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Walt's Plans for Liberty and Freedom at Disneyland

Walt Disney loved the United States—America, as it was known then (before the discovery of other countries and cultures in the hemisphere). But the Disney product had been primarily fairy tales and nature films until a cartoon short called Ben and Me was released in November 1953. Then things got real.

Ben and Me was about Benjamin Franklin (voiced by Charles Ruggles) and included Thomas Jefferson (voiced by Captain Hook, that is, Hans Conried). Two art directors of the Fantasyland dark rides, Ken Anderson and Claude Coats, were art directors on Ben and Me. The Disneyland television show planned to include segments on American History—one working title was Walt Disney's America—which is how Davy Crockett became a thing. Instilling a love of the ideals that built America was an imperative in the early years of the Cold War, when Senator McCarthy was accusing folks of being Communists and nuclear annihilation seemed more likely than it does today.

Shortly after Disneyland opened, Wal…
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Stranded wire rope and aluminum buckets

Not long after Disneyland opened, a European firm erected a series of industrial towers in a line across the park and strung a loop of stranded steel cable from tower to tower. Some of the towers came to rest in pedestrian areas of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. A huge electric motor at one end kept the cable moving, and an enormous weight attached to the pulley at the other end kept the cable taut. It was an industrial-scale version of the clothesline found in most American's backyards, erected high above the Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney must have been horrified.

Instead, it was Walt Disney's staff who were shocked. The man who fumed about Southern California Edison power lines at the far side of his parking lot and who constantly reminded them to hide the outside world and backstage from his guests had ordered an industrial-scaled clothesline. Walt Disney is still quoted today: "I don't want them to see the real world when they're in Disneyland; I want them to feel…

Land of the Lilliputs

Disneyland was always about scale to Walt Disney. His animators had been using scale models for years before Walt discovered model railroading in the mid-1940s. Miniatures became a fascination of his, so of course one thing that would make Disneyland work was careful manipulation of scale. The locomotives, Main Street, the Mark Twain--all were as small as they could be and still accommodate full-sized people.

One way to lend size to, for example, the back country on the Rivers of America, is to make landmarks smaller than full size. The burning cabin, for instance, seems farther away because it is impossibly small. Early sketches called for the island to be dotted with small-scale replicas of buildings like George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.

Lilliputian Land, therefore, appears on Herb Ryman's overall view of Disneyland drawn in September 1953. It is later labeled "miniature train and canal boats," which had been the idea since Mickey Mouse Park was planned for …

An Island Paradise Designed for Children

One of Walt Disney's first new ideas after Disneyland opened involved shuttling kids to an overgrown island where they would not be able to buy food or merchandise and could stay as long as their heart's desired. The park's original General Manager had just quit. Anyone have a problem with Walt's plan? No? Good.
The island in the middle of the so-called Rivers of America lagoon which the Mark Twain (and later, other boats) circled was a pile of dirt with weeds crowding out a few intentional plants and a smattering of trees. Walt wanted to make it a playground, ignoring concerns that children might climb trees and fall, or slip into the water.

Marvin Davis remembered that Walt took the tracings from him and designed the two-acre island himself, filled with a log fort, a cave, an old mill with a waterwheel, and a fishing pier. Before it was built, art director Vic Greene took over for the details. The upper acre, delimited by a barbed wire fence, would be off-limits.


The Characters of Rainbow Ridge

Rainbow Ridge sounds like a familiar place. It was a small mining town built on the side of Rainbow Mountain, but it's long-gone now. The barkeep, Pat Casey, Mother Murphy, and the rest of the wild west characters are not forgotten, though.

Walter Knott's Ghost Town represented a dust-dry, high desert mining town like Calico, near Barstow, California. The first building in Ghost Town was imported from Prescott, Arizona.

Rainbow Ridge was more High Sierras Gold Country--pine trees and streams with placer gold. In fact, some say it resembled the Town With No Name from the Broadway show Paint Your Wagon, which debuted three years before Disneyland. Oliver Smith, the set designer, created a village that looked like what would happen if you built an Old West town in a heckuva hurry. When Hollywood finally got around to making the film version, in 1969, production designer John Truscott spent $2.4 million and seven months building the Town With No Name in the remote hills of Oregon.

A Beautiful Mine

Did Walt want to take his guests through amazing caverns with out-of-this-world rock formations, or did he want to fascinate them with a trip in an actual train of ore cars? Regardless of which impulse came first, the result was a ride called a mine train that included a visit to a spectacular cave instead of a working mine: the Rainbow Mountain Mine Train opened July 2, 1956.

The U. S. southwest is dotted with some 70,000 mines. Not just gold and silver, but copper, iron, coal, zinc, boron, potash and dozens more. The Rainbow Mountain Mine Train could have visited a replica gold mine, as the Calico Mine Train at Knott's Berry Farm did four years later, in 1960. In 1961, Frontier Village in San Jose produced the Lost Frontier Mine Ride. Mines, not caverns.

Walt Disney was fascinated by nature. He hired nature photographers from around the world, and he was friends with serious nature hobbyists like Edgar Queeny. It is quite reasonable to think that Walt might have driven Route 66 …

The First New Ride at Disneyland

The first new ride at Disneyland, opened Saturday, March 24, 1956, was the one thing that Walt Disney said did not belong in his Magic Kingdom.

It was an off-the-shelf ride that others could buy, not a custom-designed adventure machine like Dumbo or the Mad Tea Party. Walt bought a Super Roto-Jet from Kaspar Klaus Manufacturing of Memmingen, in southwest Bayern (Bavaria), West Germany. Unlike the custom-engineered Dumbo ride, which opened a month late, the Roto-Jet was precise and sturdy. The stand and vertical axle were repurposed mounts designed for German anti-aircraft guns.

Walt originally didn't want rides anywhere but Fantasyland, the children's domain. Main Street had the silent Cinema, Adventureland the Jungle Boats, Frontierland had its stagecoach and river boat, and Tomorrowland had the Rocket to the Moon. Who would put a traditional roller coaster in Frontierland? (Actually, Big Thunder worked out quite well, but we're talking about Walt's attitude in 1956.)