Liberty Square Archives

March 5, 2010

Liberty Belle Riverboat - Part 2

Yesterday I discussed the history of The Liberty Belle Riverboat. Now it's time to take a ride on this wonderful vessel. It's okay if you have a large group as the boat holds 450 people. This is also the only ride in the Magic Kingdom that allows guests to get up and walk around while their vehicle is in motion. The Liberty Belle begins operation each day at 10am or 11am and departs on the hour and half-hour. If you find you've arrived right after the Liberty Belle has left port, don't hang around waiting for it to return. The ship rarely fills to capacity and you can usually dash aboard at the last minute. Limited seating is available in the queue and on all decks. However, even on busy days it's easy to find a bench.

Liberty Belle Wating Area

Onboard Seating

Before we set sail, let's take a quick tour of the Liberty Belle. The boat has three decks. As I mentioned earlier, guests enter on the middle deck. Most people head to the upper deck for what they perceive to be the best view. However, if you choose to ride topside, you will be in the sun for thirteen minutes. Others head for the lower deck to find a spot at the very front of the ship. Personally, I like the middle deck best. It's high enough to afford a good view, there are good locations at the front, middle, and stern, and it's usually the least crowded.

On occasion, a family is selected to ride in the wheelhouse. If you're the first to arrive in the waiting area, ask a cast member if you can join the captain.

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Just outside the wheelhouse is the captain's quarters. It's fun to take a moment and browse this "luxurious" room.

Captain's Quarters

Captain's Quarters

On the middle deck is a lovely sitting room. However, I can't really recommend using this compartment. You can't see any of the sights from here. The third picture is of me holding a recording device to a speaker. For thirteen minutes I stood there, arm extended, so I could get a good copy of the narration for my video. Several people walked by during the voyage and gave me strange looks.

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

Jack Making a Recording

On the lower deck you'll find the boiler (mid-deck) and pistons (stern) that drive the paddlewheel.

Boiler Room


A relatively new addition to the front of the ship is this raised platform. Standing here provides a great view off the bow of the ship in all directions.

Observation Platform

As I always tell you, pay attention to the details. Look at the intricate woodwork, the riggings, the lanterns. The Liberty Belle is a beautiful vessel, worthy of your attention.


Rigging and Lantern




As our journey begins, our captain, Horace Bixby introduces Sam Clemmons (Mark Twain) to us over the PA. Knowing that Disney never misses a trick, I knew that name Horace Bixby was selected for a reason so I looked him up and discovered he was a real person, perhaps one of the greatest steamboat pilots of his day. He met Clemens in 1857 aboard the steamer PAUL JONES and later agreed to take him on as an apprentice.

Horace Bixby

One of the first points of interests is the wilderness town that grew up alongside the river. In the early years, there was no walkway skirting Frontierland. This was added years later to facilitate traffic flow during parades.

Frontierland Before the Walkway

Frontierland After the Walkway

Along the banks of the river, we see cargo stacked on various piers. As with everything, details are important. The number "71" is obvious. This is the year the Magic Kingdom opened. The Tell City Tool Co. is a little more obscure.

Located along the Ohio River in Indiana, this real town began in 1857 and was carefully planned by a group of Swiss people looking for a better life. In many respects, this was one of the United State's first planned communities. Three square miles of land was purchased and streets were laid out in a north-south, east-west grid. Settlers could buy tracts of land, but were required to build a two room home to be worth not less than $125.00 within one year of purchase. Factories, schools, and churches were all planned in advance and locations determined. In the early years, riverboats were the only means of transportation in and out of Tell City - which is why the Imagineers selected this town to be represented on the Rivers of America.

71 and Tell City

Another name seen on multiple crates along the river is Russel's Falls. This is in reference to Davy Crockett's sidekick, George E. Russel played by Buddy Ebsen.

Russel's Falls Crate

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To the right we see Harper's Mill on Tom Sawyer Island. After years of operation, the mill required a major rehab and the water wheel needed to be replaced. The new wheel was constructed using modern bearings and spindles and when reattached, spun unrealistically fast. Imagineers needed to come up with a dampening system to slow the wheel down and make it appear as if it were built using period materials.

Harper's Mill

As we travel further, Splash Mountain comes into view. This attraction opened in 1992 and is based on characters created by Joel Chandler Harris. Logs drop 52 ½ feet down Chickapin Hill at a speed of 40 miles per hour - faster than Space Mountain.

Splash Mountain

The next sight is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Modeled after Monument Valley in Utah, this attraction debuted in 1980. The story of BTMR goes something like this. During the late 1800's, gold was discovered deep within Big Thunder Mountain. Overnight, prospectors started mining the ore and soon the town of Tumbleweed sprang up on the mountain's slope. Everything was going well until a flash flood ravaged the mountain and town, ruining any future mining operations. The Liberty Belle offers some wonderful picture opportunities for this attraction that cannot be taken elsewhere.

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Over on Tom Sawyer Island we see Tom's Landing, Potter's Windmill (named after Muff Potter, a friend of Injun Joe), Superstition Bridge, and Fort Langhorn. From 1973 to 1997 this outpost was named Fort Sam Clemens - both in reference to Mark Twain whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. It's interesting to note, the Imagineers misspelled his middle name on the fort, dropping the "E."

