August 6, 1970: The day the Yippies invaded Disneyland

By on August 6, 2015

Forty-five years ago, on August 6, 1970, an estimated 200-300 members of the Yippies came to Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California, to hold what was billed as their “First International Pow-Wow” to protest the U.S.’s continuing involvement in the Vietnam War, and to liberate Disneyland as a symbol of the establishment.

First of all, we’re going to just provide a short documentary on the history of the Yippies — The Right to Yippie, directed by a 17-year old first-time filmmaker named Liz-E Gavillet, and you can read a little about the project here — along with a lot of photographs that were taken inside the amusement park that day.

Here’s a video of what Disneyland typically looked like on a summer’s day in 1970:

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As for what happened on August 6, 1970, the Youth International Party — the counter-cultural free speech and anti-war group, Yippies for short — had planned their “takeover” of Disneyland in advance, and had even printed leaflets that were moderately humorous in nature, if you think about it, with claims that they were going to help “liberate” Minnie Mouse, and they going to hold a “Women’s Lib Rally to free Tinkerbell.” They would also be arranging a “Black Panther Breakfast” at the now-closed Aunt Jemima Pancake House.

Here’s what the schedule for the day looked like:

Black Panther Hot Breakfast: 9am—10am at Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House
Young Pirates League: 11am on Captain Hook’s boat
Women’s Liberation: 12 noon rally to liberate Minnie Mouse in front of Fantasyland
Self Defense Collective: 1pm—2pm at shooting gallery in Frontierland
Mid-Day Feast: 3pm barbecue of Porky Pig
Late in the afternoon Yippies plan to infiltrate and liberate Tom Sawyer’s Island. Declaring a free state, brothers and sisters will then have a smoke-in and festival.
Get it on over to Disneyland, August 6. YIPPIE!

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So, given that this was all made public, the local police departments and the Disneyland park officials themselves all knew it was going to happen in advance, so it wasn’t exactly something you could call a surprise attack, an invasion or a takeover or anything like that. What Disneyland officials told their employees, and what local law enforcement bosses told the police officers who were being sent there, was something entirely opposite from the truth.

The LA Free Press had even advertised it as a Yippie Day event, and published what they were going to do, but warned its readers to prepare for a confrontation, advising that Anaheim police were undergoing riot training and may be heavily armed. With this information, the Anaheim police department prepared for a major confrontation, working with their strategy for the unauthorized visitation of an anticipated crowd.

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What they passed along as fact were the lies that they’d been warned that the Yippies had planned some kind of attack on the Bank of America, located on Main Street, USA, right inside the park’s main entrance, and they were also told the Yippies were going to do something to the attraction “It’s A Small World”, which Bank of America sponsored, due to the fact that the B of A was financing the Vietnam War, which they, of course, the Yippies opposed.

Police departments from every city in Orange County sent over officers to be on duty inside the gates that day, to help support Anaheim police, and some even arrived in brand new yellow riot gear (no doubt there were some cops who were anxious and ready to bust open some dirty hippie/Yippie heads if that’s what it was going to take to put down the protest). All supervisors were called in to work “undercover.”

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Based on the spread of the leaflets and the initial hints of trouble, Disneyland and Anaheim over-prepared. Anaheim police set up a backstage area as a command center, and jailers, cadets and explorers were ready to assist in the booking of prisoners and manning the command posts. An additional 200 additional police officers were brought in from the nearby Orange, Westminster, Fullerton and La Palma police departments. The California Highway Patrol took charge of directing traffic surrounding the park, and other local police agencies remained on standby alert. The county even set up special courts to handle the expected mass arrests.

They expected that it was possible that as many as 200,000 Yippies could show up, and even if it was just 20,000, it would be difficult to control that many individuals, no matter how many cops were stationed inside the park. Disneyland park officials and the cops knew that it would be easy enough to spot the Yippies and those who supported them, believing that they would all mostly have long hair and be wearing hippie garb of some type.

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Five years earlier, Disneyland had finally relaxed their policy banning male guests with long hair — many celebrities, like Roger McGuinn from the Byrds, who was turned away from Disneyland in 1964 merely for sporting a Beatle cut, would complain about this any chance they got — were at one time denied entrance simply because they had hair that was deemed too long to meet Disneyland’s unwritten dress code standards.

They also had policy of refusing entry to young men wearing beards too, a common practice in public places in Southern California and especially in some cities of conservative Orange County, but they had already relaxed that particular policy too.

Disneyland invaded by hippies 1970

Hair length on young men was still a pretty big issue at the time, and high schools across the country were actually kicking students out of class for having hair that was deemed too long. The Yippies had seized upon this issue as one of the ways to radicalize the students — along with focusing on the fact that they were going to be sent off to fight a war we shouldn’t have been involved in to begin with — and young (mostly white) America was ripe for indoctrination.

Prior to August 6th, Disneyland employees attended at meeting in the Mickey Mouse Theater (with all other park supervisors) earlier in the week, where a representative for the Anaheim police department explained what was to be expected. The employees were then assigned specific responsibilities, and stationed at key points around the park where they might be needed.

