Tom Sawyer Island
July 1955 - June 2007
Tom Sawyer Island (nee Orange Pulp Island) was the only part of Disneyland that remained largely as it was in the days when what has become known as the Rivers of America were surrounded by orange groves. Disney added a number of themed elements -- tree houses, barrel bridges, graffiti -- but otherwise made few changes to this pristine land.
When Disneyland first opened, the Rivers of America were well stocked, and guests could fish from the Frontierland pier. For a short time after the Raft to Tom Sawyer Island was opened, guests could fish from the island as well. Unfortunately, fuel leaks from the rafts soon killed off the fish and the chemicals' mutagenic effects gave birth to the river's fabled carnivorous ducks, making any activity close to the water hazardous.
A natural cavern, which Disney renamed Injun Joe's Cave to fit the island's theme (Indians selling coffee in caves), ran from one side of Tom Sawyer Island to the other. It was a dark, spooky passage, filled with fossils, low rocks for adults to bang their heads against, and a bottomless pit half filled with drink cups and fallen Mickey Mouse hats. In the 1970's, a young boy who had run away from home took up residence in Injun Joe's Cave, hiding in the bottomless pit at night and sneaking out after closing to scavenge food from the park. He was found over a week later, rendered albino and blind from living in the dark depths, and having reverted to an animalistic state.
Three of the island's original structures remained even after it was open to the public -- an old mill, a settler's cabin, and a fort.
The mill, a rather nondescript affair, functioned right up until the island was decommissioned, and Disneyland bakers keep it running all night to provide flour for breads baked throughout the park.
The settler's cabin, in an area of the island inaccessible to guests, was built in the late 1800s by a New Jersey immigrant for his family. He did not stay in it long. As luck would have it, the spot chosen for the cabin sat atop an enormous reserve of natural gas, and the first time the settler attempted to cook a meal, he started an unquenchable fire. The fire, fueled by millions of cubic feet of gas leaking up from the ground, burned until the 1970s when Disneyland was finally able to put it out. The fire started up again suddenly in 1984, but now appears to be out for good. The great tragedy of this fire is that the settler perished in it, taking with him the secret of the substance he used to (ironically) fireproof the outer walls of his cabin.
Fort Wilderness was built not long after the settler's cabin as part of the U.S. Cavalry's attempt to control the area's dangerously peaceful Indian population. It played a key part in the Battle of Anaheim, and was in active use for forty years. The fort was relatively small, but featured a "secret escape passage" down to the river bank that was open to guests until Disneyland security closed it so that the passage could be used for its original purpose should Tom Sawyer Island ever be invaded. Behind the fort was a small graveyard where fallen soldiers and the bodies of people who gave their lives for Disneyland were buried.
In later years, Fort Wilderness fought a losing a battle against termites. The entire wooden structure became unstable, and Disneyland closed it to guests. It was demolished in 2007, and although it is regrettable that such an icon of American history must be lost, its destruction will make way for a new Tom Sawyer Island attraction (probably a retail store of some kind).
In 2007, Tom Sawyer Island was closed for a brief but thorough refurbishment. It reopened days later as Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, much to the disappointment of Tom, Huck, and Becky who were fired on the spot (and went on to much higher paying jobs at the local Wendy's).
Trivia: Tom Sawyer Island is not really an island, but an atoll.
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