The Glorious Fourth Remembered

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

I am still in a July Fourth type of mind with the holiday just around the corner, but I've written so much before about Walt and his love of America, his deep ingrained patriotism and the films and cartoons (like Johnny Tremain and Ben and Me) that I was hard pressed to find something new.

I stumbled across my sheet music that Walt Disney World gave out to guests in 1976 to a little remembered Sherman Brothers song and it encouraged me to dig even deeper for today's column.

In 1964, Walt Disney was one of several Americans chosen by President Lyndon Johnson to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor given to outstanding Americans. The award ceremony was held at the White House on September 14, 1964.

There is a little known quote credited to Walt Disney from July 4, 1964.

As I was researching my book Walt's Words! Quotations of Walt Disney With Sources! (Theme Park Press 2016) I couldn't completely confirm its authenticity (despite its use by the Walt Disney Company) to my satisfaction so I did not include it but I am sharing it here because it is so good and it is definitely likely that it was said by Walt:

"The Spirit of America is never more clearly seen than in those precious moments of public displays of patriotic feelings. As a child, I remember the intense wonder and awe with which I was left after singing the National Anthem or after fireworks on the Fourth of July. It is my hope that these feelings spring eternal in the minds and hearts of all Americans."

A poster for America on Parade.

In 1976, the country gathered to celebrate its Bicentennial, or 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. A huge fireworks spectacular was staged in New York City with the Statue of Liberty as the backdrop.

As part of the celebration, the United States Treasury issued new currency including a quarter that featured a colonial drummer, and a two dollar bill that featured an engraving of the signing of the Declaration.

In fact, the U.S. government had begun planning in 1966. Development for the Disney theme park celebration began in 1972 under the guidance of entertainment executive Bob Jani who actually had a dress rehearsal of the fireworks display over the Seven Seas Lagoon in 1974.

It included four thermal balloons, 55 feet in diameter with 4927 light bulbs attached to them, six kite skiers, flying at around 200 feet, at speeds of 26-34 miles per hour, six parasails with lights and fireworks attached.

The Seven Seas Lagoon was lit up by ten Super Trooper spotlights which were positioned around the lagoon. Two Electrical Water Pageant barges were anchored in the center of the lagoon for additional light. Roughly 350 shells were released each night.

Thirteen amplifiers pumping out 3,500 watts of power were set up around Seven Seas Lagoon making it four times more powerful than the sound system used at Woodstock.

The 30-minute pyrotechnic display that WDW guests finally saw on July 2, 3, 4 and 5, 1976 clearly built on everything that Jani had learned from his experimental dress rehearsal that only lasted nine minutes.

Each night 2,000 shells exploded over the Magic Kingdom. Out over Seven Seas Lagoon, twelve water skiers flew over the water clutching Delta Wing Kites that spurted fireworks.

The Electrical Water Pageant barges were anchored in the middle of the lagoon but in addition to the music & the lights, pyrotechnics were being fired off from each of the barges.

The Grand Finale had 116 shells exploding simultaneously over the Magic Kingdom. It was the largest nighttime fireworks show in Disney Parks history until the debut of Illuminations decades later.

Walt Disney World had actually been planning for this Bicentennial celebration since the park opened in 1971 and it was one of the reasons to include an elaborate Liberty Square section in the park.

In fact, Main Street U.S.A. was decorated with red, white and blue bunting and red, white and blue flowers in the hanging baskets and multiple flags flying to signify July fourth.

Because at the turn-of-the century, most Americans worked six days a week and spent Sunday morning in church, the streets would not be filled. However, if it were a holiday that would account for the big crowd on Main Street and it might mean there would be a parade and fireworks.

As part of the celebration there was a special parade: America on Parade. The Walt Disney World version of the patriotic parade debuted on June 6, 1975, a week before its Disneyland counterpart on June 14, 1975, and well before the nation's 200th birthday on July 4, 1976. It was seen by an estimated twenty-five million people at the parks until its final performance in September 1976.

The Disney parade concentrated on the ideals, principles and important figures that shaped the nation. It showcased memorable moments like the first Thanksgiving, significant American innovations like the invention of the car and the first manned flight, popular pastimes like baseball and more.

Fifty intricate scale models for each of the dozens of proposed stages were hand-made by Disneyland artist/designer Clare Graham and a team of artists from the park's Entertainment department.

They were crafted from colored felt, paper, wood, wire, and illustration board to be used as models for the full-sized versions as high as twenty feet and as long as thirty feet. Two each of the same float unit were built at the same time, one for Disneyland and one for Walt Disney World including the world's largest sandwich float.

A hundred and fifty eight-foot tall human figures were built to represent the people of America. The parade units were designed to look like huge toys, and the characters to be outsized dolls with the theme being seeing America through the eyes of a child. Some of the WDW dolls were reformatted when Epcot opened years later into people of the world in country costumes wandering World Showcase.

Proclaimed as a "new achievement in Disney pageantry," this colorful tribute to the history and legacy of the United States was one of the most celebrated presentations in Disney theme park history. Intended to convey the festive feel of the Fourth of July it was a spectacular homage to America's history, people, and traditions characterized by Disney as a "birthday party for the country."

"In the Spirit of '76, Walt Disney Productions proudly presents America on Parade - a salute to America's 200th birthday! Two centuries filled with challenges, achievements, and world contributions. Let's step back into history and take a look at the first 200 years with this musical celebration."

America on Parade was featured on the cover of a Walt Disney World vacation guidebook.

America on Parade was captured as a souvenir film sold through Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. The "Walt Disney's America on Parade" television special was aired in 1976, hosted by Red Skelton, and featuring a number of performances by the Kids of the Kingdom.

