I wrote last week about some of the wonderful references and artifacts found in the interior of Walt Disney World's Boardwalk Inn and Villas. Today, I want to highlight two more items and then discuss some of the exterior treasures.
In the decades before television and other electronic entertainment, people on vacation would read books, listen to the radio, and play board games. The Belle Vue Lounge is themed to just this sort of secluded parlor location.
Overstuffed chairs, wicker furniture and a collection of small tables (and traveling trunks serving as makeshift tables) are comfortably arranged in the style of a typical "game room," including a small bar.
The walls are lined with shelves filled with books and board games. Scattered around are antique toys, a stereoscope, a magic lantern, a brownie camera and other items waiting to be discovered.
Atlantic City was the inspiration for the popular board game, Monopoly, with many of the actual locations used in the game including the Boardwalk (the most expensive piece of property) and Marvin Gardens (actually a misspelling of Marven Gardens that lasted for decades) and the Reading Railroad, among many other references to real places. So, of course, the Monopoly board game is available in the lounge.
One of the game boards displayed is "Eddie Cantor's Tell It To the Judge" (Parker Brothers 1936). Cantor was a popular entertainer of the time. The player had to move along the squares on the board to get from his home to the club house without getting pulled over by a traffic cop or fighting tickets in court.
"Go to the Head of the Class" (Milton Bradley 1936) was designed to look like a school classroom with the object of the game being to answer questions from a variety of subjects to move up to the head of the class near the teacher's blackboard.
"SPE DEM" was the very first auto race game and originally appeared in 1922. There were several variations including a "junior" edition. It features six car manufacturers for the speedsters in the race: Stutz, Dodge, Maxwell, Paige, Ford, and Buick.
Old radio broadcasts are played sporadically during the evening.
Leaving the lobby and walking toward the "Inn" section of the resort where the Belle Vue Lounge is located, there is a long narrow hallway with windows on both sides. Located in this hallway is a green Clamshell Mutoscope. (In the past, there was also a red mutoscope and one that was white with gold trim.)
The word derives from the Latin mutare, "to change." There were many styles of mutoscopes. The cast iron clamshell was one of the most durable and is so named because of the clamshell design on both sides
Patented in 1894, this was a popular form of entertainment in penny arcades and seaside resort piers. There were many other similar devices like the kinetoscope and the kinora.
Mutoscopes were basically a huge mechanical "flip book" with about 850 sturdy photographic prints on individual cards attached to a central core and flipped by a hand cranked ratchet. They were viewed through a single lens enclosed by a hood to focus attention and block out ambient light so the picture could be seen more easily.
Each machine only had a single reel, often an excerpt from an existing silent film, but sometimes original and lasting about a minute.
Mutoscopes were originally manufactured from 1895 to 1909 by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, then revived and manufactured from 1926 until 1949 by the International Mutoscope Reel Company, which was a completely different company.
This particular mutoscope (and a red one) were rescued by me in 1996 when I was a full-time animation instructor at the Disney Institute. One of the classes I taught was Animated Beginnings where, under my instruction, guests learned the history of animation and I helped them make their own thaumatropes and phenikistoscopes, as well as their own zoetrope strips.
I was able to convince my manager, Larry Lauria, that it would be outstanding to have two working mutoscopes in the room, as well. On March 19, 1995, about one year before the Disney Institute opened, the Penny Arcade had closed on Main Street, U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom.
Since I had worked as an entertainer at the Magic Kingdom before being hired at the Disney Institute, I knew that the machines were being stored temporarily in a room in the Utilidoors.
One man had been in charge of all the antique machines. So we contacted him, and made arrangements to have Disney Institute purchase the machines (since they belonged to the Magic Kingdom, a separate business unit).
With this man, I selected which machines to take and we rummaged through the boxes in a cabinet to find the reels. I selected one, which was a clip from a silent Felix the Cat cartoon that had never been opened or shown at the Penny Arcade (this is the Cat in a Bag reel in the green mutoscope) and another of some unnamed silent cartoon short that I never tracked down the original title.
For several years, they were well loved at the Disney Institute. With the closing of the physical location of Disney Institute to become a Disney Vacation Club facility, the mutoscopes found a new home at Disney's Boardwalk Inn and Villas.
Unfortunately, both times I took the test tour, the mutoscope was not working, even though I brought a pocketful of pennies. I know, having had to maintain it while I worked at Disney Institute, that it is fragile inside and parts no longer exist so "work arounds" like a twisted paperclip have to be utilized.
As interesting as the interior of the Boardwalk Inn and Villas is (and there is much more to discover than just the handful of items I discussed last week), the exterior also has many treasures, as well.
The Luna Park pool area with a 190,000-gallon pool is themed to resemble the carnival-type atmosphere of one of the most popular of the Coney Island amusement parks.
Luna Park in New York lasted from 1903 to 1944 and was built and operated by Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy, who had created an amazingly successful interactive ride for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition called "A Trip To the Moon" that was moved to Coney Island's Steeplechase Park for the 1902 season.
