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Liberty Square and Frontierland -- Then and Now
by Brian Martsolf, ALL EARS® Columnist
This article appeared in the April 10, 2007 Issue #394 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
The Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square and Frontierland share much in common -- each currently hosts not one, but two of the audio-animatronics extravaganzas that are a hallmark of the Disney entertainment experience (Splash Mountain and the Country Bear Jamboree in Frontierland; the Hall of Presidents and Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square). Both lands also have a counter service dining location (Columbia Harbor House in Liberty Square and Pecos Bill's in Frontierland). Both lands also have some great spots to watch the Magic Kingdom parades, and seem to have good spaces left for viewing the parade a bit later than most of Main Street U.S.A.
And yet these two neighboring lands are different in many ways.
In Part One of this article I compared and contrasted Liberty Square and Frontierland with a special emphasis on the ships of the Rivers of America, the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, the Walt Disney World Railroad, and the shops of Frontierland. http://allears.net/ae/issue387.htm
In Part Two of Liberty Square and Frontierland: Then and Now, I'll look at the mountain range attractions, both built and unbuilt in Frontierland, as well as the Hall of Presidents, live entertainment in Frontierland and Liberty Square, the Liberty Bell and the Liberty Tree.
The biggest changes in these two lands are out at the far end of Frontierland. That whole area was quite barren in Frontierland's early years, but Disney did have plans for it. For years there was a model of a scene from one of the proposed attractions in the post-show area of "The Walt Disney Story" in the hospitality house on Main Street U.S.A. However, it wasn't a model of either of the attractions that eventually got built in this area. No, this was a model of the Western River Expedition, which would have been part of a larger area known as Thunder Mesa.
The Western River Expedition was to have been an Audio-Animatronic extravaganza to enjoy from the comfort of a boat, much like "it's a small world" or Pirates of the Caribbean. Since it was already in the plans for Frontierland to get an Audio-Animatronics attraction, there were no plans to add a Pirates attraction to the Magic Kingdom. However, shortly after the park opened, guests began to ask, "Where's the Pirates of the Caribbean?" After all, that attraction had been heavily promoted on the Wonderful World of Disney television show -- millions of people all over the country had seen it and wanted to experience it. Faced with the choice between recreating an already popular attraction and putting together a much larger and more expensive attraction yet unknown, the choice was made to put a version of Pirates of the Caribbean into the Magic Kingdom.
The model of the scene from the Western River Expedition attraction remained for years, so perhaps there was some thought that eventually it would be added. This Thunder Mesa complex would have covered the area that is today occupied by the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain attractions. Another part of the Mesa was to have a runaway train ride, but it was to have been intertwined with a large rockwork backdrop that would have served as the facade of the Western River Expedition. Eventually it was decided to go ahead with a mine train attraction for Frontierland and perhaps the placing of it out at the far end of Frontierland was to leave the possibility that the River Expedition could be built someday.
In 1980, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened. This was a big draw for more guest visits, another nice high capacity ride for the park, and the second "mountain" in the park's thrill rides range. Still there was that big swath of space between the Frontierland Railroad depot and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and it would stay that way for about another decade.
In 1983, Tony Baxter, sitting in rush hour traffic, had an idea for a new attraction using the Audio-Animatronics figures from America Sings, an attraction in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. So, in 1989 Disneyland's version of Splash Mountain opened, followed by the attraction's opening in 1992 in the Magic Kingdom.
Splash Mountain is probably my favorite attraction, and it's a favorite of a lot of other folks, too. This toe-tapping romp through a world inhabited by Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear, Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Frog is a really delightful journey. Despite the ride's high capacity, it often has the longest lines in the park. The combination of this attraction and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad side by side gives this back corner of the park a real power to draw crowds. And that led to another change along the Rivers of America. Since the parade route runs through Frontierland, folks would be lining the route at the same time people were trying to get back and forth to Frontierland, often causing a total gridlock. Sometime between my 1996 trip and 1998 a new path was built -- a series of "docks" linked together along the Rivers of America that allow the Mountains to be reached from Liberty Square by this path along the water's edge.
Many other changes have occurred in Liberty Square and Frontierland over the years. Some, in the shops and restaurants, were more like consolidations. The Mile Long Bar was combined with Pecos Bill's Cafe. In Liberty Square, Mlle. Lafayette's Parfumerie, the Silversmith, and Old World Antiques were all replaced by the Liberty Square Christmas Shop. The Frontierland Shooting Gallery went from shooting lead pellets to a system that uses infra-red beams and sensors, but it still uses the same genuine Hawkins .54 caliber buffalo rifles.
