The DHI Book Shop is now open for business and features a selection of Books, Walt Disney ephemera, Magazines, Paper, and more. Sales will help to support the Institute and ongoing research into Walt Disney's Creative Legacy.
Visit the Disneyland shop at: DHI DISNEYLAND STORE. (Updated 2/25/13)
Visit the Disney book shop at: DHI BOOK STORE. (Updated 2/25/13)


Saturday, December 20, 2014

DHI 009 - Walt at Christmastime


New DHI Podcast - Walt at Christmastime
by Todd James Pierce and Paul F. Anderson

Join us for our Holiday offering--a selection of Christmas letters written in the 1930s and 1940s by Walt and Roy Disney, most of them never before published! A DHI podcast exclusive.

DHI Podcast 009 - Walt at Christmastime - 36 minutes

Subscribe to the Podcast:

** iTunes subscribers should see the new podcast immediately. For those using the iTunes webpage to download individual episodes, content will update at midnight.

Monday, December 15, 2014

WALT DISNEY'S PASSING: The Admiral's Rah-Rah Eulogy

Admiral Joseph Fowler
by Paul F. Anderson

December 15th marks the passing of Walt Disney, and many of us our thinking about him today. I hope everyone will take a moment to reflect on the numerous ways that Walt Disney brought joy and wonderment to our lives, and how he made the world a better place. Walt's vision extended well beyond the years he spent on this mortal coil, leaving us to wonder what could have been with just another decade (especially those of us that spend our days researching Walt's EPCOT!).

The months following Walt's death were a scary time for those working for Disney. There were rumors that Roy would step down, and what that would mean. Litton Industries began buying up Disney stock, leading many to believe that the company would be taken over. So unsettling was this, that Roy personally addressed the issue, assuring Disney employees that the Disney family still owned 38% of the stock and they were not going anywhere.

Cast members at Disneyland were particularly nervous, wondering what direction the happiest place on earth would be going in. Recognizing this, and wishing to give his old friend a tribute, Admiral Joseph "Can-Do" Fowler prepared a letter for Disneyland employees, which was published in "Inside Disneyland," at the time a two-page newsletter published on a semi-regular basis for all involved with Disneyland. As you will see it is part remembrance and part pep talk.

We here at the Disney History Institute are proud to share this letter with you (which we believe is the first time it has found its way to the Internet, or any other publication).

Walt Disney’s passing is a personal loss not only to each of us, but to people all around the world. Walt’s entertainment brought a smile and a laugh into their daily lives. He made their dreams come true.
To all of us at Disneyland, Walt was even more than the “Showman of the World.” To us, he was a catalyst, a driving force, and always just plain “Walt.” His death leaves an emptiness that can never be replaced.
Now each of us is left with a great responsibility, and an obligation. Disneyland was a very special place to Walt. But Disneyland also is a very special place to all the people who come here. And from all around the world, young and old alike will continue to come to Disneyland expecting the same wonderful show, the same attention to detail, and the same warm and friendly welcome from everyone on stage. 
This is the Disneyland tradition, a priceless legacy that has made Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom “the Happiest Place on Earth.” As long as we continue to carry out our responsibility and obligation to the public, Disneyland will always be Walt’s dream come true: “a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
As Chairman of the Disneyland Operating Committee, I want to assure each of you that Disneyland will continue to operate in the same way that has made the Park so unique. Walt had every confidence in all of us at Disneyland, whether our responsibilities are on stage, backstage, or supervision and management. And he had great confidence in the creative team he built at WED, where the ideas for Disneyland’s future attractions are now being designed and engineered.
It has been my privilege on several recent occasions to hear your president, Roy O. Disney, express management’s optimism for the future growth and progress of Walt Disney Productions. As Roy has noted, management’s faith in the future is especially apparent here at Disneyland. Our new construction program for 1966 and 1967 alone represents an investment of $45,000,000. And the construction you see every day speaks for itself. Our new Tomorrowland shows not only management’s confidence in the future, but also the confidence placed in Disneyland by some of America’s largest corporations.
The keynote of Walt Disney Productions has always been its enthusiasm for the future. With the continued help of all Disneylanders, the future will be especially bright right here at the Magic Kingdom. 

