There have been two moments of genuine, childlike wonder. One was entering Yosemite valley on a December afternoon and seeing the snow-covered Half Dome and El Capitan and reindeer ice sculptures beneath flocked evergreens. The other was walking into Disneyland.
Disneyland was young when I went the first time, barely in its adolescence. I marveled at the history on Main Street through Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and antique arcade games in the Penny Arcade. The Magic Kingdom inspired as much awe with the campy Tiki Room as it did with the elaborate Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. We’d all watched The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night on NBC and there was Sleeping Beauty’s Castle right in front of me although I couldn’t fathom how Tinkerbell was going to set off the fireworks.
The Matterhorn Bobsleds were a technological milestone; it was the first tubular steel roller coaster and design that became as common at amusement parks as popcorn.
Disneymania was rampant, the world’s imagination captured.
We loved the singing dolls and the message of It’s a Small World and spun ourselves a little silly on the teacups, but there was a special wonder in Tomorrowland. Monsanto sponsored an attraction that pretended to shrink visitors to the size of an atom inside a snowflake, a science lesson disguised as fun and you didn’t even have to exit through the gift shop.
GE sponsored the Carousel of Progress, an attraction that moved to Florida’s Disney World in 1975. We saw how people lived, and how they might. In the early 60s that hinted at computers and widely available color televisions; the new version has had some updates, but it still reminds us that “there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow.”
As I prepared this morning to board a flight to Orlando with my 8-year-old, I was struck by how much Oklahoma City and Tomorrowland have in common. It’s GE, after all, that’s anchoring the Innovation District’s development with a research facility.
As Cathy O’Connor described the MAPS 3 developments at a recent Club 29 meeting, it was easy enough to see that new streetcar as a grounded version of Tomorrowland’s People Mover or the Monorail, more pedestrian circulator than mass transit system and oddly fun to ride.
The first MAPS gave us our own River Cruise (sans the animatronic hippos wiggling their ears) and the Bricktown Canal narrated boat ride is reminiscent of the Storybook Land Canal Boats. If Walt had imagined man-made whitewater rafting he surely would have included it.
And as long as we hang onto the Heartland Flyer, we even have our own railroad, albeit on a less-frequent schedule, and the Autopia’s celebration of freeways isn’t too far from the Crosstown and the Boulevard.
It isn’t Disneyland. But pulling into downtown Oklahoma City from I-35 has its own sense of wonder right now as tracks are laid and a park is planted. This is what progress looks like, the intersection of Walt’s imagination and real life.
Meanwhile, the 8-year-old is about to set foot in the Magic Kingdom for the first time and I suspect that my third moment of wonder might come when I see the expression on his face.
Author’s note: This missive was inspired by a recent news story. Music agent Richard Kraft is among those who wondered at Disneyland. This month, he is auctioning off his collection. It includes a flying Dumbo from the Fantasyland ride that hung for years from his living room ceiling (starting bid $100,000), a pirate ship from the Peter Pan ride, and the 6-foot-tall Jose, one of the original animatronic characters from the Tiki Room. Kraft will donate a portion of the proceeds to two organizations benefiting children who, like his 4-year-old daughter Daisy, suffer from the rare genetic disorder Coffin-Siris Syndrome