BACKSTORY: This page has photos showing Richard Nixon and his family at Disneyland. As residents of Orange County, the theme park was a frequent place that the family visited. You will also find photos of the President Richard Nixon library in Yorba Linda.
Because of President Richard Nixon’s close proximity to Disneyland, he and his family were frequent visitors to the park during its early days. Nixon was proud that Walt Disney had chosen Orange County for Disneyland, especially since he had grown up only a few miles away in Yorba Linda. Nixon’s youngest daughter, Julie Eisenhower, was gracious enough to share some very fond memories that she has of her family, Walt Disney, and Disneyland. Many of the photos that you see below are from a book that Disney gave to Julie as a tribute to her father.
It was always a thrill for Julie to visit Orange County & Disneyland, as it meant that she could play with her cousins on both sides of the family: Ryan (her mother) and Nixon (her father). “Disneyland was a part of our lives. The major happy feeling that I remember about Orange County was seeing my cousins, which was always tied to a trip to Disneyland.” Between 1961 and 1963, the Nixon family would visit the park at least once every 3-6 months. Julie’s first visit to Disneyland was August 11, 1955, barely a month after opening day. Julie has nothing but positive things to say about Walt. “He was so kind; really nice and very approachable. He was also a very nice looking man.” Her father was given the “Key to City Hall” by none other than Davy Crockett (Fess Parker). “I was in heaven, meeting Fess Parker! It was a big deal to be there at Disneyland, especially because of the weekly broadcast that introduced the world to Disneyland with each episode. The characters, the castle...seeing it all in person was fantastic. It was such a joyful place! My favorite ride was (and still is) the Peter Pan ride.” This particular trip was a family reunion for the Ryans and the Nixons, and Julie enjoyed the company of her 7 boy cousins. The family rode the Autopia cars (with 2 secret service men in tow for Vice President Nixon) as well as The Mark Twain, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Adventure. “Walt was such a visionary—mother and father thought so much of him. The west is a land of opportunities. My father had a different view of the world because he was from the west; everything was a possibility. This helped him to open the doors to China and accomplish things that others might not have thought possible. Walt was the same—he was a futurist. He had big thinking, which was characteristic of those in the west during that time.” Walt gave the 2 Nixon girls Mickey Mouse hats which they used to put on plays at home. Karen was Julie’s favorite Mouseketeer.
BACKSTORY: One of the biggest occasions (and most documented) that the Nixons visited the park was for the June 14, 1959 Monorail/Submarine/Matterhorn dedication. Walt asked Vice President Nixon (see the letter pictured below) if he would be an honored guest for the 5th Anniversary inaugural celebration. Jack Wrather’s (owner of the Disneyland Hotel) personal suite was reserved for the Nixon family for this trip (“I was thrilled to be there!” remembers Julie). On Sunday while Nixon visited with his mother, Pat and the girls got to ride some of the attractions before all the hoopla began. “My father wanted to take his mother to church that morning. It was a special time for them. When he was growing up, the family often attended church three times on Sunday—church was a big part of a family’s social life.” For the big ceremonies, the Nixon family had lunch in Walt’s Apartment above the firehouse and then led the procession down Main Street. The Nixon family opened the Matterhorn (her 2nd favorite attraction, but #1 with her children): “It was fabulous—and so scary! The details though...the cold air blowing out onto you—amazing!” The Nixons were also the first ones to ride on the Submarine Voyage (her 3rd favorite attraction). In fact, it was Nixon who persuaded a senior U.S. Navy official, Rear Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick, to take part in the festivities. Julie remembers the Sub Voyage: “It was a futuristic ride. At the time, we were in a new Space Age; subs were something that you had only read about in World War II books; they were still top secret. And here we were, actually riding a submarine at Disneyland—just spectacular!” The biggest thrill of the day was cutting the ribbon for the Monorail. “I was a little scared—the Monorail was a different sensation. Up in the glass dome—looking over the park...it was quite a thrill for me at the time.” In preparing for the ceremony, Nixon had asked Walt how he wanted to be described in his introduction; Walt replied “as an Imagineer, which means an engineer with imagination.” There are many oft-told stories about the Monorail christening, especially about how the ribbon did not cooperate with the ceremonial scissors. Julie remembers that they were made of wood, and more ornamental than functional. Try as they might, the