ANAHEIM, Calif. – What’s the oldest attraction at Disneyland? It’s not the tea cups or the jungle cruise, it’s a 5-ton petrified tree stump from Colorado that’s between 50-70 million years old.
The stump sits just outside Frontierland along the banks of the Rivers of America. And while it sits out in the open, you might have missed it even if you’ve been to Disneyland multiple times. But why is it there in the first place?
The official story from Disney is pretty straight forward.
On July 11, 1956, Walt Disney purchased the remains of a petrified tree that once stood 200 feet tall from the Pike Forest Fossil Beds while Disney and his family were vacationing in Colorado.
At the time, the tree was on a privately owned petrified forest area that is now part of Florrisant Fossil Beds National Monument. More than a year later, Lillian Disney presented the tree to Disneyland Park, reportedly saying that the tree was “too large for the mantle” at home. The joke being that Walt bought the tree as an anniversary gift for his wife and when it finally arrived in California it was too large to display.
Of course, there’s more to the story than that.
In reality, Walt Disney wanted to open a natural history exhibit in Frontierland in a building he’d call Mineral Hall. Walt and his wife were vacationing in Colorado Springs while he was developing the concept.
Disney stayed at The Broadmoor and took in a number of local attractions. He visited Seven Falls and also stopped by the May Museum. Disney was so impressed with John May’s collection of rare butterflies and insects that he offered to buy it, but they couldn’t work out a deal. May wanted his name to be attached to the collection when it was displayed at Disneyland but Walt wouldn’t agree to that condition.
Undeterred, Disney paid a visit to Pike Petrified Forest. Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker sold tours of the ancient fossil beds and souvenir fossils. Impressed by what he saw, Disney agreed to pay $1,650 for the 5-ton redwood stump that stood 7-feet tall.
The story about Disney buying the stump as a wedding gift started as a joke, but over the years was retold so many times that it turned into part of Disney lore. Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney-Miller, would confirm in 2014 that the “anniversary gift” reference was an inside joke with family members. Disney would bring it up when people asked as a gag but his intention was always to use it for Mineral Hall.
Walt Disney’s natural history museum never came to pass. However, you can still see the petrified tree stump he purchased while on vacation in Colorado Springs that was part of his plan.
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