Museumland: A Historiography of Disneyland and its Place in American Culture


This essay is vastly different from any other essay I have posted online. The intended audience for this piece was never meant to have a deep or working knowledge of Disney’s theme parks, nor was the audience even expected to LIKE Disney’s theme parks. Instead of being crafted to satisfy my own curiosity or to (hopefully) entertain and educate fellow devotees to thematic history, this essay was crafted for an audience of academics, and academics that were adjudicating not the factual content of the piece, but the way in which is was argued, researched, and created. Essentially, I wrote this piece to fulfill a requirement and to graduate with my Master’s Degree. While this might sound that the piece was written dispassionately, I was lucky enough to be studying under a professor that indulged my interests and allowed me free reign to tackle Disneyland as a cultural entity and what that meant for the United States and pop culture. This essay was written for a ‘Politics and Culture’ seminar in which we were to find a subject and discuss the historiography surrounding it with an argumentative bent. In so doing, I engaged with texts and concepts that were familiar to what we had discussed and deconstructed during the course of the seminar. These are the ways in which this essay is written differently and might not jive with accepted norms and philosophies that I would have had in mind if writing for this, a “theme park” audience.   As you will soon see, I argued for Disneyland’s importance as a museum piece by placing that idea within the context of other historical monographs and texts. If you are a longtime reader of my blog, I’ve previously argued for Disneyland to be considered a museum, though that essay  was written more based on personal experience and feelings. This more academic piece could be considered a companion to it.   I hope you enjoy this, despite its length and esoteric approach. 


Museumland: A Historiography of Disneyland and its Place in American Culture

When Disneyland opened its gates, 60 years ago, its foremost purpose was to be an economic boon to Walt Disney and his studio in Southern California. In spite of that singular economic focus, there is much more nuance to what Disneyland was to American society when it opened and what it has become in the six decades to follow. Designed to be more elaborate and more artful than a typical amusement park, Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom was America’s first true theme park, and its content was rooted in the subtleties and mechanics of the American mindset in the 1950s and 60s. Despite various changes and alterations, most parts of Disneyland and Walt Disney World (built in 1971, but with a similar thematic intent and results) have survived. With this longevity in mind, Disneyland (and its sister park) has become a museum piece of sorts for American values and cultural practices. That the park fundamentally survived over the decades and withstood the whims of taste and popularity illustrates Disneyland’s importance as a landmark where today’s guests and customers can view American culture, as it was when Disneyland opened.


Historians of twentieth century popular culture in the United States have placed Disneyland into a conversation that discusses its niche and importance in revealing how Americans were entertained, the effects of popular art, Disney’s attempt at producing urban landscapes, Disney’s political populism, and how Americans interacted with growing consumerism. The books and monographs discussed here bolster the idea that Disneyland is a museum by illustrating different aspects of Disneyland’s design process, its economic modus operandi, and the philosophy of Walt Disney, himself.


Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 4.11.07 PM

Stephen Watts’ The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life seems an apt place to begin a historiographical study of Disneyland and Disney’s theme parks as it provides a lens by which to view Walt Disney and his influence on his park. Watts’ aim with The Magic Kingdom is to dissect the character and culture surrounding Mr. Disney, so as to explicate how Disneyland and Disney’s other enterprises in media functioned in relation to American values and institutions. In short, the cultural practices and representations of Walt Disney and Disneyland are typical of the underlying themes that are self evident in this branch of historiography. The story of Walt Disney and what he put into Disneyland undergird what American values represented in the 1950s and 60s. The greatest examples of these values are Disneyland’s representations of individualism, post-war family life, and consumerism. [i]

Watts’ explication of Walt Disney’s populist character seems to set the tone for Disneyland’s own culture and the values that run concurrent throughout the enterprise. Watts describes Mr. Disney’s political leanings to be infused with a libertarian populism and that his vision for history was one of progress, where the characters in his films and the guests in his theme park were either actors or witnesses to the “betterment” of society, in a profoundly technologic or moral way. Watts, of course, typifies these values as being inherently tied to Walt Disney’s ideas of patriotism and his and the studio’s creations were imbued with messages that propped up American values and what he personally wanted to see in the character of the nation. Watts specifically mentions “individual achievement, consumer prosperity, family togetherness, celebratory nationalism” were the tent poles of Disney’s brand of morality and informed the content of Disneyland.[ii] Watts considers this by illustrating how Disneyland was a reflection of American pop culture in the 1950s and 60s, when Mr. Disney dictated what attractions went into Disneyland and he personally oversaw the park.