Joseph W. Fowler

Vice President--Disneyland
Thank you and all of us here at the Institute wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Wonderful Walt Thoughts!
After Walt's passing several ideas were floated around on how (or if) to have a permanent
tribute for the man. One of the results was "The Walt Disney Story."

If you are interested in an active and intelligent discussion on Walt Disney and his Creative Legacy, may I recommend you check out our Facebook Group Page. There are daily posts of rare images and art, as well edifying essays, that are totally antithetical to what Facebook has become; the power of Disney history has done it. Check it out at:   DHI on Facebook

Friday, December 12, 2014

JOURNAL OF A DISNEY HISTORIAN~Walt's Birthday, Christmas & So Much More!

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Walt
by Paul F. Anderson


Those of us with children (or grandchildren) have sometime in our lives received a crayon-colored tribute to a special day or beloved holiday. Often these remain the most cherished possessions of our life (they are for me). A child’s love expressed simply with paraffin wax and color pigments; Walt was no different.

A few weeks ago when I asked DHI readers in our Facebook group to suggest what they would like to see for Walt’s birthday commemoration and several expressed a desire to hear a story related to Walt Disney the family man. I went searching in the hallowed halls of the Institute, and I found something you will like, and perhaps will cherish yourself by bringing the light of the Season and the love of a Grandpa into your thoughts.

This Christmas card to “Grandma and Grandpa Disney” was done by the three Miller grandchildren, Christopher, Joanna and Tammy. It offered Walt and Lillian that special, childhood Christmas cheer that all of us who have received such a gift know all too well. The treasured present celebrated the Christmas season of 1963, and most assuredly would have touched the proud grandfather. And speaking of Walt Disney the grandfather ... I have a little yuletide present for you; an unknown Walt interview that I discovered many years ago. 

The interview took place while Walt was relaxing on a South Pacific cruise. Suzanne Baker, a reporter for a New South Wales Television magazine, caught up with Walt who happily spared a few moments with her as he enjoyed the peaceful waters of the ocean. It was a rare opportunity since most Walt Disney interviews do not take place on a boat, in a couple of side-by-side Deck chairs. The interview hails to us from 1962, just a year before the Christmas card was given. One particular section goes along wonderfully with the card.

As the reporter settled in, Walt began to show her a batch of postcards he had collected on his trip. Walt explained:

“These are for my five grandchildren. They are the light of my life. The eldest, who is eight, walked up to me the other day after looking at one of my shows on television and pointed [a] finger in my face. ‘I know who YOU are. YOU are Walt Disney.’
“I had been discovered! I was suddenly more than just ‘grandpa’ and, believe me, that meant something. Most grandchildren the age of mine are always running to someone with skirts on. But I have a kind of hold over Grandma Disney now. My grandchildren began to suspect I was a little different when I took them to Disneyland a while ago. They realized that grandpa could take them anywhere he pleased without being questioned or having to pay.”

May I offer you a continuing Happy Birthday Walt Disney DHI celebration as well as a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.


I think we all know the fellow in the back of the carriage; the fellow in the front is Jim Lindsey, who was a Disneyland carriage driver. Lindsey remembered a story about Walt Disney and specifically about the day this photo was taken: "It was around Christmas. Walt's grandchildren were supposed to ride up front with me but they wanted to ride with their granddad. They sure were happy when he told them they could ride in the back seat."

New Tomorrowland model and construction. (Spring 1967)
Construction, Spring 1967.
Tomorrowland has remained a bit of a conundrum since, well, day one when Walt uttered the words about the futuristic land being out of date as soon as it was completed. However, to most Disney historians and enthusiasts, Tommorowland 1967 will remain as the greatest Tomorrowland of all time. As far as a collection of attractions, and a unified theme, I would have to say that, in this historian's opinion, New Tomorrowland 1967 was, and always will be, the greatest Tomorrowland to ever grace a Disney theme park! This fantastic image was taken in early spring of 1967, with construction still underway, with a wonderful WED model in the foreground to give members of the press a sneak peak as to what was hiding behind the plywood walls and the berm.

Disneyland opening day stereoscopic slides found at DHI.

Look what was recently found here at the Disney History Institute!! As many of you know, Tin Dog (Jeremy Marx) comes over about once a week to get new stuff to scan for the DHI database. His mission one day, a complete set of Disneyland Viewmasters (with all variations), to scan. After obtaining the said target (which can be seen partially in the background of the photo), he took a look to the right, and there amidst two-years of dust was this box of stereoscopic slides.
Irene Dunne July 17, 1955.

Upon a quick examination it was determined they were all from July 17, 1955...opening day!

I took a quick photo with my iPhone of one-half of one slide featuring Irene Dunne either right before or right after the christening of the Mark Twain.) Happy to report that there are at least two Walt Disney slides, maybe more. Needless to say the box of slides immediately went in the box of stuff to scan, so some interesting material for the future here at the Institute.

One of these days, we'll actually get everything scanned. Jeremy thinks there is at least ten to twelve years of scanning left to go; I think maybe two years more for the really important stuff, and then who knows. But we are getting there, and all of the priority material is going first. We are approaching 100 gigs of scanned material, so a major project.


I always thought that the Institute was lacking a sports presence! I mean, all great media empires have a sports section, right?! So in the interest of taking the Institute to the next level, I offer up forthwith, our new Sports Feature!!
Many who know a bit about the Disney History Institute’s Archives are aware that we have a large collection on Walt Disney’s 1930s polo “hobby.” I went looking through one of the clippings files in the Polo collection and found this Los Angeles Examiner clipping from May 20, 1935, which was not tagged as having an image of Walt himself. A few seconds later, with the loop in hand (which actually is the Zoom button on my iMac) I was able to find Walt (thanks to the fact that when this clipping file was scanned, we did so at a very high 1200 dpi!). I’ve reduced the file size, but you can still zoom in one or two clicks and clearly see Walt Disney!!
In this case, Walt Disney was on the winning team, playing for the Rivieras (namesake of the Riviera Country Club where Walt often attended and played many a Polo game), but he was not the star. Hal Roach (yes, THAT Hal Roach) took home those honors by scoring five goals! Walt Disney did contribute, however, scoring one goal (and hey, without that one goal, it would have been a tie). The game was noted to be a bit of a scruff, or as the Examiner explained the photo could be used as an expression of “boxing.” The losing Rovers had no notable movie stars on the team.
Earlier in the day, another Disney team, team “Mickey Mouse” (who Walt often played for, as well as trained with) was headlined by Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney; also included on team Mice was Spencer Tracy. Sadly, it was not to be, as they lost to a very powerful Rangers team, 11 to 2. Headlining the Rangers were close Walt friend Walter Wanger and famed director Michael Curtiz.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled DHI programming.

MINUTE HISTORY~Speaking of Inappropriate

Welcome to Minute History, a new feature here as part of "Journal of a Disney Historian." If you only have a minute and you want a cool, interesting (and edifying!) piece of Disney history, then you got it!

I was going through one of the DHI databases recently to try and find something truly unusual! I think I found it. Amazing what a bad boy Mickey Mouse was in the 1930s, and how much Walt and Roy let slide through ("no publicity is bad publicity" -- right?). They were voracious at protecting their copyrights, but stuff like this that fell more under, well, editorial comment, typically was either overlooked, or often, not even noticed; especially since so much of the "inappropriate" material was foreign.

V-8 Vegetable Juices Advertisement, 1960.
We all know about Walt's chili, but what about his obsession with V-8 in his later years? There are little bits and pieces here and there about his love for this drink (such as meetings with Walt in his office, where folks are offered the drink).

