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Utahns is Disney’s No. 1 fan

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Dave MacPherson enters the gate at Disneyland as the amusement park's first paying guest.

Dave MacPherson enters the gate at Disneyland as the amusement park’s first paying guest.

Associated Press

Dave MacPherson won't be at Disneyland's50th anniversary. He wasn't invited, even though he holds lifetime privileges to Disney parks and a special honor: "First Paying Guest."

MacPherson, 72, will mark today's celebration in Anaheim, Calif., from 750 miles away at his southern Utah home, but he holds no grudge and proclaims himself Disneyland's biggest fan.

"The first of 515 million visitors," the retired journalist said with pride and awe by telephone from Monticello, Utah.

Disneyland officials said they were trying to keep today's celebration simple and didn't extend MacPherson an invitation. The company plans to hold a modest ceremony before setting fans loose inside the park, spokesman John McClintock said. A bigger celebration was held May 5.

In 1955, MacPherson was a 22-year-old student at Long Beach State College taking summer courses to complete an English degree. He was watching televised coverage of the opening of Disneyland for the media and invited guests on July 17, 1955, a day before the park opened to the public.

"I said, 'Boy, I sure would like to go out there,"' said MacPherson, who figured he might draw a prize for standing first in line.

He drove his Simplex motorbike to Anaheim, arriving shortly before 1 a.m. to take his place in line an hour before anyone else showed up. Workers still were putting finishing touches on the park and testing jungle noises for an exhibit on loud speakers.

The crowd steadily grew overnight to about 6,000 people, and MacPherson made sure no one got in front of him. When the admission booth opened, a photographer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram captured him buying the first ticket.

Looking at the photo years later, he realized he had his own camera but didn't use it.

"Why didn't I shoot some pictures?" he wonders. "I even forgot to ask Walt (Disney) for his autograph. I must have been balmy or something" after staying up all night.

Turning around to campus for a class, MacPherson didn't have time for even one ride. Instead, he visited the restroom and left without as much as a souvenir. A few weeks later his mail produced a lifetime pass for four to Disneyland and other Disney parks as they opened.

"I was the most popular guy at the college," he quipped.

He's taken full advantage of it scores of times, especially when he lived in California. Usage

dwindled after he moved to Kansas City, Mo., to work for newspapers and radio. But being closer to California has made it more useful, and he last made the trip a year ago with his wife, Wanda.

He receives a VIP renewal every January, but his footnote in Disneyland history diminished as the years passed. Disney historians had to root through company records to find why MacPherson gets the privileges: "First Paid Admission."

"Oh, my goodness, wow," MacPherson said Friday after finding out he wasn't a stranger to Disney's archives. "I didn't know if I was in there or not."

"I even forgot to ask Walt (Disney) for his autograph. I must have been balmy or something."