Since "Luna" is Latin for moon (as well as the name of the green and white cigar-shaped airship in the attraction), some feel that it inspired the name of the park to reinforce the connection in the minds of the public. (However, Dundy's sister was named "Luna," as well).
Thompson and Dundy built their park on the site of the first amusement enterprise at Coney Island, Sea Lion Park and outfitted it with a multitude of towers and spires lit at night by 122,000 electric lights (when electricity was still a novelty). At the resort, the proprietor of the "On the Boardwalk Thimbles & Threads" shop is "F. Thompson" and inside the resort's main lobby is "Dundy's Sundries—Serving the Boardwalk since 1902."
William "Doc" Carver invented the idea of horse-diving exhibitions after crossing over a bridge that partially collapsed and his horse dived into the river. Sonora Webster joined the show in 1924 and married Carver's partner.
The show was a popular entertainment at Atlantic City's Steel Pier with Sonora plunging 40 feet off a diving board on the back of a horse to land in a tank of water. Steel Pier is a 1,000-foot-long amusement venue located just across The Boardwalk.
An accident in 1931 resulted in Sonora having detached retinas in both eyes, but she continued to perform for many years even though she was blind. This story was developed into the 1991 Disney live-action movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken.
The bar by the Luna Park pool is structured like a carousel at the Coney Island park surrounded with pictures of the heads of carousel horses.
However, the name of the bar and the large picture of a diving horse is an allusion to Sonora, as is the Vice Presidential Suite at the resort. The Presidential Suite is named the Steeplechase Suite to reference Steeplechase Park, the Coney Island amusement park next to Luna Park.
The top of the ESPN building on the Boardwalk has those distinctive loops to be reminiscent of the ones on the horse diving tank.
Why are there elephants at the pool?
One of the biggest attractions at Coney Island's "Luna Park" was its private herd of elephants, which roamed freely. Elephant rides were popular for the guests, as well. However, cleaning an elephant is a long, arduous task so it was quickly discovered that taking the elephants out to the Atlantic Ocean was not only easier but it was free publicity for the park.
On the Keister coaster, one of the colorful posters states: "Trained Elephants… swishing… swirling… the most entertaining and most delightful… bring the children to see the elephant family".
The sign proclaims "Keister Coaster… Joy Ride..Coaster Thrills… 'The Greatest Ride on the Boardwalk'"… Keister Coaster is meant to be reminiscent of the many wooden roller coasters at Coney Island.
A major difference is that the rider doesn't use a vehicle to travel the 200-foot length, but slides down on his butt. The word "keister" refers to a person's rear end, and the first known use of the word was in 1931. It comes from German word "kiste," which means "the rump" or "buttocks" in German slang.
That frightening massive clown head at the end of the drop is also a Coney Island tradition. Coney Island was filled with clowns, especially the scary "white face" ones. In fact, a clown was an important part of the "Blowhole Theater" act at Steeplechase Park.
One of the cartoon studios that inspired Walt Disney were the Fleischer brothers who later did Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman theatrical cartoons. However, they started with a series called Out of the Inkwell where a rotoscoped Koko the clown interacted with a real world (Walt switched the concept for his Alice Comedies by having a real girl interact with a cartoon world). Max Fleischer's youngest brother, Dave, worked as a Coney Island clown. According to family legend, Dave's casual request that Max film some of the antics from his act gave birth to the series that would establish the Fleischer family in the animation field.
However, this huge clown face is not here just to reference clowns at Coney Island but a particular clown. One of the popular Midway games was the Clown Water Gun Balloon Game where a patron would shoot water into the open mouth of the head of a clown to build up pressure to blow up the balloon to pop first so they could win. The popular game still exists today.
Anyway, that's why there is a clown with water in its mouth at the end of the slide.
The nearby Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall is not an obscure reference to a turn-of-the-century personality or an Imagineer. Said aloud it sounds like "Ferris Wheelers," a reference to the iconic Wonder Wheel that first appeared at Coney Island in 1920.
The Disney Boardwalk, just like the actual Boardwalk, is filled with restaurants, shops and games. Echoing actual promotional phrases from the time, a sign by the stairs declares: "To the Boardwalk ‘Showplace of the Shore' A Vacation Sensation!"
The Disney Boardwalk is 35 feet wide and 1,300 feet long. Nearly 300,000 screws were used to secure the boards in place. The wood is treated to be resistant to decay and to prevent the effects of weathering. The retail and entertainment area of the Boardwalk contains more than 9,000 square feet of space.
Atlantic City is where saltwater taffy was created in 1883 when a clever businessman named David Bradley sold some taffy that had a hint of salt water when his shop was flooded by ocean water. A hint of salt water is not an ingredient in salt water taffy today. Of course, salt water taffy can be purchased in the shop, usually with Goofy's face on the bag.
The main storyline is that two sisters who competed in the early Miss America pageant decided to stay in the area and opened the shop. Their picture is on the outside sign and the motto of the store is "Confections served with Affection" (look for the heart shapes in the letter "O" in that sign).