Disneyland, as it opened on July 17th 1955, was a reaffirmation of postwar American culture. Watts argues that Disneyland was a stronghold for the values and spending habits of middle class families, and in so doing, set the tone for a fantasized, yet accurate reflection of American commitments and patterns of life. [iii] The opening ceremony for Disneyland encapsulates this commitment to Americana, almost perfectly. With patriotic sentiment and pomp and circumstance self evident throughout the proceedings, Disneyland was dedicated, in Mr. Disney’s words to the “ideals, dreams, and hard facts that have created America”. This ethos was reflected in the attractions on Main Street USA, a representation of a turn of the century Middle American town, complete with gilded emporium, penny arcade, and, added later, a sentimental and emotional show about Abraham Lincoln. Further markers of Americana in Disneyland included Frontierland’s bevy of attractions involving the heroics of the pioneers and Adventureland’s Jungle Cruise, where park-goers were immersed in the imperialistic world of exploration and “native culture”.[iv] Besides thematic fantasy, all of these Disneyland attractions shared an underlying commitment to guests (consumers) enjoying these experiences together. The spirit of togetherness that Disneyland espoused usually manifested in it being advertised as a family destination. Watts highlights that Disneyland’s appeal and charm came in the fact that its attractions were accessible and appealed to all age groups.


Walt Disney’s and Disneyland’s populism was further defined by how Mr. Disney funded the park. Corporate capitalism was very much part of the “Disneyland show” as sponsorships for most headlining rides and eateries were well organized and visible to customers. Although Mr. Disney wanted Disneyland to be totally his venture, to fund the first few years of operation, Coca Cola, Bank of America, Eastman Kodak, and other such ventures populated Disneyland’s shops and provided a patchwork quilt of logos and slogans across the park.[v] Watts affirms that the inclusion of brands and companies made Disneyland into an mélange of organized competition and a consumer’s paradise. While fantasy and illusion provided the excitement to Disneyland the products and, more importantly, product placement, supported and shrewdly provided a financial backbone to Mr. Disney’s operation of Disneyland. Furthermore, Watts argues that popular brands and products provided guests with almost a sense of comfort and familiarity in the park.

Walt and his Carnation Milk truck.
Walt and his Carnation Milk truck on Main Street, USA.

Although Watts book is focused on Walt Disney himself, the insight that he has on the philosophy that drove Disney’s other enterprises provides context for Disneyland and other Disney parks. Considering that Watts links Walt Disney to Disneyland and unpacks the values and modus opeandi of the man to similar manifestations of populism and consumerism in the theme park, this book sets the stage for how other historians see Disneyland and a lens to view the culture of entertainment in the 1950s and 60s. Patriotism, populism, and consumerism all set the stage for evaluating Disneyland as a collection of cultural institutions and meanings.

vinyl-leaves-fjellman-cover-1Stephen Fjellman’s Vinyl Leaves further defines the context of Disneyland by explicating how culture and consumerism in Disney’s theme parks are symbolic of underlying American cultural practices and values. Although Fjellman focuses on Walt Disney World in Orlando, and not the original Disneyland in California, Fjellman’s argumentation and thesis frequently references both parks and similar characteristics and operations that they share. At the heart of Fjellman’s argument is that Walt Disney World’s brand of artful capitalism is anachronistic, but done so with an express purpose; Fjellman sees that Disney’s parks are comprised of history, or “distory”, that speaks to underlying American values, despite factual discrepancies. [vi]

Fjellman places Disney’s attractions into a cultural context so as to argue for they ways in which they fit a paradigm of American values and practices. Fjellman says that culture in Disneyland or Walt Disney World is bound by public symbols and “legitimations that justify the world”. [vii]  With this in mind, an exhibit like “The Hall of Presidents”, where all 44 presidents are impossibly on stage and speaking to each other at the same time, while historically unsound, is more of an example of Disney’s commitment to underscoring ideas of American exceptionalism and patriotism than it is to accurately portray American history. The purpose of Disney’s ventures in culture isn’t to proliferate academically supported history; it is to sell a product that makes a customer react in a positive and often, emotional way. Fjellman argues that this use of manipulated history in a capitalist venture reveals Disney’s place in American pop culture itself as it obliquely implicates that Disney’s products are, yes, bound to making the company money, but also to reflecting values and cultural concepts that are part of American culture. Fjellman asserts that this is a symbiotic relationship.


