PHOTOS: Disneyland’s Parade History is Showcased in Amazing Murals – Part 1

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[Editor’s note: This is part one of a guest post by artist and former Disneyland Cast Member Sam Carter. The story and images below showcase a mural Sam painted on the walls of N-19, the backstage Parades building, between 2001-2003. WDWNT.com is pleased to bring you this unique look at the history of Disneyland’s parades and shows, from the park’s opening through the 50th anniversary, through a mural that most Disney fans have never been able to see. Part two of the article will look at the final piece of the mural, dedicated to Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary. Our deep thanks to Sam for this contribution. You can find Sam’s artwork online at SamCarterArt.com and following him on Twitter at @Cartarsauce ]

I’ve always been two things, an artist and into Disney. I was the guy who in high school, would be the only person in the group who wanted to watch the parade at Disneyland. There was something about those huge rolling sculptures down the street that I thought was pretty cool. The stars aligned and in March of 1995 I was hired into the Parade department. Show Services was the team that made it happen behind the scene – drive floats, tow them on route when they break down, date the dancers, etc. It was more of a fraternity than a job. That first summer I was assigned to be a float driver in the Main Street Electrical Parade. I got to drive almost everything, something different each night. Needless to say with my passion for what my job was at the time, I was invested deeply.

Fast forward about 5 years later, Parades got a brand new building backstage, “N-19”. It was right behind the flat faded green hills of ToonTown. It looked more like a doctors office than a place that made so much magic. I happened to mention to my manager that there should be some sort of art in the main hallway that depicted the history of the parades in the park. I thought it was important that the people working there knew the legacy of this department. Never thinking anything would really come of it, I got the green light. But sadly they couldn’t pay me for it, it would have to be done on my own time. I didn’t mind, I just wanted it to happen. Luckily with Parades, there was always a couple of hours in between shows with nothing to do.

Sam Carter’s Disneyland Parade & Show Timeline begins. The blue streak of pixie dust ties the mural together through each scene from a Disneyland Resort parade throughout history.
The Main Street Electrical Parade, 1972-1996
American on Parade, 1975-1976
Flights of Fantasy Parade, June-September 1983
Donald Duck’s 50th Birthday Parade, 1984
Circus on Parade, Early Spring 1986, 1987 & 1988
To start off, I needed to do some research. There was an archive in TDA (the big yellow admin building) that I was allowed to look through for references. Found some good stuff there, but still needed more. They allowed me to drive up to Burbank and visit the Disney Studios to take a look at their archive. The legendary Dave Smith was still working there at the time and was nice enough to help me find everything I was looking for. I recognized him from his caricature drawing in the Disney News Magazine, spot on. Of course they had parades before the Electrical Parade starting in 1972, but to be honest it was pretty random, and more of character cavalcades that happened to be coming down the street. And since at that time we just brought Electrical Parade back (after “glowing away forever”) to the brand new California Adventure, I really liked having this wall be bookended by the Electrical Parade. It was the quintessential Disneyland Parade, and represented so much. With all that in place, it was time to paint.
Totally Minnie, 1986 & 1987
Fantasy on Parade, Final Season 1985
Snow White 50th Anniversary Parade, Summer 1987
The paintbrush first hit the wall in September 2001. Then, 9-11. Not the best time to spend extra time at the Happiest Place on Earth, which was constantly mentioned on the news as a target for something awful. At this time I just started the second Parade in this timeline, “America On Parade” 1975. I’m not sure if other artists are like me, but when I look at any old art of mine, I remember who I was talking to at the time, what we were talking about, or what TV show was on in the background, etc. So when I look at this patriotic parade celebrating the bicentennial, every emotion from 9-11 hits me like it was yesterday.
Blast to the Past Parade and The Main Street Hop, Late Spring 1987 & 1988
State Fair, Fall 1987 & 1988
Aladdin’s Royal Caravan, 1993-1994
The shock of people seeing a kid painting on the walls was something everyone had to get used to. Most thought I didn’t get permission. Seriously? I had endless chats with Cast Members on their way to somewhere who were fascinated with what was going on. It took two years from start to finish. It was the biggest project I ever agreed to do, and once I started there was no going back. After I finished the first main chunk, I went to a trophy shop and had names and years engraved for each on the placards you see underneath. I gladly welcomed some assistance from my friend Erik, he was equally as passionate and a decent artist. I handed off the “Snow White Parade” that the park had for the film’s 50th Anniversary, I think it was his first Parade he performed in. He also wanted to paint some of the characters he performed as, sprinkled throughout the timeline. I was all for the help, that meant one less thing for me to do on this beast of a wall. I’d say the entire wall was about 100 feet, and lived mostly between the performer lockers and the wig/make-up room, so there were often mass crowds running back and forth behind me while I painted. I’m confident that I could paint in any war zone because of that kind of conditioning.
Lion King Celebration, 1994-1997
A Christmas Fantasy, Debut Winter 1995
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Festival of Fools, 1996-1998
The archives provided a good resource of reference photos of the Parades, but not as much as the people walking by. A bunch of folks would say they have all these pictures at home and would give me there personal photos to go off of. As the Parades got to the more modern era, I would actually paint the people that I knew in the wall from their photos provided. After everyone started recognizing people I was hit every 5 minutes with a “Can you put me in there?”. I did what I could.
Light Magic, 1997
Hercules Victory Parade, 1997-1998
The Mulan Parade, 1998-1990
45 Years of Magic Parade, 2000
Disney’s Eureka! A California Adventure Parade, 2001
Disney’s Electrical Parade, 2001. This is the last parade scene before the Disneyland Resort 50th Anniversary section of the mural. Tinkerbell appears at the end of the ribbon of blue pixie dust.
Although I wasn’t technically paid for this painting, the real reward was that I was noticed by the Disneyland Art Department which jump-started my career. After 10 years in Parades I landed a sweet job in Creative Entertainment where I worked for 7 epic years until I left Disneyland in 2012 to be the Creative Director at USC. I also have freelanced on themed entertainment projects, such as Springfield USA at Universal Studios and the Glow in the Park Parade at various Six Flags. And I’m currently working on some fun projects with Magic Castle, Queen Mary, and the Winchester Mystery House. I even got to return to Disney to be a featured artist at WonderGround at Downtown Disney. You can find all my available art at SamCarterArt.com and follow me on Instagram and Twitter @Cartarsauce.
Sam Carter works on the Donald Duck’s 50th Birthday Parade section of the mural.
The crew of the Main Street Electrical Parade in 1995, the year Carter became a Disneyland Cast Member.
[Editor’s note: The Disneyland Resort 50th Anniversary section of the mural was the last section Sam Carter completed. It featured both parades that debuted for the anniversary:Parade of Dreams in Disneyland and Block Party Bash in Disney California Adventure. We’ll showcase that mural along with several photos of its creation in part two of this story.]

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About the author

Jill Diffendal

Jill has been visiting Walt Disney World since she was two years old. She credits her ongoing Disney love to her family, especially her grandmother, brother, and nieces. You can reach her at [email protected]

6 Comments

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  • This is am amazing. So many great memories and parade. I forgot a about a few of them. I wish there was a video archive of them too. Time to pull out my old VHS tapes !

  • There is a special MAGIC among Cast Members at the Magic Kingdom… whether it be Califorina, or florida, and i suspect tokyo, China, or Euro Disney would hold this as well… To be a part of the MAGIC, is a special feeling. Cast Members often do things to enhance this magic, and never seek to be compensated for these extra efforts… The spirit shines out and is so other taken for granted. The artistic talents displayed in these paintings served as inspiration for many Cast Members, and they should live on forever… Several times in the writings within this story, it was pointed out that he was NOT paid for creating this Magic…I am certain that it was simply an HONOR to create these paintings, as in telling the story it is certainly the right thing to explain how these efforts were done unpaid to stand as example of the love which was presented… Reading between the lines I gather that looking back the artist may feel that Disney should have paid him for this work. He mentions that through the recognition he was able to achieve other positions, and that is wonderful! Yet, when something is done for a place that does not make much money, it is never considered to be paid for giving that extra something… the flip side is when something so extra is done for free for a place which is making huge profits, and you do not get paid anything for the extra services you supply, then I suspect there is a bit of a feeling that what you did was not appreciated enough. Most people like to do what ever they can to make something better, and i assume that most people would also like to NOT feel used for their efforts. It is a hard thing to balance sometimes… We do things because we want to, and to add our spark of inspiration to build upon the Magic… Yet I think it is only fair to be rewarded in some way beyond the joy that it brings to others, since others are capitalizing on everyone’s efforts in selling that Magic… hat’s off to this artist as he has the spirit and the dreams…. I just wish that he was rewarded more for his efforts.

  • Randy, Why do you continue to follow this site, or Disney in general? Those of us that are here are seeking the positive joy that Disney brings us. We are here for both the good and bad, but are always looking to the future for more good than bad. While I agree with you on some of your points recently, I am pressed to find any reason that you remain an avid follower of Disney. No matter the subject, you seem to find nothing but misery in it. Why are you here? Isn’t there a conservative-based Facebook page you could be trolling? Please leave us to our love of all things Disney, and to enjoying the occasional alcoholic beverage. We’re not here to judge, just to escape negativity…the same kind you bring here.

    • Because I care enough to speak the truth. When you see something you love being destroyed, it would be wrong to pretend that everything is just fine and wonderful. I post my identification each time proudly, why don’t you identify yourself…? or are you a Corporate I.T. Staff member trolling the web so that truth can be discredited.

  • Sam is a Wonderful Artist, but first of all he is a Wonderful Man, Friend, Performer, Lead and Big Brother :) I had the pleasure of sitting and watching Sam paint these Amazing Painting’s and I took the picture of him painting <3 The bonds that we all made together working there will never be broken or forgotten. Thank You Sam for getting to share this with the World <3

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