Tom's Landing

Potter's Windmill

Superstition Bridge

Fort Langhorn

Fort Langhorn Entrance

Just beyond Fort Langhorn is an abandoned cabin. For many years, real flames could be seen lapping at the logs and a settler was lying on his back out front with an arrow piercing his chest. Guests were told he was the victim of an unfriendly Indian attack. As sensibilities began to change toward Native Americans, the story was rewritten and we were told that the settler had passed out from his moonshine and his cabin was ablaze due to his still exploding.

Today, the cabin sits deserted and the fire extinguished. Neither Captain Bixby nor Sam Clemmons even mention its existence as you pass by. I've read that the flames were turned off during the Liberty Belle's extensive rehab in 2005. By the time the ship was back in service, the gas pipes, originally installed in the early 70's, had deteriorated badly and it was decided not to replace them. Too bad. However, if you visit Tokyo Disneyland, their cabin still excites guests with real flames as they pass by on the Mark Twain.

Settler's Cabin

The next sight along the ride is an old gentleman sitting on the dock of his riverside shanty. This is Beacon Joe and he keeps track of the river's occasional course changes and marks the river accordingly. Pay attention to Beacon's dog. His head turns from left to right as a fish jumps out of the water.

Beacon Joe

Beacon Joe's Dog

The river also has a number of buoys marking various locations along the journey.

River Bouy

Shortly after passing Beacon Joe's bait shop, we come to a Powhatan Indian settlement. When the movie Pocahontas was released, Disney wanted to add a "tie-in" for the Liberty Belle and the WDW Railroad. However, the Powhatans were primarily found in Virginia, not as far west as the Mississippi or Ohio Rivers. Captain Bixby explains this incongruity by mentioning that they must be following the abundance of wildlife found in this vicinity.

Powhatan Camp



I have to admit, the "wildlife" along the Rivers of America does not represent some of Disney's better effects. Yet somehow these statuesque animals always bring a smile to my face.

Further down the river we find another tribe of Native Americans. However, this time, the tribe is not identified as belonging to any particular group. Next time you ride the Liberty Belle, rather than taking in the entire scene at once, pay attention to the various activities being performed by this close-knit group. You'll be amazed at how many daily chores are taking place here.

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Just past the Indian Village are their sacred burial grounds. Those who fall in battle are placed upon the traditional "bed of death" and after nightfall, the tribesmen will return to mourn the great warriors who brought honor to their families.

Sacred Burial Grounds

A rather peaceful section of the river lies ahead until we come to Cut-Throat Corner and Wilson's Cave Inn. Here, river pirates hide away, waiting to attack a passing riverboat. But during our journey, it's apparent that the scoundrels are celebrating and in no condition to ambush the Liberty Belle.

Wilson's Cave Inn

Knowing Disney as I do, I knew there had to be a reason the name "Wilson" was selected, so I did a little research. I found that on the Ohio River in Illinois, a real location called Cave-In-Rock exists. After the Revolutionary War, this hideout became a lair for river pirates who attacked passing vessels. During the 1790's, Jim Wilson became synonymous with the cave, calling it home and stocking it with provisions and opening a business called Wilson's Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment. He would entice unsuspecting river travelers to his establishment, then rob them of their goods and usually kill them. This true story inspired an episode of the TV show Disneyland titled "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates."

As we return to civilization, our boat once again passes Fort Langhorn and Superstition Bridge. Further on, it's fun to watch guests crossing Barrel Bridge on Tom Sawyer Island.

Barrel Bridge

The last major sight we see along our passage is the Haunted Mansion. Sam Clemens tells us that this house was built on sacred Indian burial grounds and is filled with spirits. But he doubts this story and thinks the folks that told him the tale might be filled with 100-proof spirits.

Haunted Mansion

This brings us back to Liberty Square and the end of our journey. I have created a six-minute video of the experience. I know that some of you skip these videos because you're used to seeing some of the schlock presented on YouTube. May I ask that you give my video a chance? I do not just shoot some footage then slap it onto YouTube. I have filmed the Liberty Belle from multiple angles and edited it accordingly. I have removed all the original sound and added clean copies without any background noises. I have also added appropriate sound effects when needed. I think my video gives a good feel of what the attraction is all about.

As I said at the beginning of my blog, there are no surprises to be had on the Liberty Belle. This is a quiet, relaxing journey that transports you to another era. It is definitely low-tech, but I think it's worth every minute of your time.

If you plan to be at Walt Disney World on March 9th, join Allears team members Deb Wills, Deb Koma, Mike Bachand and me at the Liberty Belle at 9:45. After some conversation about this attraction, we're heading over to the Haunted Mansion for a ride. (The Libery Belle doesn't open until 11am.)

March 4, 2010

Liberty Belle Riverboat - Part 1

There are no surprises to be had when riding the Liberty Belle Riverboat. What you see is what you get - a relaxing thirteen minute journey around Tom Sawyer Island as you ply the Rivers of America. Even on the busiest days, this excursion offers a few tranquil moments where you can forget about the rest of the world and actually believe you've traveled back in time to the era of frontier America.

Like so many of my other attraction blogs, I must start the story at Disneyland in California. From the very beginning, Walt knew he wanted a boat ride at his theme park. This can be seen in early sketches of the park he hoped to build on the backlot of his Burbank Studios. Although impossible to be seen on this small picture, the readout connected to the vessel in the water reads "Mississippi Steamboat."

Early Theme Park Plans

But Walt's dreams were bigger than this small plot of land could hold and eventually the project moved to Anaheim. Walt knew he needed to hire someone who could oversee this vast undertaking and remembered meeting retired Admiral Joe Fowler through a mutual friend.

Admiral Joe Fowler

"Can do" Fowler spent 35 years in the navy and retired as a Rear Admiral at age sixty. Walt, being the persuasive person that he was, convinced Joe to join the Disney team where he oversaw the construction of Disneyland and later, the building of Walt Disney World. In all, he spent twenty-five years with the company. But besides his overall skill as a project manager, Fowler's knowledge of ships was extremely useful when it came to the building of Disneyland's paddle wheeler.

The Mark Twain, as the ship would eventually be named, was the first paddle wheeler to be built in the United States in fifty years. The designers at WED conducted in-depth research on the subject and drew up plans for a vessel that resembled the riverboats that sailed the Mississippi during the heyday of steam powered ships. The 105-foot hull was built at the Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California and the ship's decks were built at the Disney Studios in Burbank. The decks and hull were then shipped to Disneyland for final construction. Walt felt so strongly about this craft that when corporate funding fell short, he used his own money to finish building the vessel. He was reimbursed after the park opened and began making money.

Mark Twain Riverboat Disneyland

Mark Twain Riverboat Disneyland

When the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World was being planned, many of the attractions at Disneyland were considered for the new park and the riverboat was a given to be included. However, in Florida, the ship's name would be the Admiral Joe Fowler in honor of the man who helped build two Magic Kingdoms. Much of this ship was built at the Tampa Ship Repairs and Dry Dock Company, the same location where the park's four steam trains were refurbished.

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

The Adm. Joe Fowler and the next two Mark Twains to be built and located at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris are all extremely similar to the original at Disneyland. In Paris, another riverboat also cruises the Rivers of the Far West. This second ship is a side-wheeler and named the Molly Brown after that "unsinkable" American legend. With the exception of the Molly Brown, all are real steamboats and pump water from the river that is then heated to create steam to drive the paddlewheels. The first picture is of Tokyo, the second and third of Paris.

Mark Twain - Tokyo

Mark Twain - Paris

Molly Brown - Paris

The Adm. Joe Fowler began service on October 2, 1971, one day after the opening of the Magic Kingdom. During the first few years of operation, there was very little to see along the route. Tom Sawyer Island had yet to be built and there were no Thunder or Splash Mountains to enjoy as you sailed by. In an effort to make the voyage more enjoyable, musicians could often be found on deck entertaining guests.

Before Tom Sawyer Island

Before Big Thunder Mountain

Onboard entertainment

One of the biggest differences between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom is the loading dock. At Disneyland, all loading and unloading of guests takes place on the lower deck. Thus, everyone onboard must disembark before new riders can come aboard. The Imagineers wanted to speed things up for a faster turnaround at the Magic Kingdom and devised a two-level system. Disembarking passengers leave from the lower deck while new arrivals enter the ship on the middle level. However, as the popularity of this attraction waned, this more efficient method of loading and unloading was modified and today, no one boards until the last guest from the previous journey has exited. This multi-level system was not duplicated at Tokyo or Paris.

Riverboat Landing

Soon after opening the Magic Kingdom, attraction demand outweighed capacity. The park needed more rides. One quick and relatively inexpensive solution was to build a second boat for the Rivers of America. This time however, the entire craft would be built at Disney World at the various shops located behind the Magic Kingdom. Construction took about six months and on May 20, 1973, less than two years after opening, the Richard F. Irvine joined the fleet and for the next seven years, two riverboats plied the Rivers of America. While one was unloading and loading passengers, the other was sailing around Tom Sawyer Island.

To the layman's eye, the ships look identical with one exception. The Adm. Joe Fowler has two smokestacks while the Richard F. Irvine only has one. It's interesting to note, in some older Disney publications, the Fowler is pictured while the caption reads Irvine (you can tell by the smokestacks).

Richard F. Irvine Riverboat

Richard F. Irvine Wheelhouse

The ship's namesake, Richard (Dick) F. Irvine was a set designer with a degree in architecture. He started working at the Disney Studios in 1942 and in 1953, Walt asked him to join the Disneyland team. Dick would act as the liaison between the Imagineers and outside architectural firms that were hired to design the buildings of the Anaheim park. In the years that followed, he helped design the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. He also oversaw the planning and design of Walt Disney World.

Richard (Dick) F. Irvine

It's interesting to note, Irvine's daughter-in-law, Imagineer Kim (Thomas) Irvine is the daughter of Leota Toombs, the face in the crystal ball at the Haunted Mansion.