Walt Disney in his Studio Kitchenette. (ca. 1943)
The following anecdote comes from Dolores Voght Scott, Walt's longest-running secretary, serving from 1930 to 1965; and as you might imagine, it is about the cocktail vegetable juice.

“I can’t think of anything he disliked, particularly. He sure loved chili and beans. He always had a V-8 before his lunch. I’d serve V-8 to himself and guests. And so often everybody would take a taste of this V-8, and they’d put it down, and that would be all there was to it. Walt would tell them, ‘You should drink that. It’s really wonderful for you. It has--let me see one of those cans, Dolores--let me see what’s in that now.’ And he’d read off all those vegetables that were in this wonderful V-8.”

So in honor of Walt Disney let us all hoist up a V-8 in remembrance of the man we celebrate here. And if you are really avid (read: me) you can find a chili recipe on Campbell's V-8 website that features the vegetable juice. Yes indeed, a combination of Walt's two favorite foods! I have picked up the ingredients, but have yet to hit the kitchen. I'll let you know how it turns out.

MINUTE HISTORY~Tahitian Terrace First Names ... and Dirt

This opening year photo gives a great view of dirt (a popular theme here at the Institute) and the Plaza Pavilion. It showcases the now-famous back-t0-back WED building style, here with the Gay Nineties on one side and a Tropical Paradise on the other side (thatched roofs of the jungle meets the "painted ladies" from the Victorian era).
As the success of Disneyland took off, in the early 1960s Walt turned his eye on a Tiki-style restaurant (and attraction) for this area--Stouffer's were in negotiations for almost a year for this honor, but Walt began to feel that they weren't serious. But what to name this new Adventureland restaurant? Minute History to the rescue!!
From a November 15, 1961 Memo to Bill Cottrell come these suggested word and names for this new Adventureland restaurant. Among my favorite are: "Voyager's Rest," "Beyond the Reef," "Blue Lagoon" (how Plebian), "Singing Winds," "The Green Veranda" and "Flotsam and Jetsam" (think of the marketing potential Eisner would have had with that name).
Post up your comments below or over on our Facebook Group Site.  (Even when things are slow on the blog, stuff is always happening over on Facebook).

Friday, December 5, 2014



If you haven't been over to our Disney History Institute Facebook page lately, you should check it out. There are a lot of rare photos and stories being put up. Starting today--Walt Disney's Birthday--and running for about a week, on our Facebook page we are celebrating Walt's birthday with numerous rare images, stories, audio, and whatever scare history we can find to celebrate this man's creative legacy.

You can check it out this link:  DHI's WALT DISNEY BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

Friday, November 21, 2014

DHI at Destination D

This weekend at WDW, DHI's own Jeremy Marx roll's out the CGI version of the Tower of the Four Winds, freshly unpacked from the 1964 World's Fair.  As we are pretty sure that Destination D will bring some new folks knocking on our virtual door, we're putting up a little welcome sign and a note so you will know what DHI is all about.

The Blog
At the heart of DHI is the blog, which has been running now for five years.  The blog features longer, research-oriented articles about the history of Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company.   Here are some good places to start:

* The 10-Part Series on Riverfront Square, the indoor amusement park that Walt Disney planned but never built in St. Louis in the 1960s.

* The Tomorrowland That Never Was - Early Designs for Walt Disney's Tomorrowland in California.

* The DHI Mythbusters Edition - The Truth about the Petrified Tree.

* Project Four Winds - The story of the CGI model presently on display at Destination D

The Podcast
The podcast features many blog articles presented "audio-book-style."  On the podcast, you can learn about the infamous Snow White Wrap Party and the second amusement park that Walt Disney, himself, wanted to build in the original Disneyland parking lot.  You can also find interviews with artists and celebrities such as Rolly Crump and Fess Parker.

The podcast.  You can sign up for it through iTunes:

There are two ways to participate in DHI through Facebook.  

First, our popular DHI Facebook Group offers historians and scholars a place to discuss their interest in the legacy of Walt Disney.  Even when the blog is slow, there's always something happening in the DHI Facebook Group.  Click here to join:

Second, if you'd like to receive a note in your Facebook feed each time a new article or podcast appears, you can "like" our fan page.  Click then "like" the page here: 

Lastly, we maintain an active Twitter feed which often sends out unique images of the parks, concept art, and sometimes ride construction not available anywhere else on the web.   Twitter link:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

New Podcast - DHI - 008 Fess Parker

DHI Podcast: Fess Parker

A new podcast is up, with a Fess Parker interview.   Did you know that Fess once wanted to build his own "Disneyland"?  He even bought the land.  Details are in the podcast.  Enjoy!

Subscribe to the Podcast:

Monday, October 13, 2014

DHI Mythbusters Edition - The Truth About The Petrified Tree

Lillian and Walt Disney, September 1957
DHI Myth Busters Edition:

The Truth about the Petrified Tree

By Todd James Pierce

[This article is also available in an audio edition as part of the DHI Podcast - click here]

Out in Frontierland stands the five-ton remains of a petrified redwood tree.  The official story, as told by the Walt Disney Company and others, goes something like this:  In 1956, for his thirty-first wedding anniversary, while vacationing in Colorado, Walt purchased for his wife, Lillian a fossilized tree stump, a magnificent specimen, millions of years old.  Walt arranged for it to be shipped home.  But Lillian didn’t much care for this odd gift, so the following year, in 1957, she presented the tree to Disneyland and reportedly joked that the stump was “too large for the mantle” at home.  In support of this story, at the base of this fossil, was placed this plaque: “Petrified Tree from the Pike Petrified Forest, Colorado…Presented To Disneyland by Mrs. Walt Disney, September, 1957.”

Now for the big question: Is the story true?   Not the part about “the mantle,” the part about the anniversary gift.   Was this enormous fossil really an anniversary gift that Mrs. Lillian Disney shifted from her home over to the park?

To understand how a five-ton petrified tree eventually arrived at Disneyland, you need to remember that Disneyland back in the 1950s was different than the park as it exists today.  You’ll need to peel away the rollercoasters and thrill rides, the pirates and ghosts as well.   Disneyland existed, largely, as a cinematic theme park, a series of lovely outdoor sets, most dressed and propped with antiques.  Part of Disneyland even presented itself as a museum of sorts.  On Main Street, for example, the Penny Arcade featured antique coin-operated player-pianos and self-playing organs—such as the German Orchestrion, the Nelson-Wiggen, and the Welte Band Organ. It also featured hand-cranked mutoscopes and electric cailoscopes, those early wonders of the moving picture.  Out on the street itself were reproductions of streetcars, a horse-drawn fire truck, and a horse-drawn surrey—all of them presented somewhat in the style of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. 
Souvenirs from Mineral Hall

But more to the point, for our story, in June and July, 1956, Disneyland was preparing to open an actual natural history exhibit in Frontierland, a building called Mineral Hall.  Mineral Hall was to include a display of rare rocks and minerals, presented in a fashion similar to the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry, with a special backroom to demonstrate how fluorescent minerals took on a lovely iridescence under black lights.  A gift shop area in the building would sell souvenir minerals, originally priced between a dime and fifty cents, in packages labeled Walt Disney’s Mineral Land.

The Broadmoor Hotel - Colorado Springs
During the summer that Mineral Hall was to open, Walt Disney vacationed with his wife, Lillian in Colorado Springs, a trip that fell roughly around the date of their thirty-first wedding anniversary.  They stayed at the Broadmoor, a grand hotel at the foot of Pikes Peak.  The hotel itself was modeled after European resorts, with touches of marble and stone, thickly-slatted wood floors, and one wing opening directly onto Cheyenne Lake.

On July 6, 1956, Walt and Lillian visited a local attraction named Seven Falls, where they rode donkeys up a canyon past a series of waterfalls.  Of all scenic outposts in the country, Seven Falls was the one most touched by the world of entertainment.  At night, the park used stage lighting to brighten the canyon and to create a light show on the falls itself.  The water was illuminated with alternating floods of white and colored light, combining a man-made spectacle with the marvels of nature.  This was more or less the ethos of Disneyland itself, or at least those portions out by the Rivers of America.