With this symbiotic and cultural relationship in mind, Disneyland and Walt Disney World are representations of culture, as it was construed at a certain point in time. Fjellman says that “distory”, or Disney’s conceptions of history, are marked by the ‘Eisenhower 50s’ and is designed to “soothe park visitors by leaping back across two world wars and a depression to more distant and hazy times”.[viii] Disney’s brand of consumer-friendly history plays upon nostalgia and memory. Falsified history, however, still relies on the aesthetics and events of the past to resonate with customers. Fjellman is careful to relate that Disney’s history, though counterfactual, is based in a degree of believability. The culture of Disneyland is one that is based in a veneer of truth, despite fantasy and entertainment subverting it. Disney visitors spend money to take part in experiencing this brand of fantastical history because it is steeped in realism. [ix]

Fjellman does not paint Disney’s brand of history and culture as a negative, but instead defines it as a marker of the unique culture that Disney represents and uses. When considering Disneyland or Disney World’s Magic Kingdom as a museum, they are not museums in the sense that they display the facts and artifacts of actual historic events, but instead that they are the artifacts themselves. Considering that Fjellman writes that these parks were created and imbued with postwar sentiment and nostalgia, Disneyland itself is a museum piece of how Americans saw themselves and the world in the latter half of the 20th century. Where Watts argues that Disneyland’s content was bolstered by the prevailing American values at the time of its inception, Fjellman furthers this notion and builds upon it by writing that Disney’s parks dwell in history and that history is portrayed in a very pointed way. In conjunction, these scholarly viewpoints make Disneyland and its attractions vital markers of American culture and values. Where Watts links these cultural attributes to Walt Disney himself, Fjellman goes a bit further and explicates that Disney’s business model is tied to their interpretation of history. Both, however, provide salient examples of how Disneyland and Walt Disney World can be viewed as artifacts or cultural sites that reflect the times and challenges in which they were built.


18330870._UY475_SS475_Next, Disneyland and all of Disney’s theme parks can be considered museums and museum pieces for the place they currently occupy in pop culture and not just for the content that they have. In Power and Paradise In Walt Disney’s World, by Cher Krause Knight, Knight argues that Disney World and Disneyland have grown into a type of pilgrimage site for Americans and the act of visiting these theme parks have come to define American culture. Knight attributes this outgrowth of ritualistic practice due to their content and the ways in which Disneyland presents its aforementioned patriotic and consumer driven content. [x]

If you wish strong enough, and believe hard enough, Tinker Bell will fly between the two main spires of the church!

Knight states that visiting Disneyland has become an American ritual much in the same way pilgrims visited holy religious sites because both share similar aesthetic and architectural characteristics. To make this very large claim, Knight compares Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom to the Santiago de Compostela. [xi] Santiago de Compostela, Knight argues, is a site of Spanish national identity where mystical meaning, cultural associations, and civic identity are reaffirmed, much how The Magic Kingdom aims to fulfill these same emotions through its entertainment venues and attractions. Knight relates the role of Santiago de Compostela as a pilgrimage site in that Christians travel to the church to pray, find spiritual sanctity, and to honor Saint James. She also links Disney’s Cinderella Castle (the icon and center of Walt Disney World) with Santiago de Compostela by illustrating that both make large visual statements, with towers soaring towards the heavens, speaking to their spiritual and otherworldly status. [xii]

Additionally, Knight sees Walt Disney World as a shrine to the similar American values that both Watts and Fjellman have discussed. Knight’s appraisal of American culture involves being a good consumer, buying into the Disney brand, and engaging in the family activities and attractions that Disney is famous for. By partaking in the ritual of travel and placing value on the overtly patriotic and populist sentiments of Disney, Knight asserts that Disney’s culture and place in culture is akin to the religious practices of pilgrimage. Where walking to the church completes a Christian pilgrimage and praying, the American religion of Disney is fulfilled by spending money on a “family brand” and walking down Main Street USA.[xiii]


