BACKSTORY (JUNE 16, 1956–FEB. 5, 2007): Names originally considered for the island were “Mickey Mouse Island” and “Treasure Island” (yes, even back in the 1950’s there were commercial tie-ins). However, the final choice was a Tom Sawyer theme. At some point, Disney may even have considered doing a Tom Sawyer film. John Winkler, the owner of the Becky Thatcher Book Shop in Hannibal, Missouri, sent Walt a copy of the Mark Twain classic, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In it he wrote:
“Dear Mr. Disney: I hope that this small gift may inspire you to make these immortal stories into the most wonderful and popular movies that have ever been made! Faithfully yours, John Winkler.” On the next page he wrote: "To Walt Disney, with all appreciation from the Becky Thatcher Book Shop, Hannibal, Mo, June 1956.” One of the first features of Tom Sawyer Island were 3 streams that began at the base of a hill that eventually became Tom’s tree house. These streams were an original feature that possibly helped with the overall park water circulation system; most likely they brought the most bang for the buck by adding animation to an otherwise boring mound of dirt. On the opening day for Tom Sawyer Island, there was an “old fashioned fish fry with catfish flown specially from Missouri…Attending as honored guests of Disneyland were two Hannibal, Missouri youngsters, Chris Winkler and Perva Lou Smith, modern day Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Chris and Perva Lou read a proclamation from the Governor of Missouri that officially annexed the Island to the state of Missouri. Following the ceremony the invited guests journeyed back across the river for a catfish luncheon at the Plantation House and the Island was declared open to the public.” (from the Disneyland News)
One die-hard fan researched the “proclamation” mentioned in the Disneyland News and received this reply:
We have checked a few sources and found nothing stating that Tom Sawyer’s Island in Disneyland is part of Missouri. We checked Governor Donnelly’s proclamations for the whole of 1956. The only thing we found that was even remotely related was passed on July 6, 1956 and declared August 12-18, 1956 to be “Tom Sawyer Week.”
Next, we checked the Missouri House and Senate Journals to see if perhaps a resolution was passed. There was nothing we found in the indices. In fact, the legislature only met for two months in 1956: February 27 through April 27 in a special session. (At that point, the legislature met every other year.) Just to be sure, we checked the 1955 and 1957 regular sessions but also found nothing.
Finally, we checked for an executive order and there was none.
Thanks for your interest in the Archives and best of luck with your research.
Missouri State Archives
During the opening day ceremony, Chris & Perva gave Walt Winkler’s inscribed copy of the book, illustrated by Norman Rockwell. Walt gave it to Herb Ryman, who had originated the early concept work for the island.
Guests can visit the island, surrounded by the Rivers of America, by traveling on a motorized raft which is piloted by a Disneyland cast member (one of the few vehicles NOT on a track). The Island was shut-down February 5, 2007 for the $28 million addition of “Pirate’s Lair at Tom Sawyer Island.” Unveiling date was May 25, 2007.
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Taint many who love the history of Walt Disney’s Disneyland as much as Wild Ol’ Dan Blasius. He’s just wandered into Daveland, unsaddled his horse, rolled out his bedroll, and sat down by the campfire to have a cup of coffee. Wild Ol’ Dan is also the author of the first Hopalong Cassidy novel to be published in well over 50 years: “HOPALONG CASSIDY RIDES AGAIN.” So as you might figure, I’ve asked him to put a few thoughts together on Frontierland at Disneyland. Well, turns out he has more than a few thoughts on that subject...I asked him to start by reflectin’ a little on Zorro. Enjoy!
I hear tell Walt designed the thing himself out in his barn…
Say, I bet most of you fellers know that Walt Disney had a small barn in his back yard over there in Holmby Hills. Yep, that was kinda what you might call headquarters for the Lilly Belle miniature steam train...or the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, as Walt officially called it. Did you know that Walt had his wife sign an official lookin' document sayin' that his railroad could run through her flower gardens? He sure did. Kinda fun...