Atlantic City was famous for the Miss America pageant that began in the 1920s and lasted for 85 years on the Boardwalk before relocating to Las Vegas in 2007.
Leanza Cornett, who was Miss America 1993, was the first actress to play a live-action version of Ariel, the title character from The Little Mermaid, at the Voyage of The Little Mermaid show at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in 1991.
There are many authentic artifacts like souvenir programs and tickets inside the store including in a transparent case on the right hand side of the entrance with a trophy, crown and scepter used in a Miss America pageant.
Up above near the ceiling are framed photos of all the Miss America winners from 1921 through 2007 (when it stopped being held in Atlantic City). Mary Katherine Campbell won the pageant twice (the only woman to ever do so)—in 1922 and 1923—but is featured in just one photo. Also there are no photos from 1928 through 1932 because during those years the pageant was not held.
In the earliest days, the women were not just judged in a swimsuit competition (called the Bathers' Revue) but also as part of the Rolling Chair Parade.
Rolling chairs first appeared on the Boardwalk in the late 1800s, at first to transport invalids elderly guests or those who were recuperating in the brisk salt air. They soon became the most fashionable means of traveling the boardwalk and sightseeing, with nearly 3,000 chairs crowding the promenade in the 1920s.
That tradition has been a little updated with rented surrey bikes on Disney's Boardwalk, although actual rolling chairs have been reintroduced to Atlantic City's Boardwalk.
The inspiration for the name Flying Fish Cafe most likely came from a classic Coney Island roller coaster called the Flying Turns. One of the ride vehicles on that coaster was called the Flying Fish.
The interior of the restaurant is a colorful homage to Coney Island. The back of the booths resemble the curving lifts and drops of a roller coaster. On the back wall is a huge depiction of a back-lit Ferris wheel.
Fish do, in fact, fly overhead in pairs on a version of the famous parachute ride that was a decades-long favorite at Steeplechase Park at Coney Island. In fact one of the first images on the wall mural is of people riding the eight wooden horses on a steel track at Steeplechase.
On the cloud painted ceiling, the stars change colors every few minutes.
Jellyrolls was named after Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, also known as Jelly Roll Morton. His first published composition was "Jelly Roll Blues." An accomplished jazz piano player, a genre known for its improvisation, Morton had what was described as a "bumptious persona." Certainly, this was a suitable inspiration for a dueling pianos bar depending upon improv and a similar personality.
Directly above Jellyrolls is a huge room known as The Attic. The official Walt Disney World description is, "Perfect for a romantic turn-of-the century cocktail party or reception, The Attic is packed with eclectic antiques, oversized wicker chairs and mismatched couches and loveseats designed to match the BoardWalk Inn's grace and sophistication." This is a location that has been used as an elaborate conference meeting room and even for actual weddings.
The original intention was that it was going to be a location for an elegant live performing show based on the early life of Walt Disney in the 1920s and 1930s. Like other areas of the resort, the antiques are real.
This is the home to the famous Midway games. The term "Midway" for an area of games and other entertainments came from The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The games also became popular at county fairs, carnivals, and other entertainment venues although the games were not always quite….honest and fair.
Watergun Fun is one of the many variations of a popular Midway game where shooting water pistols causes jalopies to race toward the finish line. Hoop Toss offers the opportunity to toss a ball in a hoop that is smaller than regulation size but is, in fact, round, not oval as in some carny games that are almost impossible to win. Kewpie Doll Knock Down allows guests to toss a softball to knock down a cute little doll. Lob-A-Lobster places a rubber lobster on a catapult and using a mallet send it flying hopefully into one of the rotating pots.
Dance marathons were hugely popular in the 1920s and 1930s, even though they were not so much about dancing but were more like human endurance contests.
Couples danced non-stop for hundreds of hours (sometimes as long as a month) competing for prize money and having a roof over their heads and being fed three square meals a day. During the Great Depression, that was a better situation than most Americans even though more often than not, the contest was rigged.
For a quarter, people could come and sit and watch the contestants literally dragging each other around the dance floor, eating while dancing, writing letters while dancing, and more, since they had to remain in constant motion around the clock.
At the time, many churches still considered dancing of unmarried couples as sinful.
That name and the rolling waves on top of the building have puzzled some Disney fans for years since it has no connection to an actual location or a reference to the classic Boardwalk. Actually, it was quite simple. Standing outside at the Yacht and Beach Club and looking across to the Boardwalk, the oversized swans on the Swan Resort seemed to be floating in the air, but it was hoped that the waves would make it seem as if they were floating on the waves instead.
The Boardwalk Inn and Villas beautifully captures a mid-Atlantic seacoast town of the 1920s and 1930s and, believe it or not, there are many more hidden treasures waiting there to be discovered, even after I have severely exceeded my word count today and last week. I sincerely hope the resort does begin to offer a guest tour to share some of these gifts with a wider audience.
(Send an email to Jim Korkis)
Jim Korkis grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Jim describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.
From 2006 to 2010, Jim wrote under the pseudonym of Wade Sampson. He finally revealed his true identity in September of 2010. Those articles can be found here.