Want to own a piece of ‘The Happiest Place on Earth?’ Disney collector is auctioning off some of his best pieces
SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. — Most visitors to Disneyland leave with a souvenir or two: a set of mouse ears, perhaps, or a plush version of a beloved Disney character. Not Richard Kraft.
“I’m not satisfied with a souvenir book or a little pennant: I had to actually own pieces of the park,” says Kraft, who admits “I’m a bit obsessive.”
He grew up in Bakersfield, California, a few hours’ drive north of Disneyland, and his schoolteacher parents would save money for annual trips to the theme park. His older brother, David, had Crohn’s disease, so they could go only when he was healthy.
When David died, 25 years ago, Kraft found himself drawn back to Disneyland, to the sights and smells and tastes that brought back memories.
“These were the same sidewalks I walked as a child with my brother,” Kraft recalls.”Then he heard about an auction of Disneyland travel posters. He bid on an Autopia poster, won it — and was hooked.
His quarter-century of collecting is currently on display as “That’s From Disneyland!”, a 20,000-square-foot pop-up exhibit filling an old sporting goods store in Sherman Oaks, California. It includes everything from attraction vehicles and props to park signage and concept drawings — more than 750 items in all.
Guests are greeted by a scale model of Main Street, surrounded by concept artwork, the “travel posters” that lined the entrance tunnels, and even a Disneyland mailbox. Further treasures are organized by “land” — Adventureland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.
The vehicles are a big draw: at the exhibit’s opening, guests lined up to take selfies in an original blue Skyway bucket or a car from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and to snap photos of Dumbo the Flying Elephant, a pirate ship from Peter Pan’s Flight, and a yellow original PeopleMover vehicle — one of only 13 known still to exist. There’s a Matterhorn Bobsled, and a “Doom Buggy” that transported guests through the Haunted Mansion.
You’ll need a lot of room for some of these items: a 40-foot sea serpent from the Submarine Voyage, a 38-foot Davy Crockett Explorer Canoe, and a 16-foot-tall neon script “D” from the top of the Disneyland Hotel.
And you’d better have high ceilings to accommodate the four original stretching portraits from the Haunted Mansion – remember Paul Frees’ basso profundo voice asking you, “Is this haunted room actually stretching? Or is it your imagination, hmm?”
A half-dozen “It’s A Small World” animated dolls and a figure from the massive clock outside the attraction are on display. Mercifully, the ride’s notorious earworm of a theme song is not playing — though visitors do hear “…in the tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki room,” courtesy of José, an audio-animatronic parrot who still sings his song from Adventureland’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
There are even genuine Disneyland “waste paper” cans — you never saw the word “trash” in the Happiest Place on Earth — and, overhead, the first and last Disney items that decades of visitors saw: blue triangular parking lot signs, informing guests they were parked in Minnie’s, Goofy’s, Pinocchio’s or Tinker Bell’s section.
The exhibit and auction organizer, Van Eaton Galleries has become known for Disney memorabilia auctions: one last year included the original 1953 Disneyland map. But co-owner Mike Van Eaton says this auction is his largest by far, calling it “one of the most amazing private collections I’ve ever seen.”
“You don’t see a lot of people with, say, a Space Mountain car in their backyard, or a 40-foot-long sea serpent, for that matter, by their swimming pool. It’s the kind of collection you’ll see once in a lifetime,” says Van Eaton.
Kraft had purchased items for his collection at past Van Eaton auctions, and sought out Mike when he decided to finally follow Elsa’s command from “Frozen” and “Let it go.”
One reason Kraft decided to sell: his four-year-old daughter, Daisy, was born with Coffin-Siris Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder causing delays in physical and mental development. Part of the auction’s proceeds will go to the Coffin-Siris Foundation, as well as the CHIME Institute, which pursues inclusive education — schools where children who develop typically, those with special needs, and gifted children learn side by side.
His other condition before agreeing to sell: a month-long opportunity for the public to see everything he’d spent 25 years collecting before it is auctioned in a few weeks.
“We have a very passionate collector who doesn’t just want to list items: he wants to share them with everyone,” says Van Eaton. “So we had to keep that in mind when we built this exhibition — make it user-friendly.”
Thousands of fans already have flocked to see Kraft’s treasures, and he’s been there to witness the colorful displays spark happy memories as they have for them.