The parade was held once a day during winter months and twice a day during the summer season with the night time version concluding with the fireworks display. The parade was three-quarters of a mile, that was, as the souvenir program put it, "a continuously moving 'stage' that captures the spirit of Americana in a grand display of colorful people and settings."

Disney wanted a special musical instrument to provide a unique and memorable soundtrack for the parade and instituted a nationwide search for it.

It turned out to be an 1890 band organ belonging to Paul Eakin and named Sadie Mae of St. Louis in the small town of Sikeston, Missouri.

Sadie Mae was a pipe organ that did not have a key board, and featured ornately decorated pipes, drums, horns, and bells. It had a vast range of pipes that could replicate the sound of many musical instruments.

This incredible music machine had some two hundred pipes including 20 trumpets, eight trombones, 17 octave violins, 17 flageolets, 17 piccolos, 20 open flutes, 17 stopped flutes, 17 clarinets, 17 cellos, and 30 bass.

When the Walt Disney Company first found the organ, it was in need of a complete restoration. After 1,400 hours of work, Sadie Mae was restored and disassembled and taken to the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville, Tennessee, to begin recording the America on Parade soundtrack that included Yankee Doodle, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, God Bless America, Oh Susannah and more.

Sadie Mae was too large and heavy to move from her home in Missouri to California.

Since it didn't have a keyboard, it used special cards that had been punched with holes the organ could read similar to the way a player piano roll works. What Disney did not realize was that there was only one man left in the world who knew how to make the cards that the organ required. He lived across the world in Belgium, but was able to make the cards that the organ required.

Bob Jani had wanted to try to mix old-world sounds with new, and came up with the idea of combining an antique band organ with synthesizer to achieve this result. Jim Christensen sketched out the arrangements and then sent them off to the gentleman in Belgium who was capable of creating the hole-punched cardboard books.

The songs Disney previously selected were played on Sadie Mae and recorded, then processed with a special Moog Synthesizer. This gave the parade a sound very similar to the Main Street Electrical Parade. It used the same kind of sound control system for the parade as well so that the music was always in sync with the performers.

At the conclusion of the parade, the recorded strains of Sadie Mae were mixed with melodies played by a live band. Each state in the U.S. was given a specific week to send a marching band, usually from a high school or a college, to participate in the parade.

The bicentennial logo for America on Parade.

Jani asked the Sherman Brothers, famous for their many contributions to Disney animated features and Disney park attractions to write a special song for the celebration.

The Sherman Brothers had left the Disney Studio in 1968 following the death of Walt Disney because they became disenchanted with the direction the studio was going. They went on to work on a myriad of stage and film projects. They returned briefly to finish work on Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Aristocats as outside contractors.

They were also asked back in 1974 to compose a new song The Best Time of Your Life to replace There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow for the Carousel of Progress that had been moved to Walt Disney World since General Electric did not want guests waiting to purchase new devices but to buy them right now.

Jani was able to convince them to write a theme for the parade but the song is little known today and I had forgotten it until I stumbled across the sheet music.

"The Glorious Fourth"
by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

There's excitement in the air; It's a feeling we all share,
The day that Yankee Doodle throws his hat into the air!

Nobody's workin' today, you bet,
Family's are out promenadin'
Picnic tables are being set

The day's made for Disney paradin'
Bunting and banners are everywhere
Hot dogs and fresh apple pie

It's our historical proudly uproarical fourth, the fourth of July.

A million sky rockets and roman candles zing zoomin' on high,
Red, white, and blue sparklers and spinnin' pinwheels raise cain in the sky,
And white the flags wave and the bands all play

You can't be sad if you try on the bang-up uproarious, flag waving, glorious fourth, the fourth of July!

Sheet music for The Glorious Fourth, written by the Sherman Brothers.

The parade was hugely popular and a flood of memorabilia merchandise was released including collectable coins, mugs, picture and history books, a series of plates, View-Master reels, puzzles, watches, coloring and sticker fun books, Colorforms play sets, a figural music box, a porcelain sculpture and a lunch box-and-thermos kit. The full score was available in its entirety at both parks on a distinctive picture disc, A Musical Souvenir of America on Parade.

There are some Disney collectors who only collect America on Parade merchandise and I saw one really impressive collection when I lived in Southern California.

I am going to finish today's column with a handful of quotes by Walt Disney from Walt's Words in the hopes it will get you stirred up for the upcoming holiday:

"All men will want to be free and share our way of life. There must be so much that I should have said and haven't. 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.

"Recently, I was invited to see a show on America, and as I sat there watching and listening I felt both proud and thrilled; thrilled with the voices, thrilled with the sounds, proud of the group of one hundred talented young Americans singing about our country. The songs that make me proud of being an American."

"Our American Culture" a speech by Walt Disney on Saturday March 1, 1941 during the intermission of a broadcast on the NBC Blue Network of the Metropolitan Opera.

"Actually, if you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them, and up my spine is growing this red, white and blue stripe. I'm very proud and very honored."

Walt Disney speech February 22, 1963 on being presented George Washington Medal of Honor from The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge

"The liberties which we enjoy and take for granted didn't just happen. They had to be won. Even today, there are parts of the world where the fight for freedom is still going on."

Walt's introduction to the television episode "The Liberty Story" (5/29/57)

"(My father) lived a life of a good American. He was a very good American. He was one that never failed to vote. He said, 'This country's been good to me. It's been good to my family.' He said, 'I believe in it'. I do too."

Walt Disney speech February 22, 1963 on being presented George Washington Medal of Honor from The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge