July 9, 2009

Lincoln's History

Walt Disney was always fascinated with the life of Abraham Lincoln. He even recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to his elementary class as a small boy. As Disneyland became more and more prosperous, Walt proposed an expansion of Main Street in 1958, called Liberty Square. Liberty Square would have been a look back at Colonial-era America. The centerpiece attraction would have been One Nation Under God, which was to have featured a figure of all the US Presidents. Walt even wanted all the figures to move; but limitations of the Audio-Animatronic technology of the era made it impossible. After Liberty Square was abandoned, the Imagineers concentrated their efforts on one president: Mr. Lincoln.

In the early 1960s, Robert Moses approached Walt about contributing attractions to the pavilions of the 1964 Worlds Fair. Walt took Moses around the studio, showing him the new technology his Imagineers were working on. Nothing really sparked Moses' interest.
Walt then showed Moses a prototype electronic figure of Lincoln. Moses was astonished at the possibilities and told Walt that he had to have this figure at the Fair. Despite knowing that the figure was years from completion, Walt told Moses it would be ready. Walt and his Imagineers immediately went to work. Moses sought the State of Illinois as a sponsor to have Mr. Lincoln as the featured attraction at their pavilion. The figure worked fine in tests at the studio, but ran into problems when it got to the site at Flushing Meadows in New York. Walt even had to cancel the press preview because of mechanical problems. Walt brought the Illinois sponsorship people to see Mr. Lincoln perform. During the performance, a valve for the hydraulic fluid that moved Mr. Lincoln broke, spreading red hydraulic fluid all over his white shirt and making him fall over. One of the viewer remarked that "[They're] recreating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln!" Once the problems were solved, however, Mr. Lincoln performed very well and became one of the big draws to the Fair. Mr. Lincoln was the very first human Audio-Animatronic figure ever attempted by Walt Disney.This original show opened with the rest of the New York World's Fair on April 22, 1964. It and the rest of the Fair closed with the first season October 18, 1964, then reopened for the second and final season on April 21, 1965 and closed on October 17, 1965. The original show of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was demolished at the end of teh fair. The second version of the show, with a new Anamatronic of Lincoln opened on July 18, 1966 at the new and specially constructed Opera House on Main Street. The preshow, waiting area, show and post show were all new and reflected generalized Abraham Lincoln and Walt Disney exhibits, displays, and films. The second version of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" was presented by "Lincoln Savings" and was free of charge, requiring no ticket of the "A" through "E" ticket system. Both the sponsorship from "Lincoln Savings" and "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" ended and closed on January 1, 1973. Opening in Lincoln's place was The Walt Disney Story, which opened in the sprin of 1973. Having a 23 minute film biography of Walt Disney, many people liked this new attraction, but many people also criticized it because of the removal of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. The motion picture screen in the main theater was removed, and the theater was restored to its original form as it had been during the second version of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln", including the show itself. The reason why it was considered the third version of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" is due only to the fact that the entrance, preshow, postshow, and exit no longer featured exhibits on Abraham Lincoln, but rather Walt Disney.

In 1984 a new version of "The Walt Disney Story Featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" debuted. The exhibits from both "The Walt Disney Story" and the original "Walt Disney Story Featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" remained the same in the entrance, preshow, postshow, and exit, but the revised film on Walt Disney, seen only in the preshow, was removed and replaced with a new preshow film.

"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" appeared in its fourth version. A completely new Audio-Animatronic Abraham Lincoln was created and installed, using the movements and facial expressions programmed for the original figure, as well as new movements and facial expressions created for the new figure. New skin was created, as was a new costume. The animatronic Mr. Lincoln could now hold a piece of paper for his speech in his hand. There was also a redressing of the props and set pieces on stage.

In 2001 "The Walt Disney Story Featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" closed again and reopened later in the same year as the new, third version of the attraction. "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" was in its fifth iteration. This version was quite different from the previous versions. The entrance, preshow, postshow, and exit were refurbished and redesigned to serve as the both the preshow and prologue to "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln".

Guests are introduced to American Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, and they assume the role of a fictitious Union soldier named John Cunningham. Guests then enter the main theater where they wear special earphones or headsets using binaural sound technology. Cunningham meets Brady in his photo studio, receives a haircut, goes back to battle, and eventually is wounded, but is able to meet President Abraham Lincoln and hear the Gettysburg Address in person. At this point, the curtains open to reveal Lincoln standing on the stage.

For this version the entire set was completely redone, with little to no reference to the previous versions of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln". The 1984 Audio-Animatronic Abraham Lincoln remained the same, simply refurbished and reworked and now wearing eyeglasses. A new narrator was hired to provide the voice of Lincoln. Lincoln now performs only the Gettysburg Address, not the collection of speeches given at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair and in previous versions of the show. The current show concentrates on the American Civil War, not on a series of moving or emotional speeches Lincoln used to present to guests in the main theater.

On Feburary 20, 2005, this show shut one more time to replace it temporarily with a new exhibit for Disneyland's 50th Anniversary. Opening on May 5, 2005 and closing on March 15, 2009, Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years was an exhibit featuring a short movie with Steve Martin and an animated DOnald Duck.
The Disney Company has announced that Lincoln will return in a new attraction called "The Disneyland Story: Featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln." The attraction is slated to open in late 2009/ early 2010.


  1. Great Moments actually opened on May 2, 1964 at the World's Fair due to technical difficulties. Walt Disney wrote a letter to Robert Moses (president of the World's Fair)on April 27 (six days after the Fair's opening) explaining the problems plaguing the Lincoln attraction.
    Great post!