Yesterland Guest Contributor

Benjamin Rockwell took his family to Disneyland on November 25, 1996, for the final public performance of the Main Street Electrical Parade. For those of us who weren’t there that night, he wrote up this personal account of a milestone in the history of Disneyland.

The Final
Main Street Electrical Parade

 
By Benjamin Rockwell

Last Monday, my wife, son and I all attended the very last Main Street Electrical Parade. Emotions were running high around the Main Street area where we choose to sit down, and they had 1¾ hours of a wait for the second (and final) run. Disney was out in full force to make the magic come alive, with street performers of all types (Trash Can Trio, some actors, and characters moving along the route) and people face-painting little light bulbs—with a little dab of glow-in-the-dark paint too!

The media was there in their typical frenzy, and they sparked up the crowd every time that it seemed like it was finally getting quiet. As the time grew near for the final performance, a number of performers came out (Cruella deVil, Clopin, and Paul Pressler—whoops; he’s a real person) and they made their way to the front of Main Street for Paul Pressler, President of Disneyland, to make a speech about the parade, Disneyland, and the future that awaits Disneyland. Paul Pressler used some famous quotes from Walt Disney, and reminded the whole audience, in true advertising tradition, about the new parade—Light Magic.

And then... it began. People started cheering and yelling, while others started drying and sobbing. But the tears quickly moved away as camera crews lead the way down Main Street ahead of the parade. By the time the Blue Fairy had arrived, everyone was celebrating the last chance that they had to see this wonderful parade. Cheers went up for Goofy, Minnie and Mickey as we had never seen before. As the parade slowly made its way along (it went much slower than normal, presumably for those last memories to really sink in), the characters that normally got a small cheer from parts of the crowd, that night were getting whoops and hollers that I had never before seen.

From the snails and the turtles, all the way to Pete and Elliot, there were cheers for everyone. Smeed (Captain Hook’s sidekick) and Dopey both had chance to stop right in front of our location, and milk even more praise from the crowds. As Elliot passed, and the patriotic floats came up, my 3½-year-old son spontaneously started to salute the girls as they saluted the crowd. Tears welled up in his eyes, but he still had a smile on his face.

The parade paused where we were, giving us ample time to pick up our things (and for me to break one of my video cameras—ouch), and fall in line behind the parade. Placing my son up on my shoulders, we followed the parade from our vantage point across from the Main Street Train Station, all the way to It’s a Small World. As the parade exited each area, and the Vocoded announcer said “The Main Street Electrical Parade,” the cheers went up. Literally thousands of people shared the same idea that we had, and joined in for that trek, a sort of supplementary rite of passage.

As we approached It’s a Small World, there were tears in many peoples’ eyes, and the cheers got louder. The parade passed through the gates to the back lot, and massive heavy-duty fog machines kicked up fog around the gates. The Eagle moved through, fading into the mist, slowly disappearing from our lives for the last time. The last announcement came, and it was faint, not due to the sound systems, but due to the cheers, and the people saying along with it... “The Main Street Electrical Parade.” People waving, people cheering—the sound rose to a deafening volume. Then, it was gone.

Somewhere up near the group of thousands of people, people started singing,

“Nah-nah nah-Nah, Nah-nah nah-Nah, Hey-hey, good bye.
Nah-nah nah-Nah, Nah-nah nah-Nah, Hey-hey, good bye.”

If there was any dry eye left, it was burst from the Mickey Mouse Club March that everyone started in to. Remembering those words from so long ago, the sounds, and even the little outbursts from Donald Duck, it brought back the memories of something else we had all lost.

And then...

“Now it’s time to say good-bye, to all our family...
M-I-C... see you real soon...
K-E-Y... why, because we like you...
M...O..U..S...EEEEEEEEEEEE!”
And the cheers rose again...

Yes, we lost something that night. And all we have are memories. My first memories of Disneyland include seeing Elliot disappear while he was right in front of the Plaza Inn (where we sat eating our food). I remember the fireworks after that, but that tune has stuck in my mind for years. And now, all I have are memories. That tune, the parade, the cheerful sounds that have worked their way into my heart over the years. When I couldn’t find a smile elsewhere, the Main Street Electrical Parade could find one. Such is the passage of time, more things will come, and more things will go, but I am happy in knowing that I said good-bye in the right way.

My hope for the future is that my son has the same wonderful memories of Disneyland as I do. Whether it is Light Magic, Fantasmic, the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks, or something else, I hope that he has the chance to have something grow on him, like the Main Street Electrical Parade did for me.

— Benjamin Rockwell, November 30, 1996 (disneyfan @ br-cc.com)

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© 1996-2008 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated February 17, 2008.

Photograph of Main Street Electrical Parade: 1996 by Werner Weiss.