EPCOT Center's First Octoberby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
For the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of columns about EPCOT in 1982 and try to share some information that has not appeared in print anywhere else.
I have read a great deal about Epcot over the years but there are always more stories to tell. Can you name the official First Family to enter EPCOT Center on opening day? Do you know the story behind why entertainer Danny Kaye “mooned” Dick Nunis during the taping of the park's opening television special? Or when Travelport was officially dedicated? (Or even what Travelport was?) Or that the animal skulls of the saber-toothed tiger, lion, cave bear and two dire wolves in the Cro-Magnon Scene in Spaceship Earth were cast from molds of actual animals in the Paleolithic Collection of the Page Museum in Los Angeles?
If not, you may want to drop by every Wednesday leading up to Epcot’s anniversary to become the expert for your friends and family. [Editor's Note: To clear up any confusion, EPCOT Center became Epcot '94 and then Epcot '95 before becoming just Epcot.]
At the base of the flagpole, just outside of the Epcot turnstiles, is the dedication plaque for EPCOT Center that reads:
“To all who come to this Place of Joy, Hope and Friendship
“Epcot is inspired by Walt Disney's creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
“May EPCOT (yes, it is all capital letters on the plaque) Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.
“E. Cardon Walker
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Walt Disney Productions
October 24, 1982”
Close to a decade ago, the Disney Company instituted the “One Disney” initiative to try to bring consistency in operation among its many Disney theme parks, despite the fact that these locations have distinctly different cultures and what works in one place may not work as well somewhere else. Unfortunately, part of that initiative was that there could no longer be “local” celebrations at the individual parks but only “global” celebrations.
When Disneyland Park celebrated its memorable 50th birthday in 2005, Disney press releases tried to downplay that it was Disneyland’s birthday. They emphasized that it was actually the 50th birthday of the “idea” of a Disney theme park and so could be celebrated at any Disney theme park worldwide.
“The Happiest Celebration on Earth is the biggest bash in Disney history, celebrating 50 years of magic at Disney parks and resorts with new attractions and entertainment at the Disneyland Resort, the Walt Disney World Resort and around the world,” trumpeted the promotional material.
Wisely, guests completely ignored that vague philosophical concept and jam-packed Walt’s original Magic Kingdom and purchased merchandise specifically connected to Disneyland’s 50th. That upsurge in revenue and attendance was completely ignored two years later.
In 2007, the Disney Company adamantly refused to celebrate Epcot’s 25th birthday because it was a “local” celebration. However, the publicity surrounding “unofficial” celebrations announced by Disney fans, plus the pleading of Epcot executives, resulted in a last minute, no-frills 20-minute celebration. At the big Innoventions fountain, Imagineer Marty Sklar briefly shared some memories.
Of course, all merchandise that featured anything connected with the 25th birthday completely sold out before noon, leaving the generic “One Disney” Disney Parks merchandise on the shelves.
This year, for the 30th anniversary, while there are several “unofficial” Epcot celebrations planned for the anniversary, fortunately D23 has scheduled a special all-day event for its members featuring some intriguing presentations.
I know that Disney fans are excited about October 1, 2012, because they feel that particular date marks the official 30th anniversary of Epcot . However, as a Disney historian, I know that the month of October is filled with a variety of significant anniversaries for the park.
Disney executives had learned from the disastrous opening day of Disneyland in 1955 to wait about three weeks before having any type of elaborate ceremony to celebrate a new theme park. During those weeks, it was hoped that any operational challenges could be addressed. The successful opening of Magic Kingdom in 1971 reinforced the belief that it was a good idea that an opening day was just the beginning of a month-long event.
That same game plan was put in place for the opening of EPCOT.
“A few miles from the Magic Kingdom—and beyond the boundaries of imagination—Walt Disney's greatest dream is becoming reality,” announced the advertising.
There were cast family previews of EPCOT Center on September 24, 25 and 27, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.. Construction workers and their families previewed EPCOT Center on September 26.
While the official opening of EPCOT Center was at 9 a.m. on October 1, 1982, the park was unofficially open to selected Walt Disney World park and resort guests the nights of September 28–30 from 4 p.m. to midnight. Cast Members who were unable to attend the previous three preview nights were able to get tickets to attend on those days, as well, with their families.
