George Kalogridis, Chuck Milam, and Forrest Bahruth were among the 6,000 employees who opened the Magic Kingdom at Disney World to the public for the first time on Oct. 1, 1971. Now, they are among two dozen from that first day still employed at the theme park resort as it celebrates its 50th anniversary on Friday. Over those decades, Disney World added three more theme parks, two dozen additional hotels, and grew to have a workforce of 77,000 employees as it helped Orlando become the most visited place in the US before the pandemic.
The employees who make up the 50-year club say the theme park resort has allowed them to grow their careers and try on new hats. Kalogridis worked his way up to be president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland in California. Milam went from a warehouse worker to a buyer of spare parts for rides and shows. Bahruth joined as a show director, responsible for staging and choreographing parades and shows. He was also given the opportunity to help open other Disney theme parks around the world over the past five decades.
Two things have stuck in the memories of the longtime employees from opening day, reports the AP. The first was the photo. It was an image of thousands of Disney World workers standing in front of the iconic Cinderella Castle with Mickey Mouse and other costumed characters holding hands in front. Two weeks later, it was featured on the cover of Life magazine. "They brought all the characters up, staged them first, and then they tried to keep all the different workers together based on the color of their costumes," Milam said. "If you were from Fantasyland and in yellow, you would go over there."
The second was the parade. It featured a 1,076-member marching band conducted by Meredith Willson, the composer of the Broadway show, The Music Man. There were 4,000 Disney entertainers marching through the theme park, a mass choir and trumpeters from the United States Army Band. Hundreds of white doves were released into the air, and less environmentally friendly, so were thousands of multi-colored balloons. "It was the biggest thing I had ever seen," Bahruth said. (Read more Disney World stories.)