Knight’s thesis on Disney as a pilgrimage site has further cultural implications in the ways in which Disney World has become a rite of passage for the American family. While The Magic Kingdom already boasts attractions and venues that are aimed at the family unit, Knight qualifies her claim by placing a trip to Walt Disney World in the context of how vacationing is integral to status and family psychology. Knight says that pilgrims travel through a terrain of culturally constructed symbols, where cultural obligations are met and experience changes the traveler. Under the paradigm of traveling to Disney World or Disneyland, the cultural obligation is the middle class family vacation, where familial togetherness is the objective and it is the general expectation that the trip will foster warm memories.[xiv] The elevation of status vis-à-vis interaction with Disney’s theme park culture comes when the traveler returns home with new experiences and stories of the overtly fantastical and technological wonders they have seen. Knight says that for children, having just returned from a trek to Disney World and getting to tell their peers about it is something of a status symbol and a marker of envy. For the parents that have taken their child to Disney World, the status symbol is tied to the achievement of being able to afford middle class escape to a theme park resort and meeting the expectation of their children. Undergirding all of this, Knight argues, is that athletes and Olympians proudly proclaim that they’re “going to Disney World!” after a victory. Family dynamics and economic aspirations aside, the whole affair of visiting Disney World is tinged with the support and adulation of the media in the United States, firmly cementing a trip to Disney World as part of the American psyche and in American culture.

Knight’s appraisal of Walt Disney World as a pilgrimage site places her scholarship apart from Fjellman and Watts. Where Watts and Fjellman wrote about the operations and thematic content of Disney’s parks vis-à-vis how American culture set the tone for Disneyland and Walt’s own personal tastes in the parks, Knight looks at Disney as more of a cultural observer than a historian who is trying to discern the mechanics of the parks. Knight identities herself as an explorer of traditional art, but readily admits that sociology and cultural anthropology have defined her study of Walt Disney World. In so doing, she argues that Disney’s role as a pilgrimage site is because it is part of a “shared culture” rather than a landmark of “pop culture” inspired attractions. Knight focuses on what Disney serves to the present population of the United States while building off of the history and cultural trends that have defined it, as Fjellman and Watts previously explored.


With Knight’s study of the current cultural role of Disney in mind, Anthony Guest’s work in The Paradise Program is an apt example of Disney’s consumerist and capitalistic tendencies, not to mention Disney’s efforts into defining urban spaces. This avenue of study reveals the underlying and functioning ethos of the company, beyond Walt Disney’s often artful and warm brands of patriotic and populist sentiment. Instead, Guest focuses on Disney’s ventures with EPCOT (Disney’s original plans in 1966 for an Experimental Prototype Community/City of Tomorrow, not the theme park that was eventually built under the same name in 1982.) and how Disney aimed to employ American culture and ideas of utopian futures so as to gain a foothold in real estate. While not implicitly related to Disneyland and its museum qualities as an example of American culture frozen in time, Guest’s study of Disney’s plans for a ‘community of tomorrow’, explicates the corporate vision of the company that serves as an engine to propagating American consumerist values. In short, Guest argues that EPCOT and Disney’s interest in urbanism serve as a means to an end in continuing running Disneyland in California and The Magic Kingdom in Florida. [xv]

Although Guest begins his exploration of EPCOT by highlighting that the ideas for a fully planned “city of tomorrow” were based in Walt Disney’s interest in technology and industry and part of his populist worldview, much like Watts covered in The Magic Kingdom, he soon departs from this rosy example and provides his own analysis for EPCOT’s origins, based in Walt Disney’s desire to stratify and control spaces. Where Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom are the epitome of controlled and highly manicured spaces meant for entertainment, Guest postulates that Disney’s EPCOT City was a Disney’s answer to problems in commerce and urban living. With Disney in control of urban development, the crowding and unclean aspects of the cities of yesterday could be sponged away with a common set of rules and guidelines for everyday work, play and trade. [xvi] Simultaneously, Guest argues that Disney’s involvement in running an industrial city would bolster the company’s success and that EPCOT would have made running Disneyland and Disney World would be all the more easy.


1997ffk5b7lvzjpgThe basis for most of Guest’s claims about Disney’s culture and involvement in urbanism is derived from his unpacking of Disney’s use of technology and its role in deepening Disney’s connections to being a vital part of consumerism culture in the United States. Guest’s assertion is two-fold. First, he explicates that Disney’s aims with the plans for the EPCOT City in Florida were designed to be almost totally industrial and support the aerospace sector, manufacturing firms, and other burgeoning technologically savvy industries in the 1960s. As Guest understands it, Disney’s EPCOT City would have been a totally self-sustaining urban entity where those that worked in the industries that populated the city’s landscape would have also been EPCOT City’s residents. Guest qualifies these statements and ties them to his ideas of consumerism by remarking that EPCOT’s insular economy is inherently tied to the success of both the Disney Company in brokering the management of the city and its citizens itself and the “third party” corporations that would have taken part in doing business in EPCOT City. [xvii] While none of this came to pass, however, it is worth noting how markedly similar Disney’s business plan for their parks and resorts mirrored the plans for EPCOT. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World are veritable entertainment metropolises, filled to capacity with first, people living and working for the company, and second, with industries that support the operations of theme parks and their employees. All of these consumerist aspects of Disney contribute to Guest’s declaration that Disney is a part of the fabric of American consumerism, with their goals very much focused on capital gains and production. Considering that Disney achieved this consumer status through technology and the production of cultural entertainment, they serve as an exhibition of American business practices. In Disney’s specialized case, they also exhibit aspects of American pop culture, as Fjellman and Watts have discussed. slide_251895_1549252_free

