New Year's Eve Every Nightby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
As we have started a New Year, we all hope that it will be better than the previous year. In fact, some of us may want a complete "do-over". Wouldn't it be nice to be able to turn back time and experience last year's New Year's Eve all over again?
Well, Disney magic makes almost anything possible.
Do you remember when New Year's Eve was celebrated every night on Walt Disney World property? This event lasted from 1990 through New Year's Eve 2005… but only at Pleasure Island.
While Pleasure Island officially opened May 1989, it went through some changes almost immediately as the Walt Disney Company adjusted to running a club district for the first time. It tried several things to attract an audience as a night time venue.
It was felt there needed to be something to catch the audience's attention that was going to Pleasure Island would be the ultimate party experience. At one point, it was suggested that a spaceship land on Pleasure Island each night that would lead into a nightly celebration of Christmas.
Part of the Merriweather Pleasure legend that was the backstory of the entertainment venue was his attempts to contact life in outer space and in fact, the West End Plaza had a plaque stating that Pleasure had originally intended it to be a landing platform for extraterrestrial craft.
That plaque stated: "West End Plaza. Island founder and stargazer Merriweather Adam Pleasure was convinced during the sole flight of his 'X-Thing' aircraft that he could make contact with alien beings. Working feverishly, Pleasure completed the world's first and only Alien landing Platform on July 4, 1941. His wife Isabella immediately laid claim to it for her beloved Pleasure Island Philharmonic Concert Band. Much to Merriweather's disgust ('How can 'they' land when that blasted band is playing?') this became home base for the P.I.P.C.B."
Fortunately, wiser Disney marketing people realized that Christmas and outer space visitors didn't seem to be a good fit for the Island but that suggestion did spark the idea of celebrating New Year's Eve, a time traditionally known for partying and drinking and fireworks.
So, in 1990, the Island welcomed in the New Year every night (sometimes on weekdays as early as 11 p.m. with fireworks, lots of confetti, professional dancers and more.
The animated series The Simpsons parodied the concept in its October 1994 episode Itchy and Scratchy Land where Homer and Marge spend time on Parent's Island and visit the restaurant T.G.I. McScratchy's Goodtime Foodrinkery where they wear party hats and dance. The location celebrates New Year's Eve all the time. Marge tells a waiter, "It must be wonderful to ring in the New Year over and over." The waiter responds, "Please, kill me."
Guests staying at the nearby Disney Institute complained about the noise since it traveled clearly across the water at night so was not muffled at all. The original concept was that New Year's would also be celebrated inside the clubs, as well. It was a captive audience.
Club owners tried to push to the powers-that-be that guests needed to be outside to celebrate since they didn't gain added revenue by having a celebration inside the club.
The promotional flyer proclaimed: "Join an incredible island-wide, nightly New Year's Eve Party! The fun spills from six fabulous nightclubs into the street – the "seventh club". Fireworks and searchlights light a blizzard of confetti as dancers catch the beat on the street. It's a Street Party like you've never seen! After 7 p.m., you must be 18 or older for admission to Pleasure Island unless accompanied by a parent."
There was an attempt to revise the Merriweather Pleasure story to more closely come in line with this new entertainment directive of celebrating New Year's every evening. Chris Oyen, who was the show writer and director for both the Comedy Warehouse and the Adventurers Club, came up with this back story revision in June 1991.
However, like the original story, it was never fully understood nor adopted by the regular cast members and no attempt was made to readjust the plaques already on the island nor add new plaques to explain the change. Basically, neither guests nor cast members were interested and just accepted that there was a New Year's Eve celebration every night.
The story was just as convoluted as the original back story created by the Imagineers and sometimes contradicted parts of that legend.
At best, this revision is an interesting historical footnote and oddity, as well as an example of the imagination and writing skill of Oyen, who during his time with the Adventurers Club was sorely underappreciated for his contributions in creating a performance structure that allowed the club to survive for decades while other venues changed significantly or completely disappeared.
It was Oyen who battled the original "club mentality" that insisted that the lights be turned up full when a show was on so that guests could more clearly see the servers and the request that performers stop periodically during their scenes to do commercials for the drink specials. It was Oyen who came up with the "Open House" concept for the Adventurers Club to explain why guests were allowed into a private club. It was Oyen who created the character of Samantha Sterling.