When the park officially opened on October 1, all the major networks and their morning shows (Today, Good Morning America and Sunrise Show) broadcast the event, as well, as almost a 100 other local television stations from around the country thanks to Disney investing in a satellite uplink for the first time.
Richard Cason, his wife, and four children (Jennifer, 16; Chris, 15; Ricky, 14; and Jody, 13) were the first family welcomed into EPCOT Center on October 1. They were from Winter Park and got up at 4:30 a.m. to arrive at the park at 6 a.m. only to find the gates wouldn’t open to the parking lot until 7 a.m.
Cason said he “drove around the loop” before finally making it into the parking lot. “I just told the kids to get out and run for the gate,” he told reporters at the Opening Ceremonies.
The First Official Family received a silver pass from Chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, Card Walker, allowing the family admission into EPCOT Center and the Magic Kingdom for life. After some remarks to the press by Walker, both Florida Governor Bob Graham and President of AT&T William Ellinghouse briefly spoke. Spaceship Earth, sponsored by AT&T, was also officially dedicated that first day.
Dancers and band members performed the song, "We've Just Begun to Dream." The Sherman Brothers wrote a song especially for the occasion titled, "The World Showcase March" that was also performed. During the finale, there was the release of 15,000 balloons and 1,000 pigeons, followed by fireworks.
Unfortunately, due to limited space, only the first family, Walker, the press and a handful of invited guests were allowed inside the gates to witness the ceremony. All the other guests that morning were kept outside and only saw the festivities on that evening’s newscasts. Some guests booed loudly that Disney had not even set up giant screens for them to watch.
That first day, Spaceship Earth kept breaking down often as did the Universe of Energy. World Showcase restaurants were overwhelmed by eager guests and wait times became excessive with some restaurants even running out of food. Some cast members told guests, “Welcome to Epcot Center where we build rides for the future because they don’t work today.”
On September 10, 1982, the Disney Company had announced that “each individual pavilion will have a grand opening and dedication ceremony”. Cast members were reminded: “Please remember that on the day a pavilion is dedicated, that pavilion will be closed until after the dedication ceremony is completed and the invited guests have been escorted through the pavilion. This applies to all dedications except The Land.”
[While most dedication ceremonies lasted about 20 minutes, The Land dedication was close to an hour during which time the pavilion was indeed closed for most of it. Few Disney fans remember that this pavilion was so popular during the first months that a line to get in went all the way to the west breezeway entrance to this section of Future World.]
Here is the list of the announced dedications:
- Friday, October 1: Spaceship Earth (Bell System)
- Sunday, October 3 : China
- Monday, October 4: Universe of Energy (Exxon) - 10 a.m.
- Tuesday, October 5 : World of Motion (General Motors) – 10 a.m.
- Wednesday, October 6: The Land (Kraft) – 10:30 a.m.
- Monday, October 11: Travelport (American Express) – 5 p.m.
- Monday, October 11: The American Adventure (American Express/Coca-Cola) – 6:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, October 13: Canada – 7:30 pm
- Thursday, October 14: Italy
- Friday, October 15: Germany – 7:30 pm
- Monday, October 18: Epcot Computer Central (Sperry Univac) – 11 a.m.
- Tuesday, October 19: United Kingdom
- Wednesday, October 20: France and Japan
- Thursday, October 21: Mexico
- Saturday, December 4: Journey Into Imagination (Eastman Kodak)
On September 30, 1982, it was announced that the official dedication ceremonies for the Mexico pavilion might be postponed until December 13, because of concerns that the main ride attraction would not be fully operational. Ironically, the boat ride was working on that first day and, unlike other attractions, did not break down.
While the Journey Into Imagination attraction ride was installed, there were also concerns about its consistent operation, which is why the dedication was originally scheduled for December 4. The ride portion did not open until months later in March 1983 but, the dedication of the pavilion itself did occur on December 4.
What was the Travelport dedication on October 11 right before the dedication of The American Adventure?
Travelport, located in CommuniCore East, was sponsored by American Express, who was also a co-sponsor of The American Adventure.
At Travelport, guests could enter booths (called “vacation stations”) and play with touch-screen previews of travel destinations around the world. The most popular video preview was the one of a Caribbean vacation once it was discovered what might have been brief images of two topless female sunbathers. Just around the corner from these booths was an American Express Travel Service desk with an agent happy to provide more detailed information or to help with a trip.
Disney officials and American Express officials dedicated the location and then moved to The American Adventure where Coca-Cola officials were waiting to help dedicate that pavilion.