At any rate, Walt did more than a little dreamin' out thar in that barn...yessirree... Did I ever tell ya about the time...it was back in the mid-fifties it was...let's see...
Well, Walt, by nature, was kind of an experimenter and a dreamer and it was back in those days shortly after Disneyland had opened I believe...one of Walt's best Imagineers and concept designers, a feller named Marc Davis, was working hard on a design for an Island attraction out thar in the Rivers of America, and Walt just did not like it for some reason or other. So, one night Walt took some paper home...took it with him out to the barn in his backyard...and began dreamin' some. It took a little while, but, next mornin' he laid the paper on Marc's desk with a note attached sayin' "This is how it should be."
And, you guessed it...that's the way it became! Yep, 'twas Ol' Walt Disney himself that designed TOM SAWYER'S ISLAND at Disneyland. It officially opened to the public back on June 16th, 1956 as I recall. Oh, it was a place to inspire the imagination if ever there was one. How many of you fellers have ever been in Injun Joe's Cave on the Island? Ever crossed the Suspension Bridge? Or the Pontoon Bridge? How many of you have seen Tom and Huck's Tree House? Or Castle Rock? Did ya ever go in to that secret escape passageway in Fort Wilderness? Ever explore the Old Mill?
Well, if ya did, you’ll remember how wonderful those simple things out thar on the Island were. You used to be able to fish for real, honest-to-gosh catfish out thar on the island too. Till somebody finally figured out that carryin’ a catfish around with ya all day at the park just wasn't a good idea...
The onliest way to get to or from Tom Sawyer's Island was the exact same way Tom and Huck did... on a raft. It sure was a relaxin’ place for adults and a place that inspired the imagination of kids of all ages. You'd look out thar on the river and, oh, what a delight...there it was...that big, beautiful riverboat... the Ol' Mark Twain...circlin' the bend. Or there was a mess of folks paddlin' down the river in canoes... or ridin' in Keel Boats...and over yonder, across the river, was that Ol' Frontier town...
Reckon I kinda long for those good ol' days...oh to be a boy again...
But, course, you fellers know that Ol' Walt did some growin' himself on a farm there in Missouri. Yep, he sure knew what a swimmin' hole looked like...and he knew about Ol' Tom and Huck's adventures there along the Mighty Mississippi. So...when the time came for him to head out to the barn and do some dreamin' of those good ol' days...reckon you could say that Walt had sort of a head start...
I hear tell that the pirates have kinda taken over the Island these days. They were always around…in Tom and Huck's imagination anyways…
Well, truth is, this ol' cowhand kinda longs for those
good ol' days wanderin’ the Island the way Walt Disney himself had dreamed it
Did you fellers know that Walt's Barn was moved to that steam train place there in Griffith Park? Yep, it sure was. You can see it there till this day and actually wander inside it...maybe feel some of the magic that was born in that place long, long years ago...
Adios for now. Talk to ya on’ down the trail.
Wild Ol’ Dan
Borrow one of Huckleberry Finn’s favorite poles and a can of worms…fish for catfish and river perch at Catfish Cove.
A Daveland reader sent in this extra info: Trout were stocked in a netted (the net was was pretty much hidden) area around the pier. Visitors paid for the use of a pole and could have their catch cleaned and stored (refrigerated) for them at the main gate for pick up later in the day (on the way home, I suppose). This was all an attempt to emulate Knott's Old Mill Stream attraction.
…Where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher wrote their names with candle smoke. Explore the labyrinth of passages…look for fossils in the walls…crawl through secret tunnels…discover the hiding place of Injun Joe’s treasure “under the cross”…
Glistening stalactites and stalagmites form weird shapes in the Chamber of the Bottomless Pit…Some have said that from the depths they have heard the mournful sound of Injun Joe, crying out in the darkness…but others claim it is just the wind moaning in some lost subterranean passage.