Disneyland operates every day of the year, from 8:00 a.m. until midnight. The almost-always open gates are a point of pride for the theme park. It took a presidential assassination to force the park to close early for the first time in history in 1963. But the second instance was a bit more head-scratching. On August 6, 1970, Disneyland abruptly shut down about five hours early. Around 30,000 visitors were kicked out of the park, and it wasn’t due to a national crisis. The motivating factor was a group of about 300 young “Yippies,” who entered the park with grand plans of capturing Tom Sawyer Island, liberating Minnie Mouse, and cooking Porky Pig (who is not even a Disney character).
Yippies were not quite hippies, but definitely not yuppies, either. The nickname referred to members of the Youth International Party, a political organization started by Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman in 1967. Rubin was a graduate student turned activist who had unsuccessfully run for mayor of Berkeley on a radical left platform. Hoffman was a psychologist turned activist who was involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Their Yippies were anti-war, anti-capitalism, and anti-establishment. They were known for their theatrical stunts, which generated tons of media coverage. There was the incident at the New York Stock Exchange, when Hoffman and roughly a dozen followers marched into the visitors’ gallery and began throwing dollar bills onto the trading floor. There was also the time they nominated Pigasus, a 145-pound pig, for president at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In many ways, a splashy demonstration at the number one destination for wholesome family fun made perfect sense for the Yippies. Except the Disneyland invasion didn’t exactly go according to plan.
The date the Yippies chose for their demonstration was significant: August 6, 1970 marked the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The activists planned to use their time protesting the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Why specifically did they chose Disneyland for this? It was the perfect location for several reasons. For one, the Yippies took issue with a major park sponsor. Bank of America was doubly offensive to the Yippies—it wasn’t just a big, obvious symbol of capitalism but also, in their minds, a virtual sponsor of the Vietnam War. According to David Koenig’s Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland, the protest organizers singled out Bank of America in a press release for “financ[ing] war machines.” This was a somewhat popular belief among radicals. In March of 1970, the underground newspaper The Berkeley Tribe ran an “Open Letter From the Revolutionary Movement to the Bank of America.” It accused the corporation of “raping the underdeveloped world” through affiliations with the defense contractors Litton Industries and McDonnell Douglas. The letter was itself a response to the criticism young radicals received after a group of students burned down a Bank of America branch in Isla Vista.
But the Yippies also had a contentious history with the park. At the time, Disneyland had recently relaxed its policy toward long-haired guests. The park maintained a strict dress code for employees that barred men from sporting mustaches, beards, or long hair. Unofficially, it applied similar standards to visitors. That’s why shaggy-haired Roger McGuinn, the founder of rock band The Byrds, was turned away in 1964. But the staff was now welcoming long-haired types into Disneyland. The opportunity was, presumably, too good to pass up.
(On a more basic level, the Yippies delighted in debasing Disney iconography. Just consider the infamous cartoon “Disneyland Memorial Orgy,” which depicts Tinkerbell stripping for Pinocchio and Peter Pan. It was commissioned by prominent Yippie and The Realist editor Paul Krassner.)
In the lead-up to the so-called “International Pow Wow Day,” organizers mounted an impressive publicity campaign. The Yippies distributed stacks of flyers and got several different iterations printed in underground newspapers. One such flyer, which appeared in the The Berkeley Tribe in late July, featured Mickey Mouse waving a top hat and a machine gun. But the most oft-quoted flyer listed a schedule of outlandish “events” for participating Yippies. As Koenig recounts, it included a “Black Panther Hot Breakfast” at 9 a.m. at Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House, a women’s liberation “rally to liberate Minnie Mouse in front of Fantasyland” at noon, a “mid-day feast” barbecue of Porky Pig, and a late afternoon infiltration of Tom Sawyer Island. “Declaring a free state, brothers and sisters will then have a smoke-in and festival,” the flyer read. “Get it over on Disneyland, August 6. YIPPIE!”
The police soon caught wind of this coming attraction. They took the yippie threat, in hindsight, far too seriously. Since the Yippies were talking a big game—the Berkeley Tribe flyer speculated that “up to 100,000 dope-crazed, bizarro Yippies and Yippie-symps” would descend on Disneyland that day—the local police made contingency plans with the park officials for several thousand disruptive guests. The Disneyland staff would keep an eye out for troublemakers; a few managers would even walk the park undercover. A large police presence would stand just outside the park, not entering unless called upon.
When August 6 arrived, it wasn’t the debilitating scene everyone expected. A few hundred Yippies filtered in throughout the day, but they were barely organized and, for a while, totally harmless. No Black Panthers showed up for shortstacks. Minnie Mouse remained firmly in the patriarchy’s clutches. But at some point, the scattered group began experimenting. They cursed and chanted, “Ho-ho Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh is gonna win!” They also smoked a lot of pot. Then, they finally attempted to check an item off their “schedule”: the infiltration of Tom Sawyer Island.
After disembarking from the rafts to the island, the Yippies claimed the space for their own. Their Viet Cong flag came out, as did the blunts and calls to “free Charlie Manson,” by Koenig’s account. Park security frantically halted rafts to the island, trying to shield tourists from the Yippie menace. But they still didn’t call in the police. Not until the Yippies decided to march down Main Street, straight towards Bank of America.
The Yippies returned to Main Street with a new boldness. They tore bunting off the fake City Hall, raised their “marijuana flag,” and started getting confrontational. Eventually, fights broke out between the Yippies and less-radical tourists, which is when the riot police stormed in. OC Weekly puts their numbers at over 100, and those were just the cops who entered the park. There were another 300 waiting just outside to greet the fleeing Yippies. Once the police had broken up the fights, Disneyland officials closed the park early, sending all visitors home. After they were ushered past the gates, a rogue group of Yippies attempted to keep the protest going by taking over the Disneyland Hotel, to no avail. None of them were seriously injured, but 23 were arrested on charges ranging from disturbing the peace to drug possession.
The International Pow Wow Day received ample media attention. But like so many other Yippie events, it did not have a measurable impact on their target. Disneyland’s offending sponsors stayed put and families continued pouring in. (Charles Manson also remained in jail.) But the Yippies’ bizarre stand that day did provide an amusing chapter in Disney lore—even if they never did cook Porky Pig.