That's from Disneyland: When History Comes to Life
By Sasha Coles
Guidebooks, birthday candles, puzzles, records, bubble gum, playing cards, ashtrays, lunch boxes, lighters, ticket stubs, tablecloths, Popsicle kits, paintings, and maps. The list of artifacts featured in the That’s from Disneyland exhibit goes on and on. Richard Kraft—an agent who represents Danny Elfman, Alan Menken, Richard Sherman, and other composers—spent more than two decades assembling this impressive collection of Disney ephemera. He recently decided to auction everything off, but not before hosting a free exhibit in a defunct Sherman Oaks Sports Authority. While waiting in line to get into the building, I asked Richard about his favorite object. “There’s a statue of Snow White that kind of melted,” he said. “We put her in storage, and she got a little too hot. At first, I didn’t care that much about her, but now, she’s my favorite. She's become the face of the exhibit.” This story was the first of many that I encountered at That’s from Disneyland. The exhibit captured not only decades of Disneyland history but hundreds of memories of Dumbo, the grim-grinning ghosts, and Mickey-shaped pretzels as well. Visitors approached the 900 pieces as personal souvenirs of their own histories. In those moments, That’s from Disneyland truly came to life.
The story behind the exhibit begins several decades ago, when Richard, his brother, David, and their parents began taking annual trips to Disneyland. The Kraft family lived in Bakersfield and could only make the trek to Anaheim when David felt well enough. As a young child, Richard formed deep emotional attachments to Disneyland. He fondly remembers the smell of the Pirates of the Caribbean water, the sweet taste of a Dole Whip treat, the smooth touch of the Splash Mountain railing, and the fun he and David had together. David died 25 years ago. After that tragic loss, Richard took trips to Disneyland to reconnect with the sights and smells that reminded him of those magical days with David. He also picked up his first piece of Disneyland memorabilia, a vintage poster for the Autopia ride, as an homage to his late brother. The collecting intensified when Richard’s son, Nicky, was born. Over the next two decades, Richard filled his home, office, and a storage facility with everything from Disney maps and figurines to animatronics and ride vehicles.
Nicky and Richard gave their fanciful environment a name: Kraftland. José, one of the famous talking parrots from the Enchanted Tiki Room, and other objects from the ride populated Nicky’s bedroom. Around the pool, you could find a Davy Crockett Canoe measuring 38 feet across and a massive Sea Serpent that used to delight riders on Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage attraction. Nicky remembers the terrifying two-foot statue of the Old Hag—the disguised Evil Queen who give Snow White the poisoned apple—living in his kitchen...she gave him the creeps. The Krafts went to great lengths to install a Dumbo attraction vehicle inside their home. Richard and Nicky put on this free month-long exhibit to say a proper goodbye to these treasures and allow others to enjoy them.
And enjoy them we did. In August 2018, some 50,000 people walked through the doors of That’s from Disneyland. A diverse array of objects communicated volumes about the park’s past, present, and possible futures. I found myself drawn to the magazines, financial reports, employee guides, sponsor packets, opinion poll results, calendars, yearbooks, and other sources that historians rely on to write stories about the past. Models, blueprints, and concept art allowed visitors to get a glimpse of the version of Disneyland that the Imagineers never built, including charming themed benches and an underwater restaurant inside of Monstro the whale's belly. You could also find evidence of Disneyland from days gone by, including a prop from Adventures Thru Inner Space; the organ from the Swiss Family Treehouse; a Tahitian Terrace closed sign; and sponsorship materials featuring Monsanto, General Electric, Sunkist, and Eastman Kodak. These objects, as well as the ticket sign that quoted the cost of an annual pass at $199 (can you believe that?), speak volumes about the continual reinvention of the Disneyland experience and confirm Walt Disney’s contention that the park “will never be completed…as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
The exhibit was also a love letter to the small but memorable details that are the hallmark of Disneyland. Visitors were delighted to see familiar ride posters; trashcans decorated for Frontierland and It’s a Small World; signs that used to help guests locate their cars in the Disneyland parking lot; old menus from Casa Mexicana, River Belle Terrace, and the Blue Bayou; and the ice cream cart featuring Donald Duck’s nephews. Cast member wardrobe pieces, like the button-up Tiki Room shirt, provoked quite a few “oohs” and “aahs,” as did toys, coloring books, slippers, silver spoons, and other charming souvenirs.
People used the exhibit to recall old memories and create new ones, which I see as That’s from Disneyland’s greatest success. In advance of the formal opening, the exhibit hosted a 1990s-themed Disneybounding event. A new generation of Disney-inspired Instagrammers and bloggers got the chance to see an old version of Disneyland that was brand new to them. After the doors opened, visitors snapped and shared hundreds of photos with several show-stopping objects, including a giant neon D that stood atop the Disneyland Hotel from 1963 to 1999; four spooky paintings from the stretching gallery in the Haunted Mansion; and a car from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Some of these interactions provoked emotional responses, like one woman’s tearful reunion with the blue Skyway Bucket. She and her mother used to go on that attraction and take photos together. She never thought that one day she would be able to do the same with her own daughter. One couple even got married at That’s from Disneyland. The exhibit’s official Facebook and Instagram pages are overrun with messages of gratitude from people who loved interacting with the collection.
Richard and Nicky always saw themselves as caretakers, as opposed to owners, of these objects. After the exhibit drew to a close and raised a record-breaking $8 million during the auction, the Kraft family explained in a social media post, “We never collected these pieces with a thought of their potential financial value, we collected them purely out of love for Disneyland, but there’s something sweet about knowing that Dumbo & his friends helped us raise money that will go in part to two great organizations that help children with special needs.” Kraft’s four-year-old daughter, Daisy, has Coffin-Siris Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. A portion of the auction’s proceeds will be donated to the Coffin-Siris Foundation and CHIME Institute: Early Education Programs.
That’s from Disneyland is a lesson in the power of objects. As visitors circulated through the exhibit, they did more more than read interesting factoids about Disneyland. They chatted with one another about their favorite rides, restaurants, character meets, and park details. They took selfies. They pointed and smiled as they walked. The artifacts became personal mementos of their own histories. Richard Kraft, the self-proclaimed Mayor of That’s from Disneyland, created something magical for visitors from all over. It’s like Walt said. “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
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Max Geschwind, “Inside Disneyland Memorabilia Pop-Up: From Star Potting to a Surprise Wedding,” The Hollywood Reporter, August 22, 2018
Jenna Marotta, “With ‘Disneybounding,’ the Princess Style Trend Goes to Fantastical New Heights,” Vogue, July 31, 2018
Chris Wiliams, “‘That’s From Disneyland!’: How a Collector’s Pop-Up Became a Must-See L.A. Destination,” Variety, August 23, 2018
You can see how much each object sold for on the prices realized list.