Walt And The Salt-Water Taffy

In 1959, Judy was working her way through college as a ride operator at Disneyland. She worked on one of the original attractions, the Storybook Land Canal Boats, which is still in operation.

That’s the one where guests get on a tiny canal boat which promptly gets swallowed by Monstro, the whale from Pinocchio, at about two miles per hour, and Judy was one of those pretty young ladies who’d sit in the rear of the boat and narrate the ride:

“To our left, we have the lovely village from Cinderella, with a gold-spired castle, and to our right, we’re now passing an English village with a church and, oh my.. it’s the White Rabbit’s hole from Alice in Wonderland!”

Yes, it was quite the thrilling adventure.

Mark drove one of the Casey Jr. Circus Trains that whipped around the outskirts of Storybook Land, which is also still in operation. Mark, who was only a year or two older than Judy, was sweet on her and, knowing that she had a fondness for salt water taffy, he’d purchase a bag at the sweet shoppe before starting his shift whenever they’d be working on the same day.

The train ride intertwines with the canal ride and at one point, the train goes over a bridge while a canal boat passes underneath. They don’t always coincide; sometimes the train whizzes over and a minute or two later a boat gently chugs along under the bridge but, once in a while, the train happens to go over when there’s a boat directly under it and, once in an even greater while, it would happen to be the train Mark was driving while the boat Judy was sitting in would pass below.

Having a pocket full of her favorite candy, Mark would anxiously watch the water below as his train approached the bridge, so if he saw Judy in the boat and the boat happened to be in the right spot, he’d toss a few pieces of yummy salt water taffy right down onto her lap.

Being a young girl who was kind of sweet on Mark in turn, Judy would smile up at him and wave, and then blow him a kiss while everyone in the boat who witnessed the show of confectionery affection would smile and think of Judy as quite the lucky girl.

In those days, Walt Disney was everywhere in the park, overseeing this and supervising that. They say he was a very hands-on leader who immersed himself into the day-to-day minutiae of running the shiny new park when he wasn’t busy taking care of more grandiose plans.

Judy had passed by him a few times but he hadn’t noticed her. Why would he? He was the famous Walt Disney, he didn’t have time to notice the passing smile of a young ride hostess, he was always too wrapped up in his work.

One day Judy’s supervisor, Edward, rounded up all the girls working on the Storybook Land Canal Boats. “Mr. Disney is taking a group of Japanese investors around the park today and they’re going on every single ride, so they’ll no doubt be showing up here soon.” He seemed fidgety as he shifted from one foot to the next.

“I need you ladies to be on your best behavior and I want you to check your uniforms… make sure you are as spiffy as can be. I don’t know when they’re coming and they could end-up riding with any one of you, so be ready!”

Sure enough, about an hour later Walt Disney showed up at Storybook Land with his VIP guests and, of course, Judy’s boat was the one they boarded. To say she was nervous would be an understatement, but she took a deep breath and launched into her narration for Walt and a handful of very distinguished looking Asian men, who all smiled sweetly at her and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the tour.

She relaxed a bit after they’d gotten through the mouth of Monstro, and the men, including Walt himself, had laughed at her usual joke about how thankful she was that the whale practiced proper dental hygiene. As she pointed out the castle, the village, and the dwarf’s cottage from Snow White, she hit her stride and began to actually enjoy the moment, knowing that this would be a memory she’d be telling her grandchildren about someday.

Then, the bridge. It loomed ahead and they were about to pass under it. Judy heard a train approaching on the track overhead. “Oh no, oh god NO,” she thought to herself.

Her heart raced as she tried not to let the apprehension show on her face while it swept through her body. She glanced up and then caught herself and looked right, toward Geppetto’s workshop, which she started talking about as the train ominously approached.

She’d been through the narration so many times that verbalizing it while simultaneously sorting out panicked thoughts that rushed through her mind turned out to be a piece of cake. She told them of Geppetto while inside her head she thought, “The train doesn’t cross directly over every time and, even if it does, maybe it’s Jack or Freddie instead of Mark…”

But it was Mark, and he had a bagful of salt water taffy and a grin on his face as he saw that the hostess in the approaching boat was none other than his crush, Judy. The timing was as perfect as it was ever going to get and, since he’d not been able to toss her any nuggets of sweet affection wrapped in wax paper yet that day, he was going to make up for lost time.

He had the bag at the ready and his eye on Judy. His eye was ALWAYS on Judy when he was around her. This time, so much so, that he didn’t notice one of Judy’s guests happened to be a very familiar man with a salt and pepper mustache.