While Guest established the consumerist and corporate side of Disney’s use of technology, Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance focuses almost totally on the more artful side of Disney’s technological prowess. Karal Ann Marling and Erika Doss argue that thematic cues in Disneyland and Disney’s theme parks around the world follow American cultural cues and play into narrative archetypes that are part of the American subconscious. They argue that technology and traditional stagecraft make these expressions of American culture all the more convincing and make Disney culturally relevant today. [xviii]


Marling and Doss argue that Disneyland’s Fantasyland rides are reflections of the culture of the United States of the 1950s, as the narratives they exhibit and the values they prop up are linked to American consciousness at the time. In particular, they detail that rides like Snow White’s Scary Adventures or Peter Pan’s Flight represent an unconscious diversion into heroics, magic, and a worldview of the world based in what’s right and wrong.[xix] This argument is also bolstered by Marling and Doss’ assertion that the American consciousness, found the narratives expressed in Disneyland’s rides, to be almost “countercultural” for the sheer encouragement they provided for escapism and the fulfillment of personal fantasies. As Disneyland and the bulk of Fantasyland’s rides were built in the 1950s, they were an answer to the anxieties of the Cold War. “Fleeing” into the Technicolor and artful world of Disneyland, may have been couched in the populist and patriotic sentiments that Fjellman and Watts have described, but it was also mired in a countercultural escape into a fairytale devoid of politics and the threat of war.


Further, the ways in which these Fantasyland narratives are portrayed are notable as they were accomplished through technologically dazzling illusions, sets, murals, and feats of robotics. These modes of presentation, Marling and Doss argue, are the aspects of Disneyland and Walt Disney World that make the place uniquely modern and uniquely American.[xx] The melding of fairytale stories and values in an artistic and technological way is something of an American hallmark and exceptional contribution to the world of entertainment. Marling and Doss do acknowledge that the World’s Fairs and other amusement parks came close to offering what Disney began in Disneyland but they firmly assess that Disneyland and its brand of attractions was a watershed moment in encapsulating American popular culture in the 1950 and 1960s when the bulk of the park’s classic attractions were built. Using Marling and Doss’ assertion of Disneyland’s status as an entertainment landmark it becomes clear that the park is a museum piece for the American mindset during the Cold War. [xxi] Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 12.59.28 PM

Overall, the portrayals of Disney in this essay have been rooted in a successful and positive light. Admittedly, they have only looked at Disney in the context of the United States and at Disney under the lenses of American culture and American institutions. That said, as of Disney’s entrance in Japan in 1983, and France in 1992, Disney is now an international company. As these historians and cultural anthropologists in this conversation have established, Disney’s success and practices are based in the American values of the mid 20th century. In Andrew Lainsbury’s Once Upon An American Dream: The Story of Euro Disneyland, we are made privy to the shortcomings of Disney and its brand of American culture, as Disneyland was transplanted to a European and foreign environment as Euro Disneyland was built outside of Paris.


Where Walt Disney World and Disneyland were hailed as successful juggernauts upon opening, and have been lauded as cultural intuitions in the years following, Euro Disneyland, or Disneyland Paris, as it is now called, did not enjoy such a glowing reception. Instead, Euro Disneyland was hailed as a ‘cultural Chernobyl’ for its less than stellar impact in France as it did not turn a profit for its first three years of operations.[xxii] Lainsbury contends that Disney’s choice to almost totally replicate an American theme park for a European audience was not a mistake, but it was misguided in that Disney did not approach the project with more nuance.