Nixon girls (Julie & her sister Tricia) could not cut through the ribbon. Some writers love to poke fun at this little goof and tell how Walt cursed out his staff for not checking the scissors. However, Julie was there: “I don’t remember it as being anything horrendous; actually, Walt saved the day. We were in front of hundreds, thousands of people that day, and Walt just tore the ribbon—he saved the day with his quick thinking. I don’t remember him being upset over the ribbon.” Disneyland fans also often read about the Secret Service being left at the Monorail station while the Nixon family rode the Monorail not once but twice around the track. Walt and the Nixons were aboard, but the Secret Service had accidentally been left behind at the station. The Secret Service nervously paced up and down the length of the station, trying to figure out if they should jump on the Monorail or not. When the Monorail returned to the Tomorrowland station, it slowed down for a bit and then zipped on through for another trip around Disneyland because Tricia and Julie had asked “Please? Can we go around just one more time?” Bob Gurr, the Imagineer who’d designed the Monorail and was driving it for this special trip was a little afraid of repercussions from the Secret Service agents. When Vice President Nixon stepped off the train, he laughed at the head of his security detail saying “You should have seen your expressions...” Bob Gurr was just happy that the Monorail was working, as he apparently told Walt that he knew the Monorail could pull out of the station for the cameras, but he wasn’t sure if it would make it around the track without catching on fire or not. Julie remembers, “Back then, with the Secret Service, it was much more casual. Today, we probably never would have been on a ride that hadn’t been tested and tested and tested.” Note: you may see that in the last two photos of the June 14, 1959 that Pat and her daughters are wearing different outfits for the ribbon cutting; when asked if possibly they had a practice photo session, Julie responded: “I do not recall a trial run or photo opportunity. We must have spent two days at the park. We never would have changed clothes twice in one day!” After the big day, the family had a reunion over at Knott’s Berry Farm. “Knotts was wonderful, but Disneyland was the highlight,” remembers Julie. One 1961 trip to Disneyland stands out in Julie's mind because of how she got there; her Uncle Tom Ryan drove 80+mph to Disneyland! “Back in 1961, nobody was on the freeways. I was a little scared as it was the fastest I’d ever gone in a car! But it was very fun, just the same!”
The vehicle that Nixon rode into Disneyland in was a 1909 Cadillac, driven by Barney Rademacher; Walt entered in a 1906 Buick driven by E.J. Antonik.
From the Disney Parks Blog, June 2014:
Itinerary for Sunday, June 14, 1959
07:30am – ABC–TV personnel arrives to set up equipment and rehearse
09:15am (approximate) – Vice President and family to meet with Walt Disney at the Monorail
Station for press photographs on the dedication of the Monorail
With this morning publicity photo shoot we have the answer to one of those “mini-mysteries” I mentioned. Fans may have noticed that the Nixon family is wearing different clothing in some of the Monorail dedication photos from this day. As it turns out, these early-morning pictures, which include Art Linkletter as the Monorail pilot, were taken to enable wire services and newspapers east of the Rockies to include the photography in their Monday morning editions. Press photographers and television cameras would capture the official dedication later in the afternoon.12:00pm – Parade starts forming. Lunch at Red Wagon Inn for celebrities (note: photos below have been placed in chronological order to reflect this information).
12:15pm – On return from Church, the Vice President and family will be guests of Walt Disney at an informal luncheon at his apartment.
01:15pm – Pre–parade steps off from gate by Fire Station. Vice President and party to parade in “horseless carriages” from City Hall to the official reviewing stand.
01:30pm – Parade steps-off from gate by Opera House
02:10pm (approximate) – Matterhorn Show
02:15pm (approximate) – Vice President and family will be escorted from the reviewing stand to the rear of the Carnation Ice Cream store on Main Street for special photographs. Following these photos, the family will return to Walt Disney’s apartment.
03:00pm – Matterhorn Bobsleds, Autopia, and Motor Boats open to the press
03:15pm – The Vice President and his family will be taken to Monorail Station in Tomorrowland for press photography of the Monorail dedication
03:30pm (approximate) – Submarine Dedication ceremony
04:00pm (approximate) – Monorail Dedication ceremony. The Vice President and family will participate in the actual television dedication of the Monorail. Following the dedication, they will be returned to the apartment and the Vice President will be free to conduct any meetings that will be necessary, utilizing the office located adjacent to the patio of Walt Disney’s apartment.
