Top LA Legends #18: Vietnam War Protesters Took Over Disneyland

It’s surreal enough to be ludicrous, the idea of hippies taking over Disneyland to protest the Vietnam War. After all, Disneyland is a place that is made to be timeless. It’s made to be a place of pure imagination – funded by corporate sponsorship, but still, a complete, detailed facade that represents a place unconnected to everyday life. Bringing political protest and the ideals and civil rights issues of the late 60s and early 70s into Disneyland seems impossible. (Then again, two thousand goths doesn’t seem too likely either, and we still manage to get in for Bats Day)

The story is that, at the height of the Vietnam War, hippies crashed Disneyland, climbing over the walls and assembling on Tom Sawyer’s Island. They invaded, they claimed, to protest the Disneyland dress code, as well as the values of the park and their corporate sponsors, including the pro-War Bank of America (then sponsor of it’s a small world) and Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House. The Anaheim Police had to corral the youths, coming out in force and closing the park down at 7:10pm – the first early closing in Disneyland’s history. As a result of the protest, Disneyland tightened the dress policy for park guests: no-one sporting the facial or long hair of the hippies or counterculture of the era was to be allowed in after that day.

The Yippies – the Youth International Party – did invade Disneyland. That much is true. But they were just a LITTLE misguided in what they were protesting. And the plan to have hundreds of thousands of Yippies crash the gates in defiance of the anti-longhair policy, climb the walls, and take over the park didn’t quite happen as expected…

August, 1970. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets had been distributed and reprinted across the college campuses of America. The Yippies would be holding their “First International Pow-Wow” in the Happiest Place On Earth. They were going to protest Disney’s stance against miniskirts and long hair – as well as what they called “bloated establishment decadence”. They would be protesting the Bank of America, a heavy presence at Disneyland, and a “sponsor” of the Vietnam War. And they would be protesting the racist and feminist values expressed by some of the park attractions. The “schedule” covered all the bases over the course of the day:

Black Panther Hot Breakfast – 9 – 10am at Aunt Jemimas Pancake House

Young Pirates League – 11 am on Captain Hook’s boat

Women’s Liberation – 12 noon rally to liberate Minnie Mouse in front of Fantasyland

Self Defense Collective – 1 – 2 pm at shooting gallery in Frontierland

Mid-Day Feast – 3pm barbecue of Porky Pig

Late in the afternoon Yippies plan to infiltrate and liberate Tom Sawye’s Island. Declaring a free state, brothers and sisters will then have a smoke-in and festival. Get it on over to Disneyland, August 6. YIPPIE!

Now, while there were fantastically well organized anti-war groups throughout America at this time in history, the Yippies were not one of them. Based on the spread of the leaflets and the initial hints of trouble, Disneyland and Anaheim overprepared. Almost every employee was working that day, to watch the rides for sabotage as well as run them. The Anaheim police set up backstage. The county even set up special courts to handle mass arrests. It was estimated that up to 200,000 Yippies could show up – and 20,000 of those could crash the gates first thing in the morning. If Disneyland is crowded with 60,000 well behaved patrons, what would over a hundred thousand unruly youths do?

Turns out that wasn’t a concern. Only a few Yippies showed up at Aunt Jemimas for breakfast, and other than a few closed fist salutes, there was no rebellion – nor any Black Panthers. And the biggest group at the gates was just about three dozen youths, who, after a few minutes of heated exchange with the Disneyland security, were met by police. At which point, they all paid their admission and entered the park.

Yes, that’s right. The Yippies were allowed to enter the park, without difficulty. Disneyland had had a policy against long hair on guests, as part of an unwritten dress code, in the fifties and sixties. But by the end of the 60s, the policy had relaxed. The Yippies were five years too late. Jim McGuinn, future founder of the Byrds, was turned away from Disneyland in 1964 merely for sporting a Beatle cut – but in 1970, that policy had been discontinued. Nor was it reinstated as a result of the Yippie invasion (link goes to Snopes.com). However, since the dress code was only one of the myriad of reasons the Yippies had come to protest at Disneyland, they ignored it, and moved on.

But the Yippies didn’t have as many additional reasons to protest as they thought. Instead, they were just a nuisance. They became hazardous to the marching band on Main Street, running between the players and causing a risk to the musicians of getting a horn mouthpiece to the teeth. They filled Innerspace with marijuana smoke. They climbed the mast on the pirate ship. And dozens more paced outside the gates, muttering about how “that’s America in there. You can play the game if you have money and look nice. But if you’re different, forget about it.” But even when offered a group rate of 50 cents each by park VP Dick Nunis, they refused. Perhaps they were planning to get in by the “any means necessary” route – but there are no reports of Yippies scaling walls that day.

Still, the Yippies never materialized in the numbers expected by anyone. Rough estimates pegged the total at 300. That’s three hundred, less than 1% of the number expected. Dick Nunis was so reassured that he actually held a 3:20pm press briefing saying that the Yippies weren’t that different than other kids around the country. “They may look a little different, but they are just here to have fun.”

Of course, it was shortly after that briefing that the Yippies finally got onto their schedule. They began singing “We Are Marching To Cambodia”, and marching up Main Street to Frontierland. They commandeered rafts to Tom Sawyer’s Island, chased out the tourist, and hoisted the Vietnamese flag. There was some fear that the Yippies would remain on the rough terrain of the island past the dusk curfew – but it was quelled when one ringleader suggested storming the bank on Main Street again. Which is what they did. And that’s when the Yippies got in one last night with the rest of the park patrons, shouting obscenities and moralisms at each other. The park patrons sang “God Bless America”. The Yippies booed. And then the police came out. 150 Anaheim police in riot gear began clearing what had become a full riot out of the park. They were joined by 150 more backup officers. And after a section by section sweep of the park, the Yippies were moved into the parking lot.

In the parking lot, the Yippies became more destructive, throwing anything they could get their hands on at police, and yelling “Burn the park!”. Police dispersed them, after heading the mob off at the Disneyland Hotel. And that was it. Six Yippies were flushed out with sprinklers at 10pm. Twenty-three were arrested. And no serious injuries were reported.

Thirty years later, there is no doubt whatsoever that Disneyland has no policy against appearance (short of indecency or signs of gang affiliation/other violence) when allowing counterculture elements into the park. In fact, Disneyland actually welcomes the thousands of goths who come out for Bats Day every year. And it crossed my mind when I was researching this article, that the reason Disneyland welcomes that really weird looking group is because the goths are polite, well organized, and well behaved. Maybe it’s just that the times, they a’changed – and they a’changed a lot. But maybe it’s just that the Yippies were acting like, well, jerks. And to this day, some staff working that day say they wish they had been less tolerant, because they underestimated how destructive the Yippies would be.

So there it is – legend #18. Yes, hippies took over the park in protest – but for a myriad of reasons besides Vietnam, including a dress policy that was no longer heavily enforced. And yes, there was once a dress code at Disneyland, but it existed before the Yippies, and not as a result of August 6th, 1970.

Sources:
Mouse Tales, by David Koenig.
Paperback – 239 pages Reprint edition (July 1995) Bonaventure Pr; ISBN: 0964060566
pp. 149-156

Anaheim Police Department History: 1970
http://www.anaheim.net/article.asp?id=672

The First International Disneyland PowWow For Yippies
http://travel.syl.com/thefirstinternationaldisneylandpowwowforyippies.html

Wikipedia: Disneyland Closures
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disneyland#Closures

Snopes: Disney (Hair Today)
http://www.snopes.com/disney/parks/longhair.htm

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