News Around the World

by Jim Kprkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the June 5, 2018 Issue #976 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

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.

American Adventure©Disney

With Independence Day on the horizon, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at how American history is celebrated around Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney had a great fascination for American history and often had impromptu discussions around the dinner table with his family about the Constitution and the history of America. He was frustrated, though, by his wife's lack of interest in history and public affairs. His daughter Diane told me that one time at the breakfast table Walt read part of the Constitution and Lilly responded, "Isn't it wonderful that Lincoln wrote that all by himself?" Walt just looked at her sadly.

Walt started planning an addition to Disneyland in 1957 to be called Liberty Street. It would include an immersive attraction that would recount the history of America and another attraction featuring all the presidents of the United States. In fact, in a 1957 interview with newspaper columnist Hedda Hopper, Walt stated: "There's an American theme behind the whole park. I believe in emphasizing the story of what made America great and what will keep it great."

While Walt did not live to see his dream of attractions devoted to American history become a reality at Disneyland, those plans eventually evolved into the Hall of Presidents at Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom and The American Adventure at World Showcase in Epcot.

In February of this year, the American Adventure was closed briefly for the conversion to an all-digital projection system for the film, plus a new screen and speakers. In addition, the film finale was changed.

The changes primarily occur after the halfway mark. Among those absent in this latest version are Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Willie Nelson, Peter Jennings, Michelle Kwan and the Comic Relief crew of Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, and Billy Crystal. Among the 2018 additions: Barack and Michelle Obama, Madonna, Beyonce, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, SpaceX Dragon, Mars Rover, Bill and Melinda Gates, Quincy Jones, Michael Phelps, Serena and Venus Williams, LeBron James, and the gold-medal winning U.S. gymnastics "Final Five" team from 2016 among others. There were other subtler changes including changing a headline from "Japs Surrender" to "War Over" and the firemen raising the flag after 9/11 with the flag now in tinted color.

To better synchronize with the new film, the attraction's trademark anthem "Golden Dream" was re-recorded.

"My approach has been to be respectful to the original song but to make it somewhat contemporary and relevant to what is going on in music today. I want people to leave on a high note of 'This is great. I love America,' " said pop/rock music producer Havery Mason, Jr. who supervised the re-recording to achieve more "cinematic sensibilities".

The rest of the attraction and the story it tells remains much the same as when it first opened. The pavilion was officially dedicated on October 11, 1982 and research for the show began years prior to its premiere. Many experts and sources were consulted to try to be as historically accurate as possible.

The American Adventure has been renovated two other times since it opened. It was updated in 1993 with a new generation of Audio-animatronics figures depicting Susan B. Anthony, Will Rogers, Mark Twain, and Ben Franklin, re-recorded soundtracks and a new ending to the Golden Dreams film adding people like Ryan White, Jim Henson and Magic Johnson. In June 2007, the last 45 seconds of the film montage was updated.

Liberty Bell

One of the things that significantly changed over the years at the Magic Kingdom was the entrance to Liberty Square from the Hub. In 1971, the Court of Flags representing the original 13 states led guests to the old Concord Bridge, where the colonial forces faced off with the British in 1775. In 1991, those flags were relocated to surround the Liberty Bell that had been installed in 1989. The entrance to the land was rebuilt with the brick walls, a new plaque and the guardhouse that are familiar sights today. Stanchions now fill the holes where the flagpoles once stood.

During the Bicentennial Celebration of the U.S. Constitution at Walt Disney World in 1987, one of the temporary displays in Liberty Square was an authentic reproduction of the original Liberty Bell loaned from the Mount Vernon Memorial Park and Mortuary of Fair Oaks, California through June 1989.

Disney guests loved seeing the reproduction and taking photos with it, so to provide a permanent display, Disney Show Properties and Interiors purchased a new replica. It was cast by Paccard Fonderie of Annecy, France using the original Liberty Bell mold. The new bell took its place of honor just before July 4, 1989, where it remains to this day.

The bell was made primarily of copper but also contains tin, lead, zinc, arsenic, gold and silver. It stands eight feet high, including stock, and weighs two and a half tons. The word "Pensylvania" was an accepted alternative spelling for "Pennsylvania" and appears on the original bell. Alexander Hamilton also used that spelling in 1787 on the signature page of the United States Constitution.