Euro Disneyland was not built as a carbon copy of Disneyland or Walt Disney World, but it inherently had much of the same thematic content as its sister parks, Lainsbury explains. Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland were ideologically recreated, but in Paris, with more detail, as Disney thought that a fabricated tourist attraction would have trouble in stealing attention away from actual historical sites in Europe that boasted more grit and real world charm.[xxiii] Lainsbury says that while this was perhaps a good marketing technique, adding more artistic embellishments to Disneyland would have no effect on the cultural void that existed between Parisian guests and Disney’s content. Where American guests in an American Disneyland have established a Disney vacation as a pilgrimage site as Knight argued, Europeans had not. Further, where Americans were culturally connected to the source material expressed in Fantasyland where escapism and morality were tied to American values and the anxieties of the Cold War, European visitors viewed the Cold War in a much different context. The holistically American portrayals of European fairy tales were regarded as narrow and not as the universally accepted versions of the stories told. In short, Lainsbury argues that Euro Disneyland aimed to bring American culture to Europeans, but did so without adjusting its content to match the cultural expectations of a new group of visitors. [xxiv]


During the planning process, Euro Disneyland’s central icon, or weenie, was conceptualized as a futuristic beacon, modeled after the victorian aesthetics of Jules Verne.

By placing Disney into the context of another nation with its own cultural values and practices, seeing how some aspects of Disney’s fundamentally American ‘museum’ of culture endured in some ways and was changed in others is an exercise in observing the relativity of culture. While Lainsbury’s outlook on the park does acknowledge that the situation was bleak, there were some degrees of success. Euro Disneyland, rebranded at Disneyland Paris, sought to bridge the cultural gap. Lainsbury conveys that Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain attraction was reworked to honor the legacy of Jules Verne and his classic novel From the Earth to the Moon, which proved to be a rousing success.[xxv] Similarly, the It’s A Small World attraction was redone to have a more Euro-centric view of diversity and culture and its classic earworm of an anthem was re-scored in a classical mode in an effort to be more subtle and to appease French sensibilities. These changes, hurriedly pushed into place, illustrate Disney’s niche as a fundamentally American museum of popular thought and culture, and uniquely so. In an attempt to transplant American values, patterns of thought, and escapism onto European soil, Disney inadvertently proved that while they were popular and acceptable for one cultural context, these were not universal constructs. The culture of Disneyland and America inform one another; to encapsulate and built upon the culture of Europe, Disney would have to design and formulate a new type of museum for a different type of culture.


In closing, the historiography surrounding Disneyland and Disney’s theme parks illustrate its place as a “museum” or role as a “museum piece” for American culture during the middle of the twentieth century. Walt Disney’s own political leanings and values were imbued in the park’s thematic content, making it a lens by which to view populism, consumerism, and the general atmosphere of post-war America. Disneyland’s growth into a mainstay of the American vacation and its place in the minds of middle class Americans as pilgrimage site further illustrate Disney’s importance as a marker of American culture and spending habits. Finally, the ways in which Disney’s inherent American values do not translate to a foreign and European context allow us to see the uniqueness of Disney’s take on American culture and how that culture was adapted to meet a new audience. Although its thematic content is unconventional and ahistorical, Disneyland offers an artful look at the culture of entertainment and how it was defined by greater trends in American history.

Walt and Popcorn


Fjellman, Stephen M. Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.

Guest, Anthony. The Paradise Program; Travels through Muzak, Hilton, Coca-Cola, Texaco, Walt Disney, and Other World Empires. New York: W. Morrow, 1973.

Knight, Cher Krause. Power and Paradise in Walt Disney’s World. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2014.

Lainsbury, Andrew. Once Upon An American Dream: The Story of Euro Disneyland. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 2000

Marling, Karal Ann. Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance. Montréal: Centre Canadien D’architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1997.

Watts, Steven. The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.



[i] Watts, Steven. The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Page 449

[ii] Ibid, 449

[iii] Ibid, 391

[iv] Ibid, 388

[v] Ibid, 394

[vi] Fjellman, Stephen M. Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992. Page 61

[vii] Ibid, 86

[viii] Ibid, 61

[ix] Ibid, 62

[x] Knight, Cher Krause. Power and Paradise in Walt Disney’s World. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2014. Page 24

[xi] Ibid, page 34

[xii] Ibid, 43

[xiii] Ibid, 27

[xiv] Ibid, 27

[xv] Guest, Anthony. The Paradise Program; Travels through Muzak, Hilton, Coca-Cola, Texaco, Walt Disney, and Other World Empires. New York: W. Morrow, 1973. Page 225

[xvi] Ibid, 227

[xvii] Ibid, 228

[xviii] Marling, Karal Ann. Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance. Montréal: Centre Canadien D’architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1997. Page 181