The Hall of Presidents has also had a few changes over the years. The presidents elected since WDW opened were added within a year or so of their elections, but the show itself remained mostly the same, centered for many years on a slideshow/film and a speech by Abraham Lincoln. In 1993, when the Bill Clinton figure was added, the pre-show slide presentation and Lincoln's speech were shortened and Maya Angelou was added as a new narrator. The Clinton figure made a few remarks, actually recorded by the president in the White House, and when George W. Bush became president his remarks replaced Clinton's, and Maya Angelou's narration was replaced by one done by actor, J.D. Hall.
In Liberty Square's early years there were several forms of live entertainment. There was a fife and drum corps called the "Ancients" of Liberty Square. The hardcover souvenir book, Walt Disney World: The First Decade, says that they made their farewell appearance in 1980. Still, even after that, there were smaller drum and fife corps groups there as I have seen on my trips.
There also used to be a town crier in Liberty Square. I don't know if this character still appears on a regular basis, but some have said that the storyteller who comes out on the nights of Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party is a town crier. Benjamin Franklin also used to be seen on a regular basis. In addition, in Liberty Square there used to be a daily ceremony called "The Sons and Daughters of Liberty." In this ceremony, the Liberty Square fife-and-drum corps marched out, the children already with the group as they came on stage, (apparently chosen and taken aside to go over their parts beforehand). A Cast Member dressed in colonial era clothing read a proclamation that declared these two guests newly named members of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty. This ceremony was held in front of the Liberty Bell. If you want to see this at the Magic Kingdom you'll have to dig out a copy of the video, "The Magic of Walt Disney World." This ceremony doesn't occur in Liberty Square any longer. Don't fret though, loyal patriots -- you see, this ceremony did not totally go away. It continues today, just a monorail ride away, with the other colonial fife and drum corps that appears on Disney property. That's right, now this ceremony is held in front of the American Pavilion at Epcot.
Frontierland's live entertainment has changed over the years, too, and shares an interesting parallel with the changes in Liberty Square's entertainment. Early on in Frontierland there was a mariachi band that played. Nowadays, that type of entertainment is more likely to be found in Epcot as well, in the Mexico pavilion. However, that hasn't left Frontierland completely without live musicians. There's a fabulously funny trio known as the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob (Bob plays the tuba).
Perhaps the thing that's most remarkable about Liberty Square is that it's probably the "land" that has changed the least over the years. The three biggest attractions in this land, Liberty Square Riverboat, Haunted Mansion, and the Hall of Presidents, have been there in one form or another since opening day. The table service restaurant, Liberty Tree Tavern, and counter service restaurant, Columbia Harbor House, are very little changed, the biggest change being the addition of character dining to the Liberty Tree Tavern. The Liberty Tree has been there since opening day, transplanted from a site several miles away, and although it did get somewhat damaged due to an infection after the move, that was fixed and a smaller tree grafted onto it. It continues to thrive today. The nearby Liberty Bell looks as if it might have been there all the while as well, since it fits in so well with the area. Actually, it is one of a group of bells cast in the 1980s to go to each state, and Walt Disney World's was added in 1989. Frontierland, too, has some areas that have remained more or less intact since early in the park's history -- those silly singing country bears still perform their original show. Tom Sawyer Island didn't open in 1971, but the site's attractions are much the same as they have been since it opened on May 20, 1973. Only the landscaping has grown more lush and beautiful with the passage of time.
Step Back in Time (Liberty Square): http://www.allears.net/ae/issue154.htm
Thunder Mesa http://www.omniluxe.net/wyw/wre
Hall of Presidents http://www.allears.net/tp/mk/mk_hop.htm
Sons and Daughters of Liberty http://www.bigbrian-nc.com/wdw-pc17.htm
The Liberty Tree http://www.disneyworldtrivia.com/articleViewer.php?aid=61
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Martsolf is a lifelong Disney theme park fan whose first visit to Walt Disney World was in 1996. He lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife, Carlene, and works at a Tyco Plastics manufacturing facility. He also has his own Disney website, http://www.bigbrian-nc.com, which features trip reports (with lots of photos), a section on the history of Walt Disney World illustrated with its postcards, and articles on the Disney Internet community and Disney theme park souvenirs.
Other articles by Brian Martsolf: http://allears.net/btp/brianm.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.