This will be the only thing I post about today’s anniversary. This was Disneyland’s flag retreat ceremony on September 11th of last year.
I was in Illinois in 2001, and I could talk about watching it unfold that morning, but hearing that Disneyland was not opening that day was, for me, what really drove things home and made what I was seeing on TV real.
On the last page of this article about two cast members who showed up to work that day 11 years ago, this image caught me.
The guy on the right is Ernie. He’s a man who always took genuine pride in participating in the flag retreat ceremony, where the flag is lowered at dusk each day.
For you non-Disney folks, this ceremony was always very close to Walt’s heart. If we, as cast members, were in Town Square when the National Anthem started playing, we were to stop whatever we were doing and face the flag (so I’d often have to tell guests that I’ll be happy to sell them a churro or balloon in a few minutes, but not until after the flag was lowered). I’ve heard tell that Walt once fired someone for ignoring the flag as it was lowered, but I’m not sure if that’s an urban legend or if it’s true.
But back to Ernie. Ernie was crisp. He lowers the flag, hand over hand, with military precision. He has the timing down, too. The top clip holding the flag to the rope is undone right as the Anthem finishes, after which it is smartly folded into a triangle and marched backstage to be stored until it is raised before Disneyland opens the next morning (the security office is right behind the Opera House).
So while I cried as I was reading the article that this post links to (I didn’t know Ginger well, but I certainly recognized her in the picture of her taken on September 12th), it made me smile to see that Ernie was there for the ceremony. It’s just right that he was.
I hope Ernie’s still there (as you can see in the video, he was still there a year ago…that’s him lowering the flag). I had the pleasure of having a few conversations with him backstage over the years I worked at Disneyland. Don’t let the stern face in the picture and military barking of commands in the video fool you…while he’s very serious about the flag retreat ceremony, he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever talk to, with a smile that will melt the staunchest frown.
But I can tell you that Disneyland was different when I worked there the second time, starting in 2002. Not just the fact that this time, there was a background check that I hadn’t experienced in 1994 when I first hired in, but just knowing that I was going to work at what was rumored to be the third or fourth target on 9/11 (at one point on 9/11, cast members who were there calling all other cast members to tell them to stay home were told to evacuate all buildings as there were reports of planes heading to the park). But I never second-guessed going back. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It’s my home. Even now, when I haven’t been there in seven years, it’s still my home. It always will be.