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Sue Kruse
Disneyland at 46

"I wonder what time Walt Disney got up on July 17th, 1955 for Disneyland's inaugural day?" That question ran through my mind as I dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m. on Disneyland's 46th birthday, Tuesday July 17, 2001.

Close to 7:30 a.m., I made my way through the coterie of press gathered in front of the Opera House in Town Square, met up with fellow MousePlanet columnist, Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix, and prepared to watch the re-dedication of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" in celebration of Disneyland’s birthday.

Ceremony publicity photo © Disney
Ceremony publicity photo © Disney

The start-up of a band silenced the buzz of reporter’s voices, and Americus Brass Band, a 14-piece Civil War replica band, took their place near the podium. I do have to say, Dear Readers, it was kind of wonderful to watch them, marching onto Main Street, dressed in full Civil War costume, and playing a stirring little ditty. It made me feel not just a little patriotic. Disneyland ambassador, Doina Roman- Osborne welcomed everyone with a cheery, "Good morning and welcome to our very special celebration to honor Disneyland's 46th birthday." Expressing the thought that Disneyland was especially happy to be able to premiere the new version of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," Doina then introduced Cynthia Harriss, President of the Disneyland Resort.

"Well, good- morning everyone and thank you for joining us," Ms. Harriss began, "Forty- six years ago on July 17th 1955, Disneyland officially opened. Just imagine the thrill it would have been to be here on opening day here at Disneyland. I wish all of us could have had that experience of being there to see Walt Disney himself stand right here in Town Square on Main Street USA and before the entire world on live television dedicate this magical kingdom."

Opening day ceremonies - publicity photo © Disney
Opening day ceremonies - publicity photo © Disney

Ms. Harriss asked us to take a moment to remember that day and suddenly Walt's voice boomed from the loudspeakers,

To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past. And here, youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

"Since that historic day over 450 million guests have come through our gates and created memories to be cherished for a lifetime. Today we feel the magic of Walt's vision as we strive to carry on his legacy of imagination, creativity, and dreams. Here at Disneyland we treasure and embrace tradition," Ms. Harriss continued, remarking that the resort is adding new chapters to Walt's vision with the premiere of the all- new "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."

The original Illinois pavilion which hosted Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the 1964 New York World's Fair - Photo courtesy of Bruce Graebner
The original Illinois pavilion which hosted Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the 1964 New York World's Fair - Photo courtesy of Bruce Graebner

Walt personally supervised the original attraction, which was the first ever to present an audio-animatronic human to Disneyland guests. Ending her speech with the thought that the rededication of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" is an honor to two great men, Ms. Harriss introduced Marty Sklar, vice- chairman and principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, who worked side by side with Walt and was present on Disneyland's opening day.

 

The Illinois pavilion entryway - Photo courtesy of Bruce Graebner
The Illinois pavilion entryway - Photo courtesy of Bruce Graebner

Marty remembered the New York World’s Fair and told us how the Imagineers prepared the Opera House to receive Mr. Lincoln even while fair- goers marveled at the new technology back in New York. In July of 1965, "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" made its west coast debut for the tenth anniversary of Disneyland. "Now here we are 36 anniversaries later, very proud to re-open "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" with an all-new presentation. In updating this show, a great deal of care was taken," Sklar noted, "not only to make our show historically accurate, from eyeglasses to rumpled coat, to crowd reaction at Gettysburg, but also to make it compelling to today’s audiences. Now through the use of the latest audio and visual technologies, instead of sitting back and watching a show about history, we have literally invited the audience into the story."

The updated "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" places the audience into the shoes of an 1863 Union soldier named Cunningham. As Cunningham makes his way through various events of the Civil War, the guest experiences the same sensations he does, including having their photograph taken by famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, fighting in a battle, and meeting Mr. Lincoln, himself. The binaural sound system employed by the attraction allows the guest to experience sound layers giving the effect of originating from different directions. "Where the previous show had Lincoln performing portions of different speeches," Sklar added, "our new show climaxes with Lincoln’s complete and emotional Gettysburg Address."