That night, the Disneys would’ve returned to the Broadmoor Hotel, where, of course, Walt was recognized by a public who watched his weekly TV show.  Word got around town that Walt Disney was staying at the Broadmoor.  And this is where things got interesting.

Walt and Lillian at Seven Falls - 1956
One of the people who heard about Walt Disney’s visit to Colorado Springs was John May, a businessman who had built a small, privately-own natural history museum just south of town.  The May Museum was designed primarily to exhibit his father’s extensive collection of exotic butterflies and rare insects.  John May invited Walt Disney out to the May Museum, with an eye toward both introducing him to his father’s gorgeous collection and hopefully renting out part of it to be displayed at Disneyland.  To this request, Walt was surprisingly receptive.

A few years ago, to a reporter, John May’s daughters, Louise and Claire related the rest of the story of Walt’s visit to the Museum: “My dad was always looking for an opportunity to advertise the Museum,” Louise explained.  And what better advertisement could there be for a private museum than having part of your collection on display at Disneyland?
For a couple days the May family prepared their facilities for Walt’s visit: they cleaned up the cases that held the butterflies; they tidied up the outdoor grounds.  In all likelihood Walt and Lillian’s visit took place somewhere between July 9th and July 11th.  Walt viewed the insects captured and preserved by the May family, probably paying special attention to the colorful butterflies.  “He was very impressed with the collection, and he wanted to take it to Disneyland,” Clara recalls, though of course Walt didn’t want to display the entire collection, only a small portion of it.
The May Museum - Near Colorado Springs

But there was a problem: John May saw this primarily as an advertising opportunity.  He wanted the May Museum to be credited as presenting the preserved butterflies and insects at Disneyland, while Walt wished to buy a portion of the collection outright.  At Disneyland everything, except for the corporate and lessee areas, was tied to Disney.  Even Mineral Hall would label its souvenirs as coming from “Walt Disney’s Mineral Land.” 
“There were very intense negotiations,” Clara recalls, “and the deal fell through,” with Walt and Lillian walking away.  But the event demonstrates how clearly, back in 1956, Walt believed that Disneyland might function—at least in limited areas—as a type of natural history museum.

In terms of Disneyland, the most important event of the trip happened on the evening of July 11, as Walt and Lillian were driving on a road just outside Colorado Springs, most likely with the intentions of viewing one of the privately-owned fossil grounds in the mountains.  Walt eventually settled on the Pike Petrified Forest.
Toby Wells - 1956 - Petrified Tree
This portion of the story comes from Toby Wells, a boy who grew up on a ranch just east of the fossil beds.  For two years, as a summer job, he worked as a tour guide at the Pike Petrified Forest.  On the night of July 11, he saw a two-toned Chevy, turquoise and white, pull into the parking lot right at closing time.  Though there were two people in the car—husband and wife—only the man stepped from the car.  “He was a very distinguished man,” Wells recalls
Even though the charcoal tones of twilight were already pulled across the mountain, the man asked: “Can I tour the forest?”
Initially Toby Wells said no, but after considering it, he offered: “How about a small tour…I’ll still have to charge you thirty-five cents.”
To this, the man said, “OK.”

In Wells’ recollection, the man’s wife was anxious to leave, honking the horn and occasionally yelling for her husband to hurry up, but the man ignored her.  Instead he expressed a desire to buy what he called “a small specimen.”  Initially Wells directed the man to the gift shop where souvenir fossils were sold.  Then the man clarified his intentions.  “No, I want something bigger,” the man said, lifting his finger to indicate a seven-foot, five-ton petrified section of a redwood tree.  “Like that stump.”
Things like the stump, Wells explained, were not regularly sold.  But if the man was genuinely interested, he’d talk to the owner, John “Jack” Baker.
Guestbook - 1956
It was then that, as the man offered his contact information, that Toby Wells learned his name.  It was Walt Disney.
“I about fell over,” Wells later explained.  “It blew me away.”
Before leaving, a deal was arranged to sell Walt Disney the stump.  The price eventually agreed on was $1,650.  Walt signed the guestbook.  Then Walt and Lillian drove away.