In 1980, the Adm. Joe Fowler needed some routine maintenance. But unlike Disneyland, that has a drydock (named Fowler's Harbor) connected to the Rivers of America, the Magic Kingdom has no such facility. In Florida, the drydock is located northeast of the Magic Kingdom and the boat needed to be sailed to this location. Have you ever wondered what the iron-truss bridge is for located just beyond Thunder Mountain? The train tracks sits on a turntable and can pivot out of the way so watercraft can gain access to Seven Seas Lagoon, Bay Lake, and eventually the backstage drydock.

Truss Bridge

What happened next is somewhat of a mystery. Like all big companies, Disney is somewhat reluctant to share the details of its failures - and the Adm. Joe Fowler would become one of Disney's disappointments.

While entering drydock, the riverboat's hull was damaged extensively. One account claims that it cracked while being lifted by a crane. Another says the boat was positioned incorrectly on its supports when water was being drained from the drydock and split. However, by this time, two riverboats were no longer necessary. Space and Thunder Mountains had opened in the interim and the extra capacity two boats offered was no longer needed. The decision was made to scuttle the Adm. Joe Fowler. Some accounts claim that the hull was buried somewhere on property. Others say it was sunk in Bay Lake. I could find no definitive proof of either.

But parts of the Adm. Joe Fowler live on to this day. The ship's machinery was shipped to the then under construction Tokyo Disneyland to become the workings of that park's Mark Twain. And the boat's whistle was added to the #4 engine, the Roy O. Disney at the Magic Kingdom.

In 1996, the Richard F. Irvine was in need of an extensive refurbishment and was floated back to drydock. Luckily, it fared better than the Adm. Joe Fowler and when it reemerged, it was rechristened the Liberty Belle. The Imagineers felt that this new name would be easier for guests to remember and it fit better with the riverboat's home port, Liberty Square. However, the two gentlemen whose names once graced these stately vessels have not been forgotten. In 1999, two of the Staten Island-style ferries that transport guests between the TTC and the Magic Kingdom were renamed in honor of these two men. The third ferry was renamed the General Joe Potter. This gentleman headed many of the early construction projects at Walt Disney World.

Joe Fowler Ferry Boat

Richard Irvine Ferry Boat

I have to admit, I've always been a little curious as to why the Imagineers decided to place the Riverboat Landing in Liberty Square and not Frontierland. I realize that in regards to Disneyland, the dock is in the same spot. But riverboats of this nature were found on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri rivers in the early 19th century, not colonial New England of the late 18th century which Liberty Square represents. But further investigation uncovered the following. Without the Liberty Square Riverboat, Liberty Square would only have two attractions, the Haunted Mansion and Hall of Presidents. The ride was placed here to help round out this land. Also, the "draw concept" comes into play here. When standing in The Hub and looking into Liberty Square, the Riverboat Landing entices you to enter. And finally, the riverboat and landing serves as a transitional element linking Liberty Square to Frontierland.

Riverboat Landing

That's it for Part 1. Check back tomorrow for a trip around Tom Sawyer Island while riding this lovely vessel.

If you plan to be at Walt Disney World on March 9th, join Allears team members Deb Wills, Deb Koma, Mike Bachand and me at the Liberty Belle at 9:45. After some conversation about this attraction, we're heading over to the Haunted Mansion for a ride. (The Libery Belle doesn't open until 11am.)

July 10, 2009

Liberty Square Odds & Ends

Since I recently wrote a feature article and a blog about the Hall of Presidents, I thought I'd write a companion piece about a few of the other, less noticed sights in the area. Let's start with the porch to the right of the Hall of Presidents. Here you'll find two rocking chairs. The setting, in and of itself, is picturesque, but to use these seats is even better.

Liberty Square Porch

If I may suggest, get a dessert from nearby Sleepy Hollow and enjoy it here. This is a wonderful spot to sit, relax, and people watch. Although it is possible to see the parades from here, I can't really recommend this porch as a prime viewing location. Too many guests will be between you and the floats and only the upper half of these moving show pieces will be visible.

Near the entrance to Hall of Presidents you can find a little girl's doll in the window. And to the left side and around the corner, take a look at the upper windows. Here you'll find two lanterns. Remember the old battle cry, "One if by land, two if by sea." You can also find a Minute Man's rifle.

Child's Dool

Lanterns in a Window

Minute Man Rifle

Across the street from the Hall of Presidents is Disney's version of the Liberty Tree. The original Liberty Tree was located near Boston Common. On August 14, 1765, the Sons of Liberty gathered there to protest the Stamp Act. They concluded their protest by hanging two tax collectors in effigy from its branches.

Liberty Tree

In the years that followed, similar trees all across the colonies were designated "Liberty Trees." As it was dangerous to assemble and protest during these trying times, the trees provided a meeting place that gave the appearance of a casual gathering beneath its branches.

The trees were often decorated with lanterns and banners. In addition, a pole would be erected within its branches as a signaling device. When a flag was raised (usually yellow), the Sons of Liberty knew it was time to meet. Disney's tree sports thirteen lanterns - one for each colony.