Oyen's initial three-month contract kept getting extended for five years until he left to work on other Disney shows, including the Diamond Horseshoe and Galaxy Search both at the Magic Kingdom, as well as directing the Sword in the Stone show with Merlin, although he did also remain the show director of the Comedy Warehouse for many years.
Here is the story that Oyen devised to explain why every night was New Year's Eve at Pleasure Island. He made some changes to the original mythology.
For instance, Merriweather is not lost at sea and it is Hurricane Charlotte and not Hurricane Connie that devastates the island, and there is the introduction of the I-4 Indians (a reference to Interstate 4 freeway that was near Walt Disney World). Some of Oyen's ideas did become incorporated in Adventurers Club sketches, as well as some publicity printed material that was released in later years.
When Merriweather Adam Pleasure steamed through the Florida Barge Canal System on his mighty paddle wheeler, he knew immediately upon entering the peaceful waters of Lake Buena Vista that he had found his destiny.
The years he had spent in the steel business, back in Pittsburgh, had taught him that he was not meant for the conventions and restraints of "society". He had set out to create a home far from civilization, and further still from the skeptics, naysayers and those who would stifle the dreamers and men of imagination, such as himself.
There, in the wilds of semi-tropical Central Florida, on the northern bank of an uncharted lake, Pleasure saw the primitive totem of a half moon, with a smiling face.
"The Funmeister! I've found the Funmeister! This shall be where we will build Pleasure Island," Pleasure proclaimed to a travel weary family and crew.
Pleasure had read about this ancient half-moon icon, whose roots go back to the Barbarians after the sack of Rome.
It symbolized individuality, the celebration of life, and the sharing of laughter. The ancient Germanic name for this idol translated to "Funmeister," as close as historical linguists could approximate. On every continent, in every civilization that Pleasure had studied, he had found a Funmeister counterpart.
Now, purely by coincidence, he had stumbled upon a link to those ancient times and our own.
Rushing ashore, he found the descendants of the I-4 Indians, who had held the land on this lake as their sacred ceremonial territory. Clad in their traditional attire, the Indians carried themselves in a regal, almost other worldly manner. These natives told Mr. Pleasure the island was imbued with the spirit of one of their deities, the one they called the "Funmeister".
Excitedly, Pleasure begged the Indians to allow him to settle and build on their land and he would make the island a living monument to the spirit of the Funmeister. They told him that he would have their answer in the morning.
Pleasure returned to his ship with the sense that fate had led him to this spot. In the morning when he returned, the village that he had seen only hours before had vanished completely and without a trace—with the exception of a giant image of the Funmeister on a totem pole. The Indians he had met the day before were actually the spirits of the Island's former inhabitants who, by their disappearance, were now granting him permission to settle there.
The next week, an excited Merriweather Adam Pleasure officially purchased the land on the shore of Lake Buena Vista from the Seminole Land Agency. He knew, however, that the land would always truly belong to the Funmeister. That is why Pleasure Island has always been dedicated to individuality, the celebration of life, and the sharing of laughter.
Pleasure never forgot his vow to those ghostly Indians. While his sail making and canvas fabrication business was quickly amassing him a fortune by day, by night the little factory district was turned into a nightly New Year's Eve Party. His guest list to these every evening events put the drinking and eating side by side with poets, artists, adventurers, and the elite of the upper classes. In fact, a trip to Pleasure Island was a social "must," as anybody who was "anybody" simply had to stop at least once a year.
Pleasure welcomed them all.
All these nightly celebrations did not quell Pleasure's ambitions for progress. He moved the bulk of the business concerns into custom yachts during the 1920s and made that a successful endeavor. There were inventions, innovations, and bold new ideas constantly being developed, as well as upgrades to the technologies, such as the communication center.
There were many expeditions to the far-flung corners of the globe, which brought back not only intriguing artifacts but unique new acquaintances. So many, in fact, that in 1932 The Adventurers Club was formed in order to accommodate both artifact and eccentric alike.
