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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Hall of Presidents

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As election returns come in on this election night, I thought I'd highlight an often overlooked attraction in the Magic Kingdom that chronicles those who have answered the call to serve in the nation's highest office: The Presidency.

An original opening day attraction, The Hall of Presidents was originally developed by Walt Disney himself. Back during the early days of Disneyland, Walt wanted to create an attraction that featured all the Presidents of the United States. Unfortunately, the technology to do so just hadn't been developed yet, so Walt set his sights instead on a single President: Abraham Lincoln. "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," which premiered at the 1964 New York World's Fair, was the end result of Walt's efforts. After the World's Fair ended, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln moved to Disneyland.

While Walt never gave up on his original idea, he would not live to see any further advancement on his original project.

After Walt's death in Dec. 1966, Imagineers were coming up with ideas for attractions for Liberty Square, one of the lands in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and decided to take another look at Walt Disney's original concept for an attraction featuring all the Presidents. In 1971, the Hall of Presidents was born.

When it first opened, the Hall of Presidents featured 36 Presidents (Richard Nixon was in the White House in 1971). Since then, seven more Presidents have been added (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama).

Last year, the attraction received a significant refurbishment, not just to add the 44th President of the United States (Mr. Obama), but also to add an all-new introduction film voiced by Morgan Freeman and new title: "The Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty's Leaders." This new title echo's a new storyline, "We the People," paying tribute to the bond between the people and the President.

Outside the theatre, the lobby area is a treasure trove of hidden gems. The pre-show lobby features presidential portraits, display cases filled with personal artifacts of presidents including Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and George Washington, and large display cases exhibiting dresses and personal objects worn by several first ladies, including Edith Roosevelt (Teddy’s wife), Elizabeth Monroe and Nancy Reagan.

With all this history, why do so many people go right by? To be honest, I really don't understand it. The Hall of Presidents is a heart-stirring tribute to our nation's leaders and a technological marvel. The line for Peter Pan's Flight can be upwards of an hour and the audio animatronics are nowhere near the caliber of what's in the Hall of Presidents. Don't get me wrong, I really like Peter Pan's Flight, but I think the Hall of Presidents deserves its props for being just as much of a headliner as other attractions. In fact, when HOP opened in 1971, it was an "E" attraction.

The Hall of Presidents is much more than just a place to beat the heat or get out of the rain. The show is very moving and will make you proud to be an American (to my international friends, I hope you also are proud of your heritage as well, so please pardon by bit of national pride here).

I highly encourage you make the time to see the Hall of Presidents. The show runs about 25 minutes, so it's worth the effort. Who knows, in a few years, the show might be changing again. That's one thing that's always interesting about this attraction, when a new President takes the oath, it's time for another refurb for the Hall of Presidents.

Some interesting tidbits:

When Imagineers met with President Obama, they were scheduled to record his speech in the White House Map Room. The sound quality wasn’t optimum for the recording, so White House staff placed upholstered screens around the room to achieve good acoustic quality.

The new Audio-Animatronic Barack Obama stands on stage next to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. His figure is one of the most lifelike because of the subtlety and smoothness of its movements and facial expressions.

Disney legend Blaine Gibson sculpted every president except Obama – his protégée, Disney sculptor Valerie Edwards, sculpted Obama with oversight by Gibson, now in his 90s.

While Barack Obama is the 44th president, there only 43 men standing on the Hall of Presidents stage when the curtain rises. That's because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, so he is both the 22nd and 24th president.

The Imagineering team combed through the National Archives, Library of Congress, museums and private collections to acquire more than 130 new images ultimately woven into the show.

In the 2009 re-launch of the attraction, Lincoln recites the Gettysburg address with the original Royal Dano recording directed by Walt for President Lincoln’s World’s Fair debut.

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