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Once the park’s gates were opened for business Disneyland managers began personally manning the turnstiles that morning, and guests who arrived with long hair and/or particularly colorful clothing were pulled aside and discreetly told the rules of the day, which were basically, “If you’re here to have a good time, you’re more than welcome to visit Disneyland, but if you’re here to cause trouble, you’re eventually going to be asked to leave the park.”

Disneyland managers periodically walked up and asked groups of Yippies to “please be cool,” to be respectful of all the other guests who’d come out to the park that day with their families, to not ruin these other people’s fun with their Yippie activities, like lighting up joints on the now-closed Inner Space ride, which was quite dark, filling the small enclosed ride with marijuana smoke.

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For most of the day, this approach worked. There were a few nuisance-type incidents, like the 25-30 estimated Yippies snaking through the Main Street hub area in a conga line, chanting “LSD has a hold on me!”

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And, there were the thirty or so who tried to commandeer Captain Hook’s pirate ship by climbing up into its rigging, but given that this boat was actually the Chicken of the Sea restaurant, and the fact that there were teenagers up on the second floor chanting about Ho Chi Minh (“Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!, Teddy Kennedy fucks and swims!” — we kid you not!) didn’t actually stop any tourists from ordering tuna sandwiches down on the first floor.

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As the Yippies never materialized in the numbers expected by anyone — rough estimates pegged the total at 300, about 1% of the number expected — Disneyland officials began to relax and realize they’d overestimated the threat to the park, to rides (did they actually expect sabotage? bombs?), and Dick Nunis, Vice President of Operations at Disneyland at the time, was so reassured that he actually held a 3:20pm press briefing saying that the Yippies weren’t that different than other kids around the country. “They may look a little different,” he said, “but they are just here to have fun.

Around 5 p.m., two huge groups of Yippies boarded two of the rafts bound for Tom Sawyer’s Island across the Rivers of America and then they “invaded” Fort Wilderness, located in a fairly isolated corner of the island. Perhaps their goal was to scandalize the guests who were already on the Island by pulling down the Stars and Stripes and replacing it with their Yippie flag (with a marijuana leaf in a red star on a black background), but mostly it was just to smoke pot and be rowdy.

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They also apparently tried to get a reaction out of the tourists floating by on the Mark Twain riverboat and the Mike Fink keel boats by chanting slogans like “Free Charles Manson!” and “Legalize marijuana!,” while openly smoking joints.

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However, some clueless people on the island actually thought the Yippies’ flag was actually the Viet Cong flag, and that swiftly brought about a new strategy, to offset potential fights between Yippies and guests inside the park. An announcement that the park was closing and everyone was being asked to leave was made over a P.A. system heard around the entire park. It was only the second unscheduled time that Disney officials would take that step since the park opened, the first being shortly after news of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy in 1963.

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The police then began pushing the Yippies down Main Street toward the park exit, who began chanting the “Fish Cheer” (“Give me an ‘F,’ give me a ‘U”…), at which point a group of red-blooded Americans who thought the best way to deal with this was to spontaneously begin singing “God Bless America.” Then, one rambunctious Yippie tried to pull down an American flag in Town Square and Dick Nunis himself punched the guy in the face.

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Some of the Yippies tried to turn back and head towards Sleeping Beauty Castle, but they were pushed back by the cops, while a police helicopter hovered over Fantasyland, as the officer onboard used this helicopter’s PA system to urge all Disneyland guests to move to the nearest exit.

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According to the official Anaheim Police version, it took nearly two full hours to clear the park of its guests that day; Disneyland was officially closed at 7:10 p.m. but police continued to deal with confrontations with Yippies on surrounding park properties, including the Disneyland Hotel. It was not until 11:50 p.m. that they were allowed to leave. All total 18 people (although the number varies — another report said it was 23) wound up being arrested, mostly for relatively minor infractions like trespassing.

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Disneyland officials did let the press know that they experienced some minor property damage over the course of the day, most of it caused by Yippies who, after they were forced to leave the theme park, vented their frustration by tearing up the flowerbeds that were located just outside the park’s turnstiles and then throwing the flowers at the policemen who were now lining Disneyland’s perimeter fence.

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Meanwhile, Disneyland’s supervisors were asked to report to their perimeter positions on the inside of that same fence to safeguard the park from any Yippies who might try to climb back into the park once it was closed, and they were actually given steel poles to bash the fingers of any Yippies who tried to climb over. As far as we know, no Yippie fingers got bashed.

In the end, despite the promises of the initial flyer for this event, no Black Panthers ever showed up for breakfast at Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House, nor did any Women’s Lib types attempt to liberate Minnie Mouse in Fantasyland.

Speaking of no-shows, perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day was that Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin failed to make the scene at D-Land, which then left the Yippies who had actually bought admission to Disneyland that day without a de facto leader of their in-theme-park protest. Jerry Rubin’s book We are everywhere would later document what happened, and you can read the Anaheim Police department’s official version of what happened here.

Color photos by Andrew Midkiff.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.