Just as the front of the train reached the mid-span of the bridge, the boat was only a foot or two from passing under it which resulted in a rain of salt water taffy down into the boat.  An entire bag’s worth, most of it landing in Judy’s lap but several stray pieces bouncing off the heads of Walt’s VIP guests and a couple off of Walt himself.

Judy didn’t dare look at Mr. Disney, she just continued her narration with a lap full of candy. Mark probably wondered why he didn’t get his usual wave and blown kiss in return, but she’d tell him about it later. That is if they both still worked there.

Walt Disney didn’t have any obvious reaction and his VIPs laughed a little, so perhaps they thought it was a part of the regular routine. Judy thought for a few fleeting moments that maybe they’d actually gotten away with it as the boat pulled up to the ramp and the men happily filed off. Mr. Disney cordially thanked her and away they went, so she returned to her duties and gave a few more tours before her lunch break rolled around.

She returned from lunch with the whole scenario having been pushed to the back of her mind. Surely Mr. Disney would have said something at the time if he’d seen it, so there was nothing to worry about. As she let a candy dissolve in her mouth she thought of Mark. She hadn’t seen him at lunch so he must have taken an earlier slot.

“My god, Judy, what did you DO?” Edward looked furious. Judy’s heart sank.

“What do you mean, Edward?”

“Mr. Disney himself wants to see you in his office NOW. I told his assistant you were at lunch and she said to send you as soon as you got back. I haven’t a clue what it’s about so we’ll talk later, just go.”

Judy raced toward New Orleans Square, where Walt Disney kept his office. Up until that moment, she had no idea she could walk so fast while shaking so badly at the same time. She breathlessly arrived and was told to go right in. As she did, she felt a strange affinity with Daniel in the lion’s den.

“Have a seat, young lady.” Walt Disney didn’t look up, he was reading something on his desk which gave Judy an opportunity to nervously look around. She figured that it was certainly (and hopefully) the last time she’d ever be in that particular office, so she took it all in.

Of course, as one would expect, it was impeccably tasteful yet whimsically decorated in assorted Disney paraphernalia that must have been worth a fortune.

He finished reading whatever was in front of him, and then looked up at Judy and smiled. “Miss… what is your name again?”

“Judy Trenton, sir.”

“Yes, Miss Trenton. Tell me, Miss Trenton, do you think it’s very professional for a train operator to toss objects down from a bridge to a hostess while guests are present at an attraction?”

“No, sir, I don’t.”

“Do you, Miss Trenton, see yourself as a professional when it comes to your position as a hostess at an attraction in this park?”

I do sir, and I…”

He shushed her with a wave of his finger. “Just one more question, Miss Trenton, and then I’ll be happy to hear what you have to say.”

“Do you think that the act of tossing objects down from a bridge to a hostess on a boat might also be a safety concern? After all, we have guests that we need to look out for, right? Shouldn’t the safety of those guests be our top priority right along with their enjoyment of our attractions?”

“That’s what I was going to say, sir, is that – yes – I do think safety should come first, and that it wasn’t very professional and I’m terribly sorry it happened… sir. It won’t happen again.”

Walt smiled while pondering her tone for a few seconds. “Well, I should certainly hope not.” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of pieces of salt water taffy, offering one to Judy as he unwrapped one for himself. He popped it into his mouth and smiled, speaking through the taffy.

“It ish wonderful taffy though, ishn’t it?”

Judy accepted the piece from him and blushed. “Yes, sir, it certainly is.”

Thank you for coming in, Judy, you’re dishmished.”

Judy later found that Mark had been called to a similar interview and had also agreed that tossing taffy down from the bridge was not only unprofessional but a safety hazard. They both returned to their jobs but salt water taffy was no longer a part of their daily routine.

Judy was surprised that she was allowed to continue working there, as was Mark, and she was surprised at another change that came about after that day. It seemed that whenever she happened to pass Walt Disney, as he busily went about his day in the park, he’d take a moment and stop to greet her with a smile and a friendly, “Hello Judy, how are you today?”

“Fine, sir, thank you, and yourself?”

“Wonderful, thanks! And you should know by now that you’re to call me ‘Walt.’ The taffy incident was never brought up again, at least by Walt Disney. Judy, on the other hand, has told her children and grandchildren about it countless times, and she always has a big bowl of salt-water taffy set-out when they come to visit.

This tale was inspired by Judy herself, who left a comment relating this event years ago on a Disney fan blog about Storybook Land.

Top photo of Disneyland Train Station by Sam Howzit

Top photo of Walt Disney is public domain

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