The newly redone lobby
The newly redone lobby

Describing the desire to portray Lincoln as more than a politician, but as a humorist and father figure as well, Sklar said, "We also wanted to take the opportunity of updating the "Walt Disney Story" to show our guests a more thorough picture of Walt as well." A new video and many still photographs of Walt are now installed in the pre- show area of the attraction. "My colleagues and I at Walt Disney Imagineering are first and foremost storytellers in the great tradition of the man whose dreams and dedication created this magic kingdom. Walt Disney grew up admiring Abraham Lincoln who must have known that sometimes short and to the point is the greatest way to communicate. The ten simple sentences of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address helped to reshape America to give it a new birth of freedom and became the single greatest speech in America. We hope our presentation brings new meaning to the young-at-heart of all ages who visit Disneyland and we hope you enjoy our show."

Describing a photograph in the attraction of a 5th grade Walt, Cynthia Harriss then noted that he was so moved by the ideals of Lincoln, he delivered the Gettysburg Address dressed as the 16th president, to his class on the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday. "They used to say if you looked into his eyes, you could see a waving American flag," Harriss said of Walt’s patriotism.

Cynthia Harris, Martin Landau (at the podium) Marty Sklar - Ceremony publicity photo © Disney
Cynthia Harris, Martin Landau (at the podium) Marty Sklar - Ceremony publicity photo © Disney

To officially re-dedicate "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," Ms. Harriss asked Academy Award™-winning actor, Martin Landau to take the stage. Mr. Landau stepped up to the podium and as the Americus Brass Band softly played The Battle Hymn of The Republic in the background, he gave one of the most stirring deliveries of the Gettysburg Address that I have ever heard.

Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Disney would have been proud.

The Lincoln figure today - publicity photo © Disney
The Lincoln figure today - publicity photo © Disney

Ever the gracious hostess, Ms. Harriss then expressed her thanks to Mr. Landau for his performance, to Marty Sklar, and to those of us in the audience for helping Disneyland celebrate its 46th birthday and she invited us all to view Disneyland’s "newest attraction," "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."


Now, Dear Readers, Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix and I are also gracious guests. We made our way to Ms. Harriss to thank her for inviting us to the lovely ceremony. She is as charming as she is gracious and warmly greeted us both. Every time I get the chance to talk to Ms. Harriss, she always makes me feel as though I am an old friend. And while I don’t imagine that she even remembers my name (she must meet hundreds of people every week), she is always friendly and makes me feel at home.

This meeting was no exception. As Adrienne explained MousePlanet’s plan to gather unused children’s tickets and distribute them to kids who might not otherwise have the chance to go to the Disneyland Resort, Ms. Harriss thanked us and asked us to make sure that we convey to you, our wonderful MousePlanet readers, how much she appreciates your generosity in donating your unused tickets to bring a little joy into the life of a child.

I don’t think it’s going to far to say that I think Walt would have been proud of that too.

Visit this LINK to see how you can also help!

Publicity photo © Disney
Publicity photo © Disney

INTERESTING FACTS:

Opening day for Disneyland was July 17, 1955, but this was actually an opening for invited guests and a nationwide audience; the public opening was July 18, 1955.

A live 90- minute television special aired on ABC beginning at 4:30 p.m. PDT, advertised as the "biggest live telecast in history" with 24 cameras and a staff of hundreds.

The hosts of the television show were Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings, and Art Linkletter.

Guests began arriving at Disneyland as early as noon. Before long, cars were backed up seven miles on the Santa Ana Freeway, with a trip from Los Angeles to Anaheim taking two hours.

Local police reported that it was the worst traffic mess they had ever seen, even though 25 extra officers from the California Highway Patrol and 20 from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office strengthened their numbers.