Disney's Liberty Tree is a Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and was found growing on the southern edge of their Florida property. Determining that it would be perfect for the Magic Kingdom, the Imagineers decided to dig it up and move it. However, this would be no small undertaking. It's estimated that the tree weighed more than 35 tons and its root-ball measured 18'x16'x4' around.

The tree could not be lifted by placing cables around its trunk. Its weight would cause the cables to slice through the bark and into the soft cambium layer. This would seriously damage or possibly kill the tree. Instead, two holes were drilled horizontally through the trunk. Metal rods were then inserted into these bores and cables attached to the ends. Lifted by a large crane, the tree was transferred to a flatbed truck for transportation to the park. Once at the Magic Kingdom, the cables were reattached and the crane lowered the tree into place. The rods were then removed and replaced with the original plugs.

Unfortunately, these plugs had become contaminated during the move and caused an infection to grow within the trunk and eat away a portion of its interior. To remedy the problem, the plugs were removed and the diseased sections of the tree were cleaned out. This time, the holes were filled with cement. In addition, a young Southern Live Oak was grafted to the base of the tree. At one time, you could see these scars, but the bushes have grown up around the tree and they are now hidden.

Disney produced a movie in 1957 titled Johnny Tremain. Based on Esther Forbes' book, the story tells of a lad who was badly injured as an apprentice silversmith then finds himself deeply involved in the American Revolution. In one scene of the movie we see Johnny and the Sons of Liberty hanging lanterns on the Liberty Tree. Some of the music used in this movie can be heard in the Liberty Square area. This film is available on DVD.

Johnny Tremain DVD

Next to the Liberty Tree is the Liberty Tree Tavern. If you look around the restaurant's perimeter, you can find some herbs growing and a kettle in which to cook a meal.


Cooking Kettle

To the left of the Liberty Tree Tavern is a replica of the Liberty Bell. Cast from the same mold as the original, this bell was created for the Walt Disney World Resort in 1989.

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

Circling the bell are the flags of the original thirteen colonies. Near the base of each flagpole is a brass plate with the date that the state ratified the Constitution.

Flags of the Colonies

Brass Plate and Date

Also in the area is a sign with a lengthy history of the Liberty Bell -- so lengthy that I doubt that many of you have taken the time to read it while standing in the hot Florida sun.

Liberty Bell Sign

To help you out, I've copied it for you here. Enjoy.


The Liberty Bell

The Province Bell was the name first used to describe me. I was ordered from the English bell foundry of Whitechapel in 1751 by the Pennsylvania Assembly. I was to be part of the celebration which would commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges signifying the founding of Pennsylvania.

Soon after being brought to America from England it was decided to test me for tonal quality. For this purpose I was hung in the notch of a tree and struck. With the first stroke of the clapper I sang out a glorious note. However, with the second strike I cracked and then gave off a terrible sound.

Two Philadelphia metal workers, Pass and Stow, melted me down, added more copper and recast me. I was now an American bell although everything about me was the same as the first bell, including the inscription "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof" and "By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State House in Pennsylvania."

People now know me as the State House Bell. At first my only duty was to call the legislature to assemblies. However, as English rule became more and more intolerable I was used to summon people together to discuss and protest issues they considered unfair.

I was muffled as a symbol of protest and tolled slowly when the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765 were passed into law. I continued to toll for the First Continental Congress in 1774. The time I remember best was on July 8, 1776, when I summoned the citizenry for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. It was during this era of unrest that I became known as The Bell of Independence and The Bell of Revolution.

During the Revolutionary War I was wildly rung to signify each victory and muffled and tolled slowly to announce each defeat. The people could judge the success of the war effort just by the way I was rung. I became so important to the people that when Philadelphia was invaded by advancing British forces, I was taken to Allentown, Pennsylvania and hidden in the floorboards of a church so the British wouldn't find me. After a year in hiding, I was returned to the State House in Philadelphia. On September 3, 1783 I was rung joyously to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ended the war between Great Britain and the United States.

After eighty years of almost continual use, I was rung to mourn the death of Chief Justice Marshall on July 8, 1835 and cracked. In 1846, I was rung for the last time to commemorate George Washington's birthday. Although I can no longer be actually rung, I still occupy a special place in American history. The Herald of Freedom and the Liberty Bell are the names by which I am best known today; and perhaps these are the names which best describe me, for when the freedom and liberty of the United States hung in the balance, my voice was used to rally the people to the cause of liberty.

Cast from the same mold, this bell is a "Second generation" of the Original bell that hangs in Philadelphia. It was cast for Walt Disney World Resort in 1989.

June 28, 2009

Hall of Presidents Reopens

I was invited to a special preview of the new Hall of Presidents show today (June 28, 2009). The actual grand opening is July 4th. Here's what I experienced.

Hall of Presidents

The first thing you'll notice is that the name of the attraction now has a subtitle -"The Hall of Presidents - A Celebration of Liberty's Leaders."

Hall of Presidents Sign

Hall of Presidents

Hall of Presidents Sign

Beneath the porch is a new "countdown" clock indicating how many minutes until the next show begins. Hopefully this will save the cast members from having to answer this question innumerable times a day.

Countdown Clock

I didn't really notice any changes to the cast member's costumes, but to be honest, the old ones weren't burned into my memory so I can't be sure.