Aided by the transportation link provided by the Avigators, a group of wild barnstormers organized by Pleasure in 1924 to carry the mail and run an import/export business, visitors from all over the world had access to Pleasure Island—if they knew the right people.
Mixed in with the interesting people and successful enterprises were some projects that did not quite work out. The Pleasure Distilleries went to the dogs—actually the armadillos.
The XZFR floated away in five even but slightly different shaped pieces. Merriweather Pleasure's son Stewart destroyed the bridges while attempting to navigate blindfolded, trying to see only with his "second sight".
The most interesting was the disappearance of the Pleasure family and the Island itself.
By 1944 Pleasure Island was famous among the "in the know." A corrupt syndicate of developers attempted to capitalize on this by turning the Island into a spa and retreat for the rich and famous.
The only problem was that Merriweather would not sell his land as he was not about to compromise his obligation to the spirit of the Funmeister. Through a series of bribes, the developers were able to have a court declare the title to the land null and void and were granted the ability to take possession as of the first of the year, 1945.
On New Year's Eve, 1944, Hurricane Charlotte headed across Florida toward Pleasure Island. Merriweather Adam Pleasure evacuated everyone but his family from the property. Once the storm had passed, there was no trace of the Island or its inhabitants left. The topography was so drastically altered, creating an uninhabitable marshland worthless to the developers.
The power of the hurricane's destruction was so great, it was even impossible for them to determine the former site of the Island.
In 1971, Pleasure's paddlewheeler mysteriously floated into an inlet where a Disney surveying team was camped. It was renovated and re-commissioned as the Empress Lily.
This event caused further exploration of Disney's undeveloped property. It wasn't until 1987, however, while on a routine helicopter fly over, that a group of Disney construction engineers claimed they saw a man dressed like a ship's captain waving to them from the banks of Lake Buena Vista.
When they circled back and landed, they found only a captain's hat with the name "Merriweather Adam Pleasure" written on the inside, alongside the crescent moon totem of the Funmeister.
Disney archaeologists then undertook the excavation and reclamation of Pleasure Island where every night is New Year's Eve, once again.
On New Year's Eve in 1873, Merriweather Adam Pleasure was born. He would say later that he had been born on that day deliberately, so everyone in the world would have a reason to celebrate with him.
As fate would have it, on New Year's Eve 1901, his eldest son, Stewart, was born. A plucky Merriweather claimed he had planned it that way all along. When a second son, Henry, was born on New Year's Eve, 1905, people began to believe there might be something to Merriweather's claim of orchestrating the date of his offspring's birth.
On New Year's Eve, 1911, when Pleasure steamed into Lake Buena Vista, a new chapter was opened in his life and Pleasure Island was born. When his last child, Miriam, was born on Feb. 17, 1912, Merriweather said that it was a sign.
A family tradition of landmark events occurring on New Year's Eve had been broken, and the only way to correct this chronological indiscretion was to correct time itself. Pleasure said that since it was his island, he could say it was any day he wanted it to be.
He claimed that the birth of Miriam on a date so far out of Pleasure family tradition was clearly a sign from the Funmeister that every day should be New Year's Eve on Pleasure Island.
This, of course, meant that every night there was a New Year's Eve party on Pleasure Island. At the end of each work day, every day of the year, the laborers, artisans, inventors, and globe-trotting millionaire visitors alike, would dance in the streets as the entire Island community kicked back with wild abandon.
The buildings that provided industrial functions during the daytime were reset to be dancehalls, concert or theatrical venues, or locations for dining or refreshments. Every night there was a fireworks display, choreographed by Merriweather Pleasure himself.
Pleasure had brought his daughter's birthday back in line with the family lineage and created a reason for nightly merriment with one fabulously whimsical decree. It is in honor of this spirit of unabated whimsy and dedication to unrelenting fun that the tradition of a nightly New Year's Eve Party had been restored to Pleasure Island.
So supposedly, it was a long tradition to hold a New Year's Eve Party (rather than a Disney marketing promotion) according to this back story. But maybe, now is the time to revive it…or maybe when things get back somewhat to normal next summer, so that we can all celebrate again.