The official opening was at 2:30 p.m., but by then there were long lines at the gates.

Many of the rides and attractions were closed to visitors as technicians moved cameras, cables, and lights. Others broke down after the first onslaught of guests.

There were other complaints on the hot day due to lack of shade and a dearth of drinking fountains (due to a plumbing strike). Restaurants ran out of food and drink.

Ladies with high heels even noticed themselves sinking into the freshly poured asphalt on Main Street, which was softened by the heat, and occasionally someone would lean against a just- painted building which had not had enough time to dry.

Despite the crowds, the general feeling was that Disneyland was an unqualified success.

On the public opening July 18, the first guests admitted through the turnstiles were two children, Christine Vess, 5, and Michael Schwartner, 7, who received lifetime passes for Disneyland.

The Disneyland Opera House has served many different functions since it opened in 1955, including, at one point, a lumber storage facility.

"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" was originally created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and was relocated to Disneyland in 1965.

The Lincoln figure was the first large-scale use of the recently developed Audio- Animatronics® technology.

In 1973, a tribute to Walt Disney was added in the pre-show area, and the attraction was renamed The Walt Disney Story, featuring "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."

The show underwent a major re-programming in 1984, and thereafter remained virtually unchanged until this most recent enhancement.

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE:

DISNEYLAND® CELEBRATES 46TH BIRTHDAY TODAY WITH PREMIERE OF NEW 'GREAT MOMENTS WITH MR. LINCOLN' -Academy Award- Winner Martin Landau Recites Gettysburg Address in Ceremony

ANAHEIM, CA, July 17, 2001 - On this date, 46 years ago, Walt Disney debuted his magical new DISNEYLAND park amidst the orange groves of Anaheim in Southern California. And to commemorate this historic occasion, "The Happiest Place on Earth" hosted a colorful birthday celebration featuring the premiere of a new "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."

At 7:45 a.m., Academy Award-winner Martin Landau; Cynthia Harriss, president, the DISNEYLAND Resort; and Marty Sklar, vice chairman and principal creative executive, Walt Disney Imagineering, were featured in a ceremony on Main Street, U.S.A.

The birthday observance was highlighted by the official opening of the newly updated "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," which was preceded by Landau reciting the Gettysburg Address in Town Square. The new version of the park's classic presentation in the DISNEYLAND Opera House marries state- of- the- art 3-D audio technology, actual period photographs and the lifelike Audio- Animatronics® figure of Abraham Lincoln to help guests experience their own "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."

Providing musical accompaniment for the Main Street celebration was the 14- piece Americus Brass Band, one of the nation's foremost Civil War replica bands.

Within "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," members of the audience find a dynamic new experience and are placed in the shoes of an 1863 Union soldier on leave in Washington, D.C. Through the use of binaural sound technology and Civil War-era photography, guests experience the sensation of having a photo taken by Mathew Brady in his gallery, fighting in the pitched Battle of Gettysburg, and meeting Abraham Lincoln. The presentation culminates with the amazingly lifelike figure of the 16th President delivering the Gettysburg Address at the hallowed battleground in Pennsylvania.

The binaural sound system used in the attraction is a recording and playback technology that enables the listener to experience sound layers that seem to originate from different directions. This is the technology's first application at the DISNEYLAND Resort.

The pre- show lobby exhibit in the Opera House, entitled "The Walt Disney Story," has also been enhanced with added historical photos and memorabilia of Walt Disney, a short film about his life, and displays associated with the early development of Audio- Animatronics technology.

When DISNEYLAND opened on July 17, 1955, entertainment experts of the time predicted a swift demise for Walt Disney's dream. Today, the original DISNEYLAND forms the centerpiece of a major expansion that earlier this year created the DISNEYLAND Resort. The Resort now includes a second park - DISNEY'S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE™ - plus three hotels and the DOWNTOWN DISNEY® District offering dining, entertainment and shopping.

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