Hall of Presidents Costume

For the most part, the interior waiting area has not changed significantly. As always, the first thing you'll notice upon entering this room is The Great Seal of the United States.

Waiting Room

Great Seal of the United States

On the back wall you'll find the new title of the show.

Hall of Presidents - A Celebration of Liberty's Leaders

When you visit, be sure to check out the display cases that contain actual artifacts from previous presidents. One of the many items of interest is a Tea Caddy/Game Box used by George Washington at Mount Vernon.

Presidential Display Case

Washington Tea Caddy

Many of the same portraits that we're familiar with still hang on the wall.

Presidential Portraits

Presidential Portraits

The biggest change to the waiting room is the addition of a display showcasing dresses of three first ladies, Nancy Reagan, Edith Roosevelt, and Elizabeth Monroe (dress pictured).

First Lady Display Case

Monroe Dress

In the past, those traveling in wheelchairs entered the theater first to allow them a chance to get situated before the rest of the crowd. Now, wheelchairs line up on the right side of the waiting area and enter the theater with everyone else and are directed to a special area toward the back of the room.

Because this was a preview, Disney asked that no photography of any kind be used during the performance. So, from this point on I have no pictures to share with you. Once the show has its grand opening, things will return to normal and photography should be allowed as long as you don't use any flash equipment.

Spoiler alert! I'm going to do my best to describe the new show. For me, there was one "surprise" that caught me off guard and moved me to tears. If you want to experience this unexpected moment for yourself, stop reading now.

President Obama


First, the movie is digitally projected. In other words, there is no film to become scratched and faded. The movie is crystal clear and the colors look vibrant. Next, the sound system is all new and everything was digitally recorded. Once again, voice and music sound better than ever.

Morgan Freeman narrates the show which begins with a brief discussion of the war for independence and George Washington. We're told that by Washington refusing to become king and then stepping down after his second term, he helped set our country in the direction that any man, not just the gentry, could rise to the highest office in the land.

To prove this point, the next president highlighted is Andrew Jackson. A common man that played a pivotal part in our country's early years.

Next slavery is discussed, and with this, Lincoln becomes the focus of the film. After several minutes, the center screen rises and we see an Audio-Animatronics figure of this great man, sitting all alone on stage. He rises and delivers the Gettysburg Address. This was a stirring moment and I wasn't the only person wiping the tears from my eyes. At the conclusion of his speech, the screen lowers and the movie continues.

As the film progresses in time, paintings are replaced by photographs and then videos as Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush are all briefly discussed or highlighted. A sharp eye will notice a picture of a high school-aged Clinton meeting Kennedy.

Many of the paintings used in the film are familiar to us from the previous show, but many of them are new. Also, only three of the five screens are used in this new feature, but that's entirely okay. You don't miss them at all.

When the film concludes, the curtain rises on all 43 presidents. As always, this is awe inspiring. The roll call commences and the new lighting system highlights each president. Their position on stage has been rearranged so the audience can follow the introductions better.

When the roll call concludes, George Washington stands and talks about the importance of the presidential Oath of Office that all of the men here on stage have taken. He then gestures to Obama who recites this oath. Interestingly, this was recorded in the Map Room, the same room he retook the Oath of Office after a slight mishap occurred during the actual inauguration.

When Obama finishes, Morgan Freeman gives him a second, more elaborate introduction. Obama then delivers another short speech about the significance of the American dream. The show concludes with a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful."

At this point, the theater erupted into applause and many were wiping tears away. I knew a number of people in the audience today. After the show, we discussed what we had just seen. It was unanimous. Disney has done an outstanding job of reinventing this attraction. The Audio-Animatronics figure of Obama is stunning. Please, please put this on you "must see" list on your next visit to Walt Disney World. You'll be glad you did.

For more information about how this show was created, click here for an official Disney press release.

September 13, 2008

Haunted Mansion Attic

In mid-September of last year, the Haunted Mansion reopened at Disney World after a lengthy rehab.

Haunted Mansion

A number of effects were either enhanced or added. The Attic Room is one such example. Gone are the carnival-like pop-up heads to be replaced with state-of-the-art effects.

This blog is going to discuss some of the nuances of this room that are easily missed when traveling through. Since flash photography is not allowed in the Haunted Mansion, I do not have any pictures of the attic to share with you.

Note: Spoilers ahead!

One of the first things you'll notice as you enter the attic is a portrait of a bride and groom. This "happy" couple is Ambrose Harper and Constance Hatchaway.

Near this portrait are a number of modest wedding gifts such as a music box, china, crystal, and various household goods. A nearby wedding album reads:

Ambrose and Constance 1869

Ambrose is the son of successful farmers. For this particular occasion he wears a sensible woolen suit and bowler hat. Constance's past is murky and suspect. For her special day she wears a stylish wedding gown and a single strand of pearls. As you pass their portrait, Ambrose's face fades into nothingness and then reappears - signifying that Constance has outlived him for some reason.

You soon come to a second portrait, this time featuring Constance and her new partner, Frank Banks. Frank is an Eastern banker and well placed in his community. He proudly dons a stovepipe hat. Constance, being practical, chose to wear the same wedding dress as before, but this time proudly displays two strands of pearls around her neck.