Walt was reasonably good with people, even if he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with his wife.  Most likely he would’ve understood that Lillian, who was unwilling to tour the fossil grounds at dusk, probably didn’t want a five-ton fossilized tree as a unique ornament for her garden at home.

Despite this, about one year later, Walt circulated a lighthearted story of how the impressive petrified tree had been an anniversary gift to his wife.  She didn’t like it, so she re-gifted it to Disneyland, with a brass marker attached to the stump confirming these events: “Presented by Mrs. Walt Disney, September, 1957.”

Over the following 50 years, the story was repeated, probably with some of its original playfulness drained away until it had the firm feel of history.  The story was repeated most everywhere—from the official Disney Parks Blog to numerous biographies on Walt himself, including the impressive and exhaustive volume penned by Neal Gabler.  In truth, I myself never thought to question the story.  Hardly anyone did.  We were all believers, myself included—that is, until 2009, when the family of John “Jack” Baker released a letter that Walt Disney had sent to the Pike Petrified Forest about the redwood stump. 

Here is the letter:

Letter - July 19, 1956
July 19th, 1956

Dear Mr. Baker –

This will serve as a confirmation of your telephone conversation with my secretary, Dolores Voght, on July 18th, regarding the petrified stump.

It is my understanding that you will deliver the stump direct to DISNEYLAND at Anaheim, California, within thirty days, along with approximately One Ton of small pieces of petrified stone.

The letter continues to discuss payment and optimal times for delivery and is then signed by Walt Disney.  But the important part is there, in the second paragraph.  The stump was never delivered to Walt’s house, nor does it seem it was ever intended to be delivered there. 

But even with this information, there are still questions: did Walt initially see the petrified stump as a type of anniversary gift?   Did Walt offer it as a gift on his actual anniversary, July 13, but then, after Lillian’s rejection, on July 18th, reschedule its delivery for Disneyland?

With these questions in mind, in 2010, I emailed Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney-Miller with 
the hope that once-and-for-all she could solve this mystery.  My email to her was fairly long, 
but at the bottom, I asked my questions: I'm hoping that you can clear up a small mystery 
for me…Do you ever remember that petrified tree at your parents' house in Holmby Hills? 
Was the tree ever intended as an anniversary gift--with perhaps your mother quickly 
telling Walt to ship it to the park? Or are parts of this story simply a tall-tale that 
has grown over time? 
Here is her reply:
The whole thing has been embellished. Mother and dad were driving through Colorado. Dad saw a sign that said Petrified Forest, and decided to seek it out.  He did a lot of things like this. Anyway... mother stayed in the car when dad went to check it out. The owner offered to take him around the forest, and dad accepted. He was gone for some time, and mother might have been a little bit annoyed by his absence, but not seriously so. It became a family joke. He did buy that tree stump, and told her, and everyone else that it was his gift to her. Of course it went right to Disneyland. Have you seen the photo of them with it?
Then I sent her a second email, just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. I asked her again, if it was all a playful family ruse.

Here is Diane’s second reply:

Of course it was staged, and is very playful on both of their parts.  The "gift to my wife" was just a gag. He was the consummate gag man, and proud of it. It's difficult to believe that others didn't see this episode that way.

So then this, it seems would be the answer: Walt used to tease Lillian by telling her that he’d bought that beautiful ol’ hunk of stone for her as an anniversary gift—a joke so obvious how could anyone see it otherwise?  And then, playfully putting on the costume of the eccentric producer, he later told friends the story, perhaps as a way of provoking Lilian’s ire—possibly to get something like an “Oh Walt, really” reaction from her.  And then, as he enjoyed the story, he told the world, with Lillian playing along and a brass plaque to corroborate his homemade lore. 