[xix] Ibid, 181

[xx] Ibid, 184

[xxi] Ibid, 185

[xxii] Lainsbury, Andrew. Once Upon An American Dream: The Story of Euro Disneyland. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 2000. Page 6

[xxiii] Ibid, 54

[xxiv] Ibid, 72

[xxv] Ibid, 72



A Bevy of Baxter – Disneyland Expansion during the Bicentennial

At WED Enterprises, the 1970s were marked with an unmistakable drive of creativity that produced some of the most well known and iconic Disney experiences that still are held dear, today. The 1970s were the decade where Walt Disney World opened and Walt Disney Productions put all their efforts towards bringing the fledgling resort up to operational and thematic speed. This is also the heady decade in which Disney would finally act upon Walt Disney’s idea for an urban community of tomorrow and produce a theme park, EPCOT Center, out of those ideas and plans. On top of all this, the 70s were also the decade when Disney looked beyond America and saw potential in building magic kingdoms around the world. Tokyo Disneyland’s creative nexus came about during EPCOT’s formal creation as a unified theme park (And not a series of satellite theme parks with shared innovative values) and would go on to be a thematic entity based in the best parts of her Floridian and Californian sisters. But what of Disneyland, the original Magic Kingdom? Disneyland, too, was also the product of the driving spirit of WED’s enterprise during the mid 1970s and although what was built was slightly less than all of the plans and ideas fostered for the park, the process is astounding and a hallmark of the breadth of WED’s vision and skill. Under closer observation, Tony Baxter was instrumental in the creation of Disneyland’s efforts to expand.


Tony Baxter can be considered a product of WED’s first generation of imagineers. Beginning his career at Disneyland as a front line cast member and working his way into Imagineering, Tony Baxter was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of Claude Coats, Marc Davis, and John Hench and absorbed their pioneering spirit into his own outlook and work at WED Enterprises. This philosophy of early WED’s character is easily seen in Baxter’s ideas for how to expand Disneyland and served as a standard of quality for how he exacted and executed his craft in all his projects. But, for the purpose of today’s article, I would like to delve into three projects. Two that never left the drawing board and one that has been built, cherished, and absorbed into the pantheon of Disney’s brand of experiences and attractions: Discovery Bay, Dumbo’s Circusland, and finally, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.


Continue reading A Bevy of Baxter – Disneyland Expansion during the Bicentennial

EPCOT Construction Cavalcade: 1979-1981 

Sometimes, when writing and researching you come upon a group of interesting things and have no idea what do do with them, as they are just implicit pieces of a whole body of study. Although that sounds frightfully academic, this even happens in researching something fun, like EPCOT Center and Walt Disney Productions.

So… I proudly present: Minutia! From EPCOT Center’s formative years and construction! Hooray!


Continue reading EPCOT Construction Cavalcade: 1979-1981 

Tall Tales in Tile – The Unexpected Art of Walt Disney World 

Walt Disney World is a business, there’s no denying it. The place exists to be profitable, to be lucrative, and to keep the Walt Disney Company, as a whole, afloat. And, thankfully, WDW does all these things quite well. But despite a spartan purpose, the hallmark of the Vacation Kingdom, or any enterprise of Disney’s, is to be artful and academic. Yes, the purpose is rooted in profit, but the prose used to get to that point can be meaningful, surprising, and rich in character. One of the oldest features of Disney World are her tile murals, and they are all of these things.


Continue reading Tall Tales in Tile – The Unexpected Art of Walt Disney World 

Up The Waterfall: Thematic Impressions of Disneyland

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I originally wrote this piece in August of 2013 after I returned from Disneyland for the first time. Enamored and captivated with Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, I wrote this essay hoping to explain what makes Disneyland so special and what I had found interesting. Enjoy! 

Up the Waterfall: Thematic Impressions of Disneyland

Julie Rheim: “Well, that is absolutely fantastic! But how do you top it!?”

Walt Disney: “Well, we set the place on fire! We have the audience trapped down there in this flaming city!”

Julie: “But how can they get out, now?”

Walt: “Well, now, you got into this mess by going DOWN a waterfall… How would you suppose we get them out of there?”

Julie: “By going UP the waterfall?”

Walt: “That’s right! By going UP the waterfall…. Anything’s possible at Disneyland!”

— Walt Disney and Ms. Disneyland Tencennial, Julie Rheim, discussing Disneyland’s forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, 1965.


