When Walt Disney first conceived of the idea that would eventually become Disneyland, much of his desire to build his own amusement park location was born from the fact that he was largely unhappy with the offerings of the day. Simple “kiddie rides” were only fun for children, and mom and dad had little to do. Carnivals and circuses tended to be dirty and frequently brought in a bad element. Adults tended to drink a lot because, in Walt’s opinion, there wasn’t much else for them to do. Disneyland was designed to be the antidote to all of that, which is why it may surprise you to learn that at one time, Disneyland actually had its own complete circus within.
The Mickey Mouse Club Circus began on November 24, 1955, just a few months after the park opened. The big top was in the corner of Fantasyland, near Autopia. It was a full-fledged circus with animal and human acts, including members of the Mickey Mouse Club, which was a popular show at the time. That made the circus a place where guests could see some of their favorite TV stars. It was promoted as being the largest striped tent ever constructed, with three rings of entertainment inside. Disneyland plus a circus might seem like an obvious combination, but this one was… not a massive success.
Walt Disney did have his issues with the circus, but he was still a fan. While he thought most modern circuses had issues, Walt was always a believer that he could do things better, so creating the Mickey Mouse Club Circus was about doing things his way; the better way. Also, it should be said that as mentioned, this was early in the days of Disneyland, and so a lot of what we’re familiar with today wasn’t built yet. So the space where the circus tent was put up was largely unused at this point in Disneyland’s life. Walt didn’t want to waste the space, and the circus was one way to fill all of it.
To be sure, the Mickey Mouse Club Circus was more than just a circus. It began as a parade on Main Street U.S.A. that started near the entrance to Disneyland and ended at the circus tent. Elephants walked down the street. Several Mousekateers would be there to wave at guests. Acrobats and clowns would be on hand. The idea was, of course, that the crowd would follow the parade into the tent to watch the show. Reportedly up to 2,000 people could be housed inside the massive tent, though it was rarely, if ever, full…
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