In the summer of ’69, 20-year-old Larry Syverson and his girlfriend Judy, 19, spent the day at Disneyland in California.
Larry snapped a series of photos of Judy riding the roller coasters and exploring the park. She wore a pink shift dress and carried a white beaded bag, the epitome of ’60s chic.
Five decades later, Syverson and Judy, married and with four adult sons, rediscovered the nostalgic snaps and took a trip down memory lane.
The sepia-toned shots provide a peek into the early days of the iconic Disney theme park. They feature Main Street USA, the iconic attraction It’s a Small World and the original Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
“I hadn’t really – when I took these – planned on sharing them,” Syverson tells CNN Travel. “It was really just to remember the day with Judy and me, whereas now looking back […] it’s kind of a nice time capsule.”
In the late ’60s, college student Syverson had a summer job in Los Angeles and Judy came out to visit him. They spent a day out at Disneyland and also visited Universal Studios and the since-closed Japanese Village and Deer Park.
He documented their trips with his camera.
“I think we looked at the slides probably once or twice and then they were put up in a box,” says Syverson.
He notes that the way we document our lives has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Most present-day college students today would immediately post photos of a day out at Disney on social media.
Case in point: there are currently 2.5 million and counting posts tagged at the Disneyland California park.
Syverson doesn’t use Instagram, but over the past couple of years he’s started posting photographs of recent trips on Flickr. It was while sorting through his Flickr images that he remembered his vintage Disney shots and thought people might be interested in seeing them.
“So I dug them out and posted them and then I found Judy’s scrapbook that she had made during that week she was out there visiting,” he says.
Thanks to Judy’s journal, Syverson got more dates and details and colored in his memories of the day.
“I do remember we were there 15 hours, we were there from open to close – from 10 in the morning to one at night – and we were constantly busy,” he recalls. The couple kept darting from one area of the park to another, trying to see as much as possible.
Judy had kept her tickets from the day in her scrapbook and Syverson posted those to Flickr too.
“At that time, when you went in you bought a book of tickets and each ride was a different ticket. The prices were like from a dime – from 10 cents to 75 cents for the big rides,” says Syverson. “It’s kind of funny to think that you could ride something for 10 cents.”
Highlights of the day
The young couple rode 22 attractions, including the now classic Haunted Mansion ride.
“The Haunted Mansion […] did a soft opening on the day we were there – we were there August 9th 1969. So if you wanted tickets for it you just got in line,” says Syverson. “So that was kind of an exciting thing to be some of the first on that.”
He was also thrilled to see It’s a Small World – the attraction with the theme tune that’s impossible to shake from your head.
Syverson had road-tested this attraction five years previously: in 1964, he was a Boy Scout volunteering at New York’s World’s Fair, where Walt Disney premiered this ride.
Another favorite was the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, based on the popular ’60s movie. It no longer exists at Disneyland in California – it morphed into Tarzan’s Treehouse in the ‘90s – but there are still versions in Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.
Syverson loved the movie and was thrilled to explore the treehouse.
“As a kid it was just the most fascinating thing, I would always daydream, wouldn’t it be fun to live in their house?” he says.
The movie still holds a place in his heart.
“Each time my Grandkids from Ohio come to visit, we all sit down and watch ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ together, in fact we just watched it last week with them.
It’s kind of nice that it is this movie from the ’60s and we got to see the attraction at Disneyland, and now watching it with my grandkids. Fifty years later and they enjoy it as much as I did, we laugh in all the same places.”
Young at heart
For Syverson – and for many – it’s this cross-generational appeal that ensures Disney never grows old.
The Syversons returned to the park once – in the ’80s with their children. They haven’t been since, but after discovering the photographs prompted them to plan a trip.
“We’re going up to Los Angeles to do a cruise out of Long Beach in 2020. We’ve decided we’re going to go out a couple days early and actually go as senior citizens […] We’re going to go and spend a day in Disneyland,” says Syverson
Syverson knows attractions have changed in the intervening decades and he’s interested to spot the differences.
“People’s interests change and they want more excitement and stuff,” he says, citing Universal Studios as an example:
“When we went in ’69 it had only been open a few years. It was just giving people a chance to go and look at the back lot and see the streets where the movies were filmed.”
Nevertheless, the couple are already planning their itinerary. They might even recreate a couple of their favorite photos from the 1960s.
“The attractions are still ones that we would enjoy at our age […] It’s a place [where] you make memories and then you always have them to look back on,” says Syverson. “So we’re really excited about going back there. There’s no ending. It’s a special place.”
He is glad his photographs are being enjoyed by people around the world and will leave a lasting legacy.
“When Judy and I are long gone you know people will look – ‘Oh look at this young couple, having fun in Disneyland’ – it’s kind of a cool thing.”