Video: The Story Of The First Two Children Through Disneyland's Gates
The first two children inside Disneyland are now in their 60s, but still fondly recall the day Walt Disney personally showed them around the park. Michael Schwartner was 7 years old when he pleaded with his parents to take him to Disneyland's opening day, the OC Register reports. Schwartner, who is now 67 and lives in Fresno, fondly remembers July 17, 1955. He was supposed to be accompany his father, Bill, and his mother, Midlred, to Mexico where his parents planned to play golf. Michael had seen on TV that Disneyland had already opened to VIP guests and would open to the public the following day. When his parents stopped for a short visit with Michael's aunt in North Hollywood, Michael was able to sway his cousins, Christine Vess, 5, and Donna Vess, 11, to join his campaign to go to the park. The three children were able to successfully convince Michael's mom and dad to ditch Mexico for the time being and take them to Disneyland instead.
The I-5 Freeway was packed on the way to Anaheim, but the Schwartner family endured. They arrived at 8 a.m., only to find that 15,000 people were in line in front of them. The parents waited in sweltering heat while the children ran around, doing kid stuff. Christine, however, fell and skinned her knee. Mildred Schwartner thought her crying would get them kicked out—"the kids were making such a ruckus," she said—but instead, a Disneyland cast member asked if she could bring Michael and Christine to meet Walt Disney himself.
The parents agreed and the children were whisked away. For about 45 minutes, Disney talked to the two children and took a number of photos with them. You can see Disney with the two kids in video below, posing for the photos.
Shortly before the park officially opened at 10 a.m., Disney returned to the gates, introduced himself to the rest of the family and invited them to skip the line and enter first, free of charge. Disney welcomed Michael and Christine as the very first boy and girl to officially enter Disneyland.
Disney took the family on a tour via the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, then gave them a pass that enabled them to go on every ride for free. At that point in Disneyland history, rides were 10 or 35 cents each, on top of admission. Mildred Schwartner remembered something that would make any current Disneyland visitor jealous: "We went from ride to ride to ride. All we had to do was get up and get on. We didn't have to wait in line for anything."
The family stayed at Disneyland until it closed at 10 p.m., but it wouldn't be their final visit. Disney also gifted them with lifetime passes to the park.
Young Christine Vess now goes by Kristina Graef. She is 65 and lives in Valley Springs.
"Being the first girl in Disneyland is something I hold dear to my heart," she told the OC Register.
She visited the park many times over the decades and met celebrities like Tony Danza and Art Linkletter. She got married, had three children, who in turn had six grandchildren. She is now divorced and said she may not make it to the anniversary celebration this weekend due to health and finances. However, she said the memories she's already made at Disneyland "last a lifetime."
Michael, now 67, cares for his mother in Fresno. He joined the Army during the Vietnam war, where he said his fellow soldiers sometimes doubted his claims about being the first boy inside Disneyland. Later, he moved to Anaheim and said he used to go to Disneyland on a daily basis and became friends with many Imagineers. Five years ago, he suffered a stroke, so while he can't drive to Anaheim for the weekend's celebration, a family member has agreed to take both him and his mother. Disneyland turns 60 years old tomorrow.