Look closely at the cabinet in the foreground. On it you'll see a porcelain figurine of a well-to-do French woman looking down at a second, toppled figurine of a gentleman, who apparently lost his head in the fall. On the shelf below you can see a broken ceramic heart-shaped box.

There are more wedding gifts in this area and they seem to be of better quality than those given to Constance on her first marriage. A nearby banner reads:

Constance and Frank

Constance chose for her next spouse a foreign diplomat known as the Marquis De Doom. In their wedding portrait, The Marquis wears a military uniform, complete with sash, assorted medals and a formal hat with plume. The ever sensible Constance once again chose to wear the same dress; however three strands of pearls are now evident. There wedding album reads:

The Marquis Constance

Continuing her social climb, Constance's next husband is Reginald Caine. He was a railroad baron and dressed the part. For his wedding he sports a brocade vest, fancy shirt, and costly jacket. And like her previous husbands, he too dons a fine hat. Being ostentatious, Reginald also wears a large ring on his little finger and a sizable stone in his lapel.

Constance, as usual, chose the same wedding dress. It has served her well so far and she sees no reason to tamper with things. The only change, a fourth strand of pearls has been added to her ensemble.

A nearby frame says:

Reginald & Constance

Constance's last husband was George Hightower. He should look familiar to you as you have seen his countenance for many years on the gravestone in the stretching room. Before his demise, George owned the stately mansion you are now visiting.

The gifts for this final wedding are by far the most expensive. In keeping with her growing wealth, their wedding portrait is displayed in an ornate frame. An inset reads:

George & Constance

As you might have guessed, Constance now wears five strands of pearls.

As with Ambrose, Constance's first husband, each successive spouse fades from view as you pass their portraits. All the while, a melancholy rendition of "Hear Comes the Bride" can be heard in the background.

In this same area is a hat rack. Hanging on it are all five of the hats worn by Constance's dead husbands.

Just before you exit the attic, we finally get to meet the ghost of Constance.

She stands in peaceful serenity as her hands move from her side toward her chest and an axe materializes in her grasp. All the while, she utters a number of well known, albeit telling, wedding phrases, each with a slightly different expression. With a twinkle in her eye she calmly says:

"'Till Death". Do Us Part""

"Here comes the bride!"

"As long as we both shall live""

"For better or for".WORSE."

"I do. I did!"

"In sickness and in ".wealth!"

"You may now kiss the bride."

"We'll live happily ever"after!"

Many of the sights I've described are difficult to see. EXTREMELY difficult to see. I rode the Mansion five times in a row last week, looking for them and it took a quick eye. Good luck!

Interested in learning more about Disney's Haunted Mansions? Check out Imagineer Jason Surrell's book The Haunted Mansion: From Magic Kingdom to the Movies!

May 22, 2008

1972 Magic Kingdom Walt Disney World Pictures - Part 2

This is my last set of January, 1972 pictures. I do have others, but they are of things that have changed very little over the years, such as Main Street and portions of Fantasyland, and really aren't of any historical interest. Enjoy!

This first picture is of the Haunted Mansion. The first interesting detail is the lack of trees. Although you can't see it in this picture, in the early years, the building that actually houses the attraction was visible from inside the park. Also notice that the queue doesn't have an awning over it. Remember, Walt Disney World was designed by people who lived in California. They hadn't yet learned that the sun is brutal in Florida, as are the rainstorms.

Haunted Mansion Magic Kingdom 1973

This next picture was taken from the Skyway of the Mad Tea Party. Notice that the teacups do not yet have a roof overhead. Same California designers.

Mad Tea Party Magic Kingdom 1973

The third picture is of the "Pearly Band." These entertainers were a regular fixture at Disneyland and then the Magic Kingdom after Mary Poppins debuted. If you remember, a "pearly band" played in the animated portion of the movie. I can't remember the last time I saw this group. They are playing in front of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Fantasyland, the current home of the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction.

Pearly Band

This fourth picture, also taken from the Skyway, is of Tomorrowland under construction. The Carousel of Progress would eventually be built here. Like Disneyland in 1955, when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Tomorrowland was just a shell of what it would finally become.

Future Home of the Carousel of Progress Magic Kingdom 1973

I took this final picture of a popcorn vendor because of the costume he was wearing. I had never seen this outfit as the Disneyland vendors wore different apparel. Eventually, this look would find its way to California. Like the pearly band, this costume is now just a memory.

Also notice the spires that marked the entrance to Tomorrowland. The design called for columns of water to cascade from these towers. However, even a slight breeze would send droplets all over the walkway and they were often turned off to save giving the guests a shower.

Tomorrowland Popcorn Vender Magic Kingdom 1973

February 24, 2008

Liberty Tree Tavern Pagers

A very old tradition has died at the Liberty Tree Tavern at the Magic Kingdom. In the past, when guests checked in at the podium, they were asked what state they were from. Then, when it was time to be seated, the host or hostess would call out in town-crier fashion, "Hear ye! Hear ye! Now seating the Spence party (family) from the great state of Florida. But those days are gone.