All of these individual dedications led up to the official three-day ceremony later in the month. Preparation for these festivities began nearly four years earlier with the minute-by-minute planning starting in March 1982. Twenty different committees were involved in creating the Dedication ceremonies from design of invitations to finance to talent booking to transportation and more.
On the evening of Friday, October 22, there was a black-tie, evening gown event for nearly 5,000 invited guests who gathered around the base of Spaceship Earth. The regular Disney park guests had been ushered out of Epcot Center at 6 p.m.
This event was considered the official dedication of Future World. Some of the highlights from this gathering were incorporated into the following day’s television special hosted by entertainer Danny Kaye.
On Saturday, October 23, the rain and wind were so strong that entertainment locations were moved indoors when possible.
This event was considered the official dedication of World Showcase. The huge walk-around People of the World dolls paraded around the promenade, followed by the World Showcase Lagoon show, “Le Carnival de Lumiere,” and fireworks.
On Sunday, October 24, 1982 at precisely 11 a.m, double Westminster chimes signaled the beginning of the Grand Opening Dedication Ceremonies at EPCOT Center. There was no rain but the weather was overcast and cool so the Disney Company provided blankets to the invited guests to keep warm.
A group of 16 herald trumpeters and six drummers joined by the West Point Glee Club soon followed the chimes as did the 450 piece All-American College Marching Band assembled by Walt Disney World from 146 colleges.
There were nearly 10,000 invited guests including Walt Disney Productions executives Donn Tatum and Card Walker along with Mrs. Lillian Disney (Walt Disney's widow), corporate executives, foreign and American political figures and many other VIPs.
There was a flag-raising ceremony with an American flag that was a gift from President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan and had been flown at the White House.
This activity was followed by what was called the "International Ceremony of the Waters." This ceremony was inspired by a similar event during Walt Disney's lifetime where the dedication of the "it's a small world" attraction at Disneyland included children of many nations pouring water from the waterways of their countries into the attraction flume.
Twenty-three international performing groups surrounded what was then known as the CommuniCore Fountain and one by one, they poured a vessel of water into the fountain. Each vessel was unique to represent the country and each was stored in Cash Control so that the integrity of the water being from that particular country could be maintained. The water (often with publicity photo opportunities in the respective countries) was gathered from the lakes, rivers, and oceans of 23 countries and was to "signify the international understanding and cooperation that EPCOT Center stands for."
The countries represented who poured urns containing one gallon of water into the fountain were: Canada, Denmark, Italy, Korea, Japan, Africa (several countries included in group), Egypt, Morocco, Colombia, Mexico, Barbados, Puerto Rico, China, the Philippines, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia. Water came from as far away as the Arctic Ocean, the Nile River in Africa, and the Yangtze River in China.
Walker walked to the podium and said:
"It is a great thrill, really a wonderful thrill. Joining us around this magnificent fountain are representatives of nations from around the world. They have brought with them waters from the great oceans, the seas, the rivers, and the lakes on our planet, spaceship earth. These waters will flow together as a symbol of the oneness of humankind and the hope for peace among nations, making this truly a fountain of world friendship.”
As Walker led Lillian Disney off the stage, he said in an undertone: "Well, we've done it."
Mrs. Disney, who was known for her shyness, did not officially speak at the event.
At the conclusion, an aerial salute of fireworks created "The Colors of the World" immediately followed by a jet flyover by the Florida Air National Guard.
The Disney Company had declared in its publicity that the 21st century began October 1, 1982. According to Disney Legend Jack Lindquist, it was Larry Pontius, a Walt Disney World marketing director, who coined that phrase.
At EPCOT Center guests would be ”discovering exhilarating new visions of the future” brought to life “through the marvelous wizardry of Disney Imagineering”.
In addition, guests would find “amidst nations standing in friendship beside a broad lagoon, adventures that only weeks of world travel could surpass” while meeting “the young people of foreign lands, working together in a true family of man”.
Thirty years ago, October was a month packed with milestones and memories for EPCOT Center.
“EPCOT came about because the media never let the idea go after Walt Disney mentioned it during his announcement about Walt Disney World,” Lindquist said.
People were expecting EPCOT to be built and to be called EPCOT and so the Disney Company spent $1 billion dollars in three years to make the dream come true.
Next week, more EPCOT Center stories from 1982.