But, of course, it was never intended as an anniversary gift.  It was simply an item for the park—one of the curiosities he collected as Disneyland passed through a brief Natural History phase.

For me, there are many takeaways from this experience.  First, in the half century since Walt passed away, he has been canonized as one of the men who oversaw the development of American culture in the 20th century.  As such, it’s easy to lose sight of him as a jokester, a gagman, and a person who enjoyed a grand story.  Beyond this, I see the fingerprints of Walt the person—not Walt the producer: one of the impulses that animated him throughout life was the desire to entertain others.  In this story—back in 1956 and 1957—Walt pretended to be a stereotypical Hollywood producer, a man so ostentatious that he figured a five-ton tree stump would be just the right gift for his partner of thirty-one years.  It was, of course, a joke—a tall-tale played out inside his family and then played out for the world.  But fifty years later, sometimes it’s easier to see Walt as a legend, with all of its accompanying distance and grandeur, than as a person.  

The strangest part, I think, is this: so many of us believed him.

[Author’s Note: In this essay I’ve quoted from Bill Vogrin’s articles originally published in the Colorado Springs Gazette.  I would like to express my gratitude to him for preserving the history of Colorado Springs and also memories of Walt Disney.]

==  ==  == ==  ==  ==  ==  ==  ==  

* Even when the DHI blog is a little slow, discussion is always lively in the DHI Faceboook Group.  

* Many of our more popular articles are available in audio format through the DHI Podcast.

* Some recent articles of interest include:

> Walt's Field Day - 1938: the story of the wildest wrap party in the history of animation. 

> How Abe Lincoln Found His Way To Illinois - the story of Walt Disney and the NY World's Fair.

> Walt Disney and the Griffith Park Zoo - the story of Walt Disney and the first zoo in Los Angeles.

DHI 007 - DHI Mythbusters Edition - The Truth About The Petrified Tree

One of the oldest mysteries at Disneyland, finally solved!

Check out this episode!

Monday, October 6, 2014

New Podcast - DHI 006 The Disney Penthouse Club

New DHI Podcast

Just uploaded - The DHI Podcast of the Disney Penthouse Club in the 1940s and 1950s. With a little music from MC Jack Wagner.

Subscribe through iTunes:

Direct Link to Episode:

Link to Original Article with PHOTOS: 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pardon Our Pixie Dust

Pardon Our Pixie Dust

The Signs of Construction in the Parks

By Jeremy Marx

Theme parks in the off-season and construction walls--they go together like a cartoon mouse hand and an oversized pair of puffy white gloves.  These walls often bid farewell to attractions past and hint at wonders soon to come.  Some walls really build up excitement for the work engineers and a construction crew are doing on the inside.  And some could be juiced with a little more imagination.  

Here, on the blog today, are the hits and misses--the walls that inspire wonder and the barriers that well up regret. 

Let's start with Disneyland's 1983 Fantasyland refurb:

Even though Fantasyland was surrounded by long construction walls, as you walked around it, you would come across signs that explained the forthcoming project.

A good example is the use of the same sign in two different locations, which were both well-placed. One was on a wall, where you could see some of the construction above, with the second placed inside so that those passing over could also understand the project.

The best Fantasyland '83 sign helped to build anticipation for the new land, soon to be finished.

Wondering why the other attractions were not added to the sign.

Snow White's Scary Adventures

Mr. Toads Wild Ride

Pinocchio's Daring Journey

Peter Pan's Flight

And at night it lights up!

The following signs literally speak for themselves--touched with humor and a sense of excitement. (Added bonus question: as most of these signs were painted at a park shop, either in California or Florida, some of the characters are a little "off-model."  Your assignment--which is the most and least "on-model" of the signage Mickeys?)

Disneyland's Toon Town

And now for the cookie-cutter, boring signs that could be used just about anywhere:

If you made it this far, you may be wondering we have already covered many of the good, and not so good. How about the signs for attractions that were placed, but were never built!

That's it for today.  See you next time!