04:15pm – Submarine and Monorail open to press guests
05:00pm – 08:00pm – Press party at Holidayland with buffet and special entertainment
06:15pm (approximate) – Fireworks display
06:30pm (approximate) – Walt Disney will meet Vice President Nixon and family and escort them to the informal press buffet and party in Holidayland
Meredith Willson (composer of the smash hit musical, “The Music Man,” which was still in its first theatrical run on Broadway at the time) was an invited guest of Walt’s who was seated behind the vice president. During the television taping of this special parade, host Art Linkletter says, “What do I see down there? Meredith Willson, would you come up here for a minute?” Mr. Willson then came to the front of the reviewing stand. Art continued, “I want to hear from an expert. You’re ‘Mr. Music Man,’ what do you see coming up the street?”
To Mr. Wilson’s apparent amazement, what he saw was an all-brass band including 76 trombones, marching down Main Street, U.S.A., playing his signature song from “The Music Man,” “Seventy Six Trombones!” Mr. Willson could be overheard saying, “I’ve been saying it all afternoon, but Walt Disney, when he does anything, he does it right, doesn’t he? Listen to that!”
As this incredible band approached the reviewing stand, Art led Mr. Willson to a small platform in the middle of the street, telling him, “Come on up here Meredith!” The drum major handed his hat and baton to Mr. Willson who then conducted the band to the finale of the song as the crowd roared from one end of Main Street to the other.
BACKSTORY: Richard Nixon running for Governor of California 1962 is seen here at the Disneyland Hotel on April 27, 1962 for the Orange County Nixon Committee Dinner. Note the "Boxing elephant" (Dumbo) image to the left of the negative and the " KEZY radio / Disneyland Hotel" sign to the right of the photo. Nixon was running for Governor of California in 1962 after losing to Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential election; Nixon lost this election as well.
BACKSTORY: What was Julie’s parents’ favorite attraction? Small world! In 1968, on a late tour of Disneyland, Pat specially requested that they get to go on iasw, even though they didn’t have much time at the park. The theme of world peace through children of the world struck a chord with Pat and her husband. The inscription on her tombstone fittingly reads, “Even when people cannot speak your language, they know if you have love in your heart.” Both Nixons felt that you should respect other people and their cultures. This is part of what Julie also admired in Walt; his ideas about the future and bringing people together in an environment that both young and old could have fun together while learning and expanding themselves: “It was never a lecture with Disney.” Many thanks to Julie Nixon Eisenhower for sharing her memories of her family, Walt Disney, and his Magic Kingdom.
From a publicity blurb accompanying the 3rd photo from the left:
8/17/68-ANAHEIM, CALIF: Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon (arrow) and family ride fire engine touring Disneyland here 8/16. With Mr. Nixon are (L to R in rear seat) David Eisenhower, fiance of Julie Nixon, daughters Julie and Tricia and his wife Pat (obscured behind Mr. Nixon.)
I am thrilled beyond measure to have found your collection of pictures featuring the familiar faces of my family during their visits to Disneyland in 1955 and 1959. My brother Donny Nixon is seen in several photos, especially the Peter Pan Ride sitting with Tricia and Uncle Dick. I am seen several rows back on the left side, at age eleven years old. The Tea Cup pictures show my father, Donald Nixon, brother and cousins, along with Aunt Pat and Uncle Dick.
My name is Lawrene Nixon Anfinson, first cousin to Julie and Tricia. As the eldest grandchild in the Nixon family, now nearly sixty-seven years old and grandmother to eight, it is a thrill to have the pictures featured on your web site to show my family. The memories of being a part of Walt Disney's dream will always be with me.
When I graduated from high school in 1961, I was hired by Carnation Company to work in Plaza Gardens and the Main Street ice cream shop at Disneyland, and continued to work in the park at various times through college. My last position was that of opening New Orleans Square, when I trained the serving staff for the restaurants.
In the years since, my husband and I moved to Virginia, and now retired in Bethany Beach, Delaware. Julie and David are godparents to our son, now the father of four. Trips to Disney World continue to be a part of our family time, as well as visits to Disneyland when on the west coast.
Thank you for keeping our family treasures alive.
