tech, the flavor of the drink the Ideale produces would be too bitter for most modern palates.
The "it's a small world" attraction did not originate in Disneyland. The ride was whipped together in a hurry for the 1964–65 World's Fair in New York City to satisfy sponsor Pepsi at the insistence of board member Joan Crawford. The ride was a smash—10 million 60¢ and 95¢ tickets were sold during the fair, with proceeds going to UNICEF. Disney had the ride crated up, shipped to Disneyland, and installed as a permanent attraction. And because Pepsi footed the bill for the construction, the ride cost Disney very little.
Unusually for the male-dominated theme park design world, a woman, Mary Blair, was given the lead in designing the ride's look and color scheme—a vision now considered iconic. Every now and then, some of the 300 dolls from the ride need replacing. Hidden at the back of the souvenir kiosk at the ride's exit, you'll find a few of the original figures behind glass. They're charming in their vibrant and universal simplicity.
This is one most Disneyland die-hards know about, but it's news to the casual visitor: The ruins of one long-running ride are hiding in plain sight. Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland operated in one form or another from 1956 to early 1977. The concept would bore most people today—for seven minutes, you rode a slow-moving cart train past various all-American Western landscapes adorned with geysers, caverns, and robotic animals. But at the time, Disney's Tru-Life Adventures films were popular and Audio-Animatronics were in their infancy.
In this vintage shot, the train emerges from a tunnel into an area that was called Bear Country.
Here's the same spot today, which can be seen off the path leading from Frontierland toward Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. You might think it's weird for Disney, usually such a stickler for atmosphere, to leave the remains of an abandoned ride in plain view. But in this case, the look worked. The more thrilling train ride that replaced Nature's Wonderland in 1979, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, had a Wild West theme that fit with some of the mine shaft–esque tunnels that the old ride used. To save money, the company simply left the tunnels to complement the new attraction.
The tunnels aren't the only set pieces that were recycled from the old Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. Rainbow Ridge, the scaled-down town that presided over the loading area of the original ride, found a new life, too.
Rainbow Ridge is still a "little mining town" on the railway. The facades have been recycled and now appear during the very last seconds of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad route.
This is the tunnel that trains went through shortly after leaving the platform for Nature's Wonderland. Today the tunnel can be found on a path across from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. You can still spot the remnants of the old 30-inch gauge rails.
The Rainbow Mountain Stagecoach Ride, a horse-drawn attraction that was just like it sounds, meandered around these parts for just four years (1955–59), but some of the stagecoaches were left over. Walt was big on horse-drawn coaches; as early as May 1954, 14 months before the park's opening, the press was reporting on the construction of these vehicles when almost nothing else about the plans for Disneyland was known.
This coach has been given a weathered-looking livery with a winking reference to WED Enterprises, the old umbrella company for Imagineers. The wagon decorates the path into Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge from Frontierland.
This hidden secret is a callback to the Little Golden Books popular with kids in the '50s, '60s, and early '70s. Little Man of Disneyland was an installment in the series published in 1955 to promote the park's grand opening. The book told the story of Patrick Begorra, a leprechaun who, whaddaya know, happened to live in the roots of an orange tree on the property where Mickey, Donald, and Goofy were about to open their new park. Echoing the true story of the Dominguez family, Begorra allowed the Disney pals to use his property as long as they promised to build him a new house to live in.
For Disneyland's 60th anniversary in 2015, the leprechaun finally got his wish. A replica of Begorra's home was added to the base of a tree found near the entrance to the Indiana Jones ride in Adventureland. The home is not in the roots of an orange tree—and you have to lean over a fence to get a good look—but it's there for those who seek it.
Here's an old urban legend that turned out to be true. About 200 cats live in hidden spots all around Disneyland Resort's two parks. This feline was spotted near Grizzly River Run at Disney California Adventure. Disney brass are reluctant to talk about these furry squatters, but the cats moved in on their own and are permitted to stay, partly because they perform side duties as natural mousers (sorry, Mickey) and partly because who can catch a cat?
The animals are free to leave if they want, but Disney does feed them, neuter them, and give them veterinary care. Still, they're feral, so if any cat gets too forward with guests, the creature is adopted out. That's not to say that fans keep their distance in return; supportive humans run an Instagram account, Cats of Disneyland, that names the residents and documents sightings.
Lots of people know about Walt's private Disneyland apartment above the fire station on Town Square. But did you know he had a second pad in the works? The Main Street quarters were too cramped for events, so when New Orleans Square was added, the design included a new suite for the Disney clan above the loading area for the Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt hired Gone with the Wind set designer Dorothea Redmond to help with the decoration.
Alas, Walt never moved in. The opening ceremony for New Orleans Square on July 24, 1966, would be his last public appearance. He died in December of that year, before the Royal Suite was completed. Eventually renamed 21 Royal Street, it has served as a site for corporate junkets, Disney offices, an art gallery, and the "Dream Suite" awarded to contest winners during one promotion.
You can still see the initials of Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, woven into the metal ornamentation—the last remaining evidence of their plans for a lavish private domain.
Visitors who rush past Main Street on their way to the rides miss one of the most charming, little-seen secrets. Pause by the Emporium, the largest souvenir shop inside the park, and you'll be delighted by the Main Street Enchanted Windows. Installed in 2015, these six animated, mechanical displays completely transform every few minutes—sets descend, new characters spin into view, stuff drops into sight from above—to depict scenes from Disney animated movies across the decades. The chosen films are Peter Pan, Cinderella, Frozen, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story, and Aladdin.
Here's another one that could win you the pot in your next Disneyland trivia bowl. While you're waiting for the Disneyland Railroad at the New Orleans Square station, you can hear the tackity-tack of a Morse code message from the stationmaster's house. If you were to take down the dots and dashes, you'd get a Morse translation of the dedication uttered by Walt Disney as he opened Disneyland live on national television on July 17, 1955:
"To all who come to Disneyland, welcome. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future."
It just goes to show that if you pause, look for the small things, and reflect, you can still find deep inspiration at Disneyland.
To prevent trains from colliding as they went past the platform they didn't serve, each station had a second set of bypass tracks operated by manual switches. But just a few days after Disneyland's debut, a switching goof caused a derailment that nearly sent a caboose tumbling onto people walking into the park below it. The second set of "passing" tracks was closed for safety reasons in 1956. Now all trains stop at all stations.
But at the Main Street station, a truncated segment of the old passing track remains, and since 1958 it has been used to display this Kalamazoo handcar (pictured), part of Walt Disney's personal collection. The passing track at New Orleans Square was removed, but you can still see the empty space in the gravel where it once ran (the tunnel was built later).
There are so many more things to discover. Did you know that a devoted crowd has attended swing dancing to a live band (pictured) in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle every Saturday night since the 1950s? Or that Doritos tortilla chips were invented in a long-gone Disneyland restaurant called Casa de Fritos? Or that for six months Disneyland had a brassiere shop that closed after it was called "risqué" by the press?
We could go on and on. You can uncover all sorts of overlooked and forgotten esoterica the next time you go back. See ya real soon.