50 years ago Saturday, Pirates of the Caribbean opened at Disneyland

ANAHEIM – A half-century ago today, Pirates of the Caribbean opened at Disneyland with great fanfare, and Ron Hanford was there.

“It lived up to everything,” he recalled, now 71 and living in Rancho Cucamonga.

This week, like so so many times over the years, he was back enjoying Disneyland – and Pirates.

“I can’t believe it’s been 50 years,” said his wife, Linda. “It’s fun every single time. It doesn’t get old.”

And that’s the key – Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t tired, a ride past its prime. It has outlasted the PeopleMover, the Skyway‘s open-air gondolas that trundled above the theme park, and the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland.

Graphic: Inside the legendary ride 50 years later

Pirates remains one of Disneyand’s most popular attractions.

“You feel the excitement,” said Anne Fields, here from Austin, Texas with her husband and their two children. “You feel like you’re someplace else, somewhere so far away.”

To get there was a long, winding journey.

It was the last attraction overseen by Walt Disney, opening three months after his death. What is now a 15-minute journey in a boat that bobs past fireflies, pirates firing off cannons, drinking pirates and those trying to escape a jail cell – with that catchy tune as a backdrop much of the way – was originally going to be a walk-through wax museum.

Just two years after Disneyland opened in 1955, Sam McKim, one of Disney’s early imagineers, completed concept paintings and sketches for New Orleans Square, said Tom Morris, a Disney imagineer from 1979 until last year. Those plans included restaurants, shops and a small wax museum about pirates.

In 1959, the Matterhorn, Monorail and Submarine Voyage opened in Tomorrowland, boosting attendance.

Walt Disney knew he needed more on the park’s west side. So the vision for New Orleans Square expanded, more than doubling in size. In early 1961, construction started, with the walk-through wax exhibit…

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