Lawrene Nixon Anfinson
BACKSTORY: On March 25, 1969, President Nixon presented Lillian Disney with a Congressional Gold Medal honoring her late husband, Walt. What follows is the speech that Nixon gave to the audience of approximately 200 local schoolchildren that day in the White House State Dining Room:“Many ceremonies are held in this White House, but none that I think will have more meaning to all of us, young and old, than this one today, because it is my great privilege to present to Mrs. Walt Disney, on behalf of the Congress of the United States, by reason of a joint resolution, and on behalf of all the people of the United States and, I think, of the world, a gold medal; a gold medal honoring Walt Disney for his service through so many years not only to the people of the United Sates, but to the people of the world. “The medal and the resolution will speak for themselves, but in making this presentation, and before I do so, I would like to just add a word that I know all of you would want to say to Mrs. Disney and to her children and to Walt Disney’s brother, Roy Disney, and their family who are here today. “It is very hard to describe our feelings about Walt Disney. I say our feelings, because my wife and I had the opportunity of knowing him personally. He was ust as exciting and interesitng personally as he was in all of those wonderful movies that we remmeber through the years, starting witht he cartoons and then the real-life ones and then “Mary Poppins,” and all of the rest. “To know this man was to know that we had been fortunate to have a spirit with us that perhaps comes once in a generation to a fortunate people. But I think we are all very lucky that we still have Walt Disney with us. We have him in his movies; we see him on television sometimes when we see those wonderful creations rerun, and of course, those of us who have the chance can go to Disneyland in California or Disneyland in Florida when it is completed, and there it all is, this man so creative, so imagineative, so fine. “You know in these days of entertainment when we do have on television and sometimes in the movies some kinds of entertainment that many think are not perhaps too constructive and to healthy—I was talking to Sentor Pastore about this problem in my office yesterday—we are very fortunate to have had a Walt Disney who recognized that what was important was to make people happy. “You have heard some music today, and the theme of that music was ‘Dreams Coming True.’ If you think back about all of the music, the soundtracks from the Walt Disney films, looking ahead, dreams were coming true. “That is why he leaves for us a very special place in our hearts. And in our hearts that means a very special place in our hearts for you, Mrs. Disney, and for your family. “I once asked Walt Disney how I should describe him when we went out and dedicated the monorail at Disneyland. He said that he was an ‘imagineer,’ which means he was an engineer with imagination. But he was more than that. He was a great artist. He was a perfectionist. He was a wonderful human being. “All of that he shared with us, not just with his family who loved him because they knew him, but he shared it with the world, and the world is a better and a happier and more joyful place in which to live because he was there. “Could I say a word to the children that are here? Most people, when they think of Walt Disney, think that he created his various movies and cartoons and the rest, and Disneyland just for children. But he didn’t think that at all. I once asked him about that, and he said, ‘Oh, that isn’t true.’ He said: ‘I don’t create just for children. I never talk down to them.’ “The reason he was successful, you see, was that he respected children—young people of all ages—and because he respected them he was able to communicate not only with the young people, but with the older people as well. “Perhaps that is what we all need today. When we talk about the problem of the genration gap, and how we are able to communicate with our children, we can learn from Walt Disney, a man who could communicate because he had that one quality which is so important. He had respect for an individual no matter how young he was, or how old. “Thank you very much for coming. We are particularly happy to welcome all of our guests from California, and all of the schoolchildren from the Washington area. We hope that you will all get a chance to go to Disneyland sometime. “How many of the schoolchildren here have been to Disneyland? You see, quite a few, but not enough. We hope you all go either to the one in California or the one in Florida, because it is a wonderful treat. “How many of the adults have been to Disneyland? You are missing something. Thank you very much.”
In 1962, I was in high school in Anaheim. I was a volunteer for the Nixon for governor campaign, a Nixonette. I attended a rally for Mr. Nixon and was asked to sit next to his mother to keep her company. I believe the rally was held at Knott’s Berry Farm but it could have been at Disneyland (I remember being shown the “new hotel”). Someone from Parade magazine followed me around and took pictures. He said if Nixon was elected governor, I would be in a Parade article. Alas, Brown won and I have always wondered if there are pictures of me somewhere as a Nixonette.
I do remember the rally very well. We all wanted to get Mr. Nixon’s autograph but were told “no.” Mr. Nixon gave each of us a copy of his book with an imprinted signature. I don't have any idea what his speech was about; I spent the whole time chatting with his mother. She was lovely. I wish I could remember what we talked about.
At some point during the campaign, I got to ride in the back of a convertible in some sort of parade. We had to wear white dresses. I think I may still have the Nixonette sash someplace. I know I have the pin. We also had plastic “straw” hats to complete the outfit.
It was a thrilling time for me. I had a huge poster of Mr. Nixon in the bedroom that I shared with my mother and sister. My mother finally took it down and hid it; she said she didn't want to wake up to his face every morning!
Now that I'm writing this, I think the Parade pictures were taken the night of the election at a hotel party. I have no idea which hotel. Maybe that was when I saw the “new” Disneyland Hotel. I know we got to ride in the fancy elevator on the side of the building. It’s funny how so many of the images overlap. I know it was a great time and we were all crushed when Mr. Nixon lost the election.