With a menu influenced by traditional New England fare, the Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square is reminiscent of the buildings of Colonial Williamsburg and contains six separate dining rooms with colonial style furnishings and artifacts. Each dish has been given a name to reference the Revolutionary era. Each room is themed to one of the central figures of the American Revolution: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, Betsy Ross, Paul Revere and George and Martha Washington.

Liberty Tree Tavern

The Liberty Tree just outside has been there since opening day just like the Tavern, thanks to the ingenuity of landscaper Bill Evans, who began work transplanting it more than a year before the Magic Kingdom opened.

More than a century old, the 38-ton southern Live Oak (quercus virginiana) was found on the east side of the Walt Disney World property about eight miles from its current location. The tree began its journey June 11, 1970, but was so heavy that the trunk could only move slowly inches at a time much like the vehicles that haul rockets to a launch site. The tree was finally re-planted on March 6, 1971.

On the bronze plaque located at the base of the tree are the following words: "Under the boughs of the original Liberty Tree in Boston in 1765, Patriots, calling themselves 'The Sons Of Liberty', gathered to protest the imposition of the Stamp Act. In the years that followed, almost every American town had a Liberty Tree — A Living Symbol Of The American Freedom of Speech and Assembly."

It continues to thrive today decorated with 13 different lanterns in its branches that are meant to suggest the original 13 colonies. Its acorns have spawned more than 500 other trees. Its presence inspired the name of the quaint inn that seems like it was converted from a home, with boot scrapers at the various doorways around the building including the unused one outside the Franklin room. They were meant to scrape mud and other filth from the bottom of boots prior to entering a home and each one is unique. Boot scrapers are also outside the doors of the other houses in Liberty Square.

Each of the dining rooms has a faux fireplace and a distinctive décor and color scheme as well as portraits and paintings to identify the legendary figure commemorated in the room.

Sharp eyes will notice distinctive memorabilia. The Benjamin Franklin room celebrates not only Franklin's statesmanship but his work as an inventor. On the ceiling is a kite alluding to the famous story of him using one in his experiments to explore lightning and electricity. The John Paul Jones room features a strong nautical theme as befitting this legendary naval captain while the Paul Revere room has items that reference his trade as a silversmith. The Betsy Ross room includes the thirteen star colonial flag since supposedly she was instrumental in its creation.

The Hall of Presidents at the Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 and was based on that attraction that Walt Disney himself had conceived for a never-built area of Disneyland. Imagineer Sam McKim who worked on it remembers that even though at the time Walt was a conservative Republican, he told the Imagineer that all of the presidents, regardless of whatever political party, should be given a "fair shake" in the presentation.

Hall of Presidents

When the attraction opened in 1971, President Richard Nixon was in office and supposedly visited the park to privately take a look at his Audio-Animatronics doppelganger. Beginning in 1993 with President Clinton, an audio-animatronics representation of the current sitting President of the United States speaks as part of the finale. The actual presidents record their short presentations at the White House under the supervision of WDW Imagineers.

The technological achievement as well as attention to detail is astounding. For instance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wears polio braces under his pant legs as he did in real life, even though they are never seen by the audience. Other figures wear authentic items, like wristwatches or pieces of clothing, from their actual counterparts as well.

"Young children watch this, and you want them to feel a sense of identification with the president," said Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian, who has been a consultant on the attraction. "These presidents are human beings with their own need to withstand adversity, sometimes to conquer fear. Yet the other side of it is that mystery of leadership. The best ones are able to give confidence and hope to the American people themselves."

"The magic of the show is actually being able to see all of the presidents throughout history on this stage together just as Walt originally wanted," said Imagineer Eric Jacobson. "We have to use all our magic to make that happen every day, several times a day."

As we celebrate July 4th this year, I think it is important to remember the words of Walt Disney, who said during a radio broadcast on March 1, 1941: "Tomorrow will be better for as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life. All men will want to be free and share our way of life. What I will say now is just what most of us are probably thinking every day. I thank God and America for the right to live and raise my family under the flag of tolerance, democracy, and freedom."

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Hall of Presidents attraction page

Liberty Square

Liberty Tree Tavern

American Adventure attraction page

Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives.

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Jim Korkis

Disney Historian and regular AllEars® Columnist Jim Korkis has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, Korkis has used his skills and historical knowledge with Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of several books, including his newest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, available in both paperback and Kindle versions.


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.