Today we're going a little different than our normal updates ... on this day of remembrance I want to share a story about being at the Happiest Place on Earth just days after one of the saddest days in American History.
Written by Gregg Condon
Monday, September 10, 2001, a day that began and ended just like any other day had for the previous few months. We had moved from the San Fernando Valley up to Palmdale, CA a few months earlier. My wife and I were still having hellish commutes, her to Calabasas (70 miles one way) and me to Woodland Hills (60 miles one way). She was working 5:30am-2:00pm and I was working 3:30pm-12:00am. It was just what we had to do as young parents. And as we swapped kids in Santa Clarita (just a few miles from SFMM actually) on that Monday afternoon we had no idea that just over 12 hours later our world (and that of our country) would change forever.
As I worked my job and made it home about 1:00am I could never quite fall right to sleep, and such was the case that night. I would usually wake up to say goodbye to my wife as she left way too early for work but for some reason that morning I don't remember doing that. Odd since I vividly remember every other thing about that day (as we all do I'm sure).
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 ... I was awoken by a phone call from my wife, something she never really did as you can imagine with a 5 and 3 year old we tried to get as much sleep as possible. I vaguely remember hearing "turn on TV", "something going on in NYC" and through a daze I turned on our 13" TV just in time to see something that looked like a plane crashing into a building that looked like the World Trade Center (the 2nd plane).
It's said in moments of extreme duress one can sober or wake up in an instant, and such was the case this morning. I quickly made my way to the bigger of our TV's (a whopping 27") and watched in amazement, still not quite sure what was going on.
As I relayed the info to my wife as to what I was seeing (this was still in the early days of streaming video on the internet) I still couldn't believe what I was describing.
We quickly made the choice not to send our daughter to school that day as I'm sure was the case for many others. As the day went on we all saw many horrific and tragic things, most of all my brother in-law who worked in Building 9 of the WTC who we feared the worst for but was one of the lucky ones. Of course any of us who know any 9/11 survivors know that's not always the case. But that's a story for a different day, and probably a different website.
As I tried working that night (again with no news except what you could get from the radio) it became abundantly clear that things would never be the same.
As the days went on, we all were glued to our TV (I don't just mean myself and my family ...we ALL were). The heroic firefighters and police, stories of the extreme and ultimate sacrifices that were made and the sheer numbing effect of the entire thing. We had decided to stay closer to both of our works for the rest of that work week because none of us had any idea what was going to happen next.
Sunday, September 16, 2001 ... so you may be asking yourself, what this has to do with Disneyland. We've all heard stories about theme parks closing on 9/11 from Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and of course Disneyland (that due to the time of the attacks never opened). The hotel and park staff doing everything they could to assist travelers who were now stuck, shielding the children of these families from the horrors that were going on while they were unsure why they couldn't go and spend a day at Disneyland.
For us, we were just AP's who after 5 days of TV watching felt we needed to do something normal. Fighting through the guilt of "should we actually be going to Disneyland" we made our way down to Disneyland. And what we found was an absolutely surreal experience.
Here we were, surrounded by people (not a LOT of people mind you) but many of them probably with the same thoughts we had. Just wanted to do something "normal". You could feel it in the air, there was nothing normal about being at Disneyland this day. While the Cast Members were putting on their Disney best, you couldn't shake the feeling of grief in the air. So while we got away from it all for a day, we never really got away from it.
But looking back, it was necessary and needed for everybody who spent any time at the parks in those days and weeks following 9/11.
Sunday, September 23, 2001 ... This was the day that then President George W Bush had ordered all flags to return to full staff, and this meant the flag at Disneyland as well. There was to be flag raising headed by then CEO Michael Eisner and the park would essentially shut down for a time so CM's could attend.
While the "normalcy" still hadn't returned to Disneyland, there was at this time a sense of pride, not only here, but I'm guessing everywhere. As we all gathered in town square for the flag raising there was an amazing rendition of the National Anthem, some words by Mr. Eisner and the flag raising.
Later that afternoon at the traditional flag retreat you probably couldn't find a dry eye in the house. Many of the CM's from the nearby City Hall and Emporium could be seen standing in their doorways taking in the moment and while today you may see people walking right by and not even recognizing the flag retreat, that was not the case on this day, or many days to come.
So while it's easy sometimes to be overly cynical of Disneyland (I'm guilty of it for sure) there was a time when Disneyland was there for me and my family as a place of comfort, safety and joy when there was no comfort, safety or joy in the world. And for that we will always be thankful.