For almost all of my life, I’ve been a fan of Disney. Mickey Mouse presided over my first birthday. Childhood birthday gifts and holiday tidings usually brought a Disney film on VHS. And since the ripe old age of two, my family and I have spent time in the Vacation Kingdom of the World, happily just 230 miles up Florida’s turnpike and the perfect distance away to still be a satisfying and enchanting weekend escape that maintained the mystery of a far away destination, but close enough to capture my attention and establish a sense of familiarity that makes a return to WDW so comforting. That is the real crux of my involvement in Disney. Disney World was the physical manifestation of the incredible feeling and mood and happiness that Disney, as a whole, brought. EPCOT Center dominated the formative years of my interest and is still the cornerstone of my ongoing proclivity for themed design and Disney history. EPCOT provided a linkage to how the real world worked. Its optimistic drive and broad creative aims inspired an understanding in not only the exhibitive aims of the park but in how Disney used technology and art to convey a message and create an environment. Enjoyment and appreciation of EPCOT, funnily enough, broadened interest in the rest of the Disney world and the Magic Kingdom.

In an attempt in getting me excited (was that even really needed?!) for one of our earliest trips to WDW, my parents bought me a ‘Disneyland Fun’ VHS so as to familiarize me with what we would soon be visiting. Although for a park a continent away, the familiar visuals and localities on screen did their job and ‘Disneyland Fun’ became my mental image of the Florida property, despite glaring differences. That’s not our castle. Our Haunted Mansion looks scarier. We don’t have Star Tours in Tomorrowland, that’s over in MGM! And where is EPCOT!?


And so, I was aware of “the other”. There was an other Magic Kingdom out there. One that was seemingly older, had more in it, and yes, lacked an EPCOT. Despite that “flaw”, I was interested.  And as I got older and learned more about Disney World, so came knowledge of Disneyland. Here was Walt Disney’s original park…. While Disney World captured my immediate attention for research and, ultimately, this entire blog, Disneyland was always revered, in my mind, as the gold standard for history and the park that set down the precedence for what thematic entities followed. Of course, with that, came a desire to visit.

Florida, sadly, is very far away from California. My family and I have always been very lucky when it comes to traveling and we have seen much of the east coast.  While always an event to plan around, a vacation up to New York City or Washington DC was always more economical and feasible than an odyssey out west. Being from a family of teachers, and a student of history myself, who can complain when your destinations take you the very epicenter of what you study? And with Disney World just within reach for an easy getaway, Disneyland was really a world away. Happily, however, my chance to aim for Disneyland came earlier this year…. And as evidenced by this writing, I made it after almost twenty years of waiting and wondering.  What follows, and what this entire post is meant to be, is a reflection of Disneyland, as seen through the eyes of someone who grew up entrenched by Disney World, or, frankly, any other Disney park. This is not history; this is going to be an opinionated thematic analysis of Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom as seen by someone for the first time.


Continue reading Up The Waterfall: Thematic Impressions of Disneyland

Talking Tiki II: The Sublimity of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto


          If you’re in search of an apt example of the thematic differences between Walt Disney World and Disneyland, comparing their shared attractions, aesthetics, and themes is usually the quickest way to the core of the question. Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and many other attractions can be found at both parks, yet each entity is vastly different from its sibling. All of these attractions aim to entertain and exhibit a themed show but do so by playing by different rules and employing different methods. Now that Imagineering has built two Trader Sam’s, this analogy is all the more deepened by the similarities and differences forged between Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Walt Disney World and Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar in Disneyland. Exploring these variances and the different methodologies between the two Tiki bars illustrates the subtlety and artistry in each. Imagineering has gotten lightning to strike twice; where Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s was an apt reflection of American Tiki culture and its resurgence, Grog Grotto undergirds Tiki culture’s place in the current pop culture psyche and Walt Disney World’s connections to it. Although in The Polynesian Village Resort, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is just as much of an artful and subtle attraction as anything found within The Magic Kingdom or Disneyland.

Continue reading Talking Tiki II: The Sublimity of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto



Hello all!

It’s about time, isn’t it? I’ve been blogging for about 4 years now on Tumblr, but I think the time is nigh for a new, more streamlined, and more professional space. The nature of my articles and essays won’t change- I’ll still be delving into the minutia and thematic history of Walt Disney Productions, the World’s Fairs, and Tiki Culture. My first (new) post will go live on this new blog tonight, and in the coming weeks and months, I’ll migrate some of my older essays onto this website.

Hope you enjoy!

EPCOT Explorer