Now when guests check in at the podium, they are given a pager with no question about their home state. On the plus side, the pagers do allow guests more freedom of movement as they are now allowed to wonder outside while waiting for their table. But on the downside, the restaurant has lost some of its charm with this new system.

And if my experience today is any indication, their system needs some work. After my pager was activated and I handed it back to a hostess, I was all but forgotten. Other parties were being seated while I was left standing there. After I brought this to their attention, I still waited several minutes while they tried to figure out what had happened to my reservation. When they finally found it, a new hostess asked me for my pager - which I had to explain had already been given to someone else several minutes earlier.

Bottom line" Pagers are now the norm in restaurants - which is probably a good thing. But isn't there someway to do this without giving up the charm of old traditions?

October 9, 2007

Haunted Mansion Update

I rode the Haunted Mansion today and I'm happy to report that the Attic Room is now working properly.

CAUTION Spoiler ahead"
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When the HM reopened, the Attic Room had been completely redesigned. Instead of the carnival-like "pop-up" heads, various portraits of a bride and her numerous, headless husbands were scattered around the attic. However, the pictures were stagnant and contained no special effects. Now, as you pass by each portrait, the husbands' faces fade in and out as guests pass by while the bride's face remains constant.

Now that the effect is working properly it is consistent with its Disneyland, California counterpart.

September 15, 2007

Haunted Mansion Comes Alive

All Ears® Team Member Jack Spence (accompanied by Anita Answer and friends) files this report:

The good news: it's still the Haunted Mansion. It has been improved. Some changes are obvious, others would hardly be noticed. They come together to update a wonderful attraction. Somebody who had never been on the attraction wouldn't have a clue of which effects are new, and which are the originals from 1969 / 1971. Even people familiar with the attraction might have trouble.

First, what hasn't changed:

It's still the Haunted Mansion.

The feeling of the attraction is the same.

The entire graveyard scene is the same.

The busts that turn to watch you pass are the same.

The hitchhiking ghosts still join you on the way out.

The ballroom dancers are still backwards.

Rumors that weren't true:

There are no live bats

There is no new shop at the exit.

What is different outside:

Outside, the queue begins near the old fastpass structure. The line has a couple of switchbacks in this area before proceeding under the "13 minute" sign. (The line was long this morning, so all the queue was in use.) The awning over the queue area next to the Rivers of America is wider than it used to be. This provides enough space that they can divide it into thirds - so one line goes in front of the mansion toward the attraction entrance, then it switches back toward the 13-minute sign, then switches back toward the attraction entrance again. The line is narrower than it used to be, so people more naturally fill the available space without worrying about passing (or being passed by) somebody else.

The color of the building is subtly different.







What is different inside

The first improvement I noticed was the sound. In the stretch room, the ghost host doesn't bounce from one location to another. Rather the voice moves smoothly around the room. Also, some new sounds have been added to improve effects - when the room stretches, it creaks.

The interior of the attraction has been spruced up. For example, the wallpaper in the stretch room is new. The old was looking rather shabby. The frames on the stretch pictures look better.

The lighting throughout has been improved. While the ambient lighting isn't brighter, most anything of interest is better lit. The hanging body above the ceiling is more visible; the ballroom characters are brighter.

Some of the pictures with the eyes that follow you have been moved to the loading area. The hallway where these pictures used to be now has windows on the left side, with lightning outside and the appropriate thunder. On the other side, there are still pictures, some with the eyes that follow you, and some not. But all of the pictures change appearance with the flashes of lightning.

One of the most obvious changes is the area where giant spiders used to be on giant webs. Those are completely gone, replaced by stairways going up, down, and around at odd angles. Some room décor around the area (such as candelabra and small rugs) are also at odd angles, even upside down. You can even see the foot falls as a ghost is walking on the steps. I always thought the spider webs were put in because there just wasn't enough space in this area for anything more. The Imagineers certainly overcame that limitation.

The séance room has more items floating around the outer edges (or are they just better lit?) Madame Leota's crystal ball floats and moves above the table.

The other most obvious changes are in the attic room. The pop-up heads are gone. Similar to the Disneyland HM, there are several pictures, each with the same bride, but each with a different groom. At Disneyland, the faces of the grooms fade out. I believe the effect is supposed to be the same here, but it wasn't working. Finally, you see the bride, holding an ax which appears and disappears.

One of the best effects is that there are eyes (bats' eyes, I think) which watch you from the darkness. Some of the eyes even move. As you move along, the eyes transform into the wallpaper - the same wallpaper with eyes that has been on the walls since opening day.

If you're looking for more information on the Haunted Mansion, Jason Surrell has written a great book on this attraction. The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies fleshes out how the Mansion's 999 grim grinning ghosts were brought to life. Rare early sketches and story concepts, and stunning architectural drawings illustrate the Mansion's evolution as it was constructed at each Magic Kingdom Park around the globe.
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies

September 3, 2007

Haunted Mansion Update

I visited the Magic Kingdom today and took a couple of pictures of the Haunted Mansion. As you can see, it is encased in scaffolding.

Haunted Mansion.jpg

Haunted Mansion

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About Liberty Square

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in the Liberty Square category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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