Join us as we continue our stroll down memory lane as Disney fans from across the world come together to countdown to The World’s Most Magical Celebration. Today Kathy, formerly from The Many Adventures of a Disney-lovin’ Spectrum Mom, delivers us to Walt Disney World 1976.
Walt Disney World, 1976: Happy Birthday, America!
“Tomorrow will be better for us as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life.”
– Walt Disney
Every biography I’ve read about Walt Disney describes him as a staunchly patriotic man. Walt Disney loved America and the American spirit. I like to imagine that he would have thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the Magic Kingdom during the year 1976, the year of our country’s bicentennial. During this time of flag-waving and renewed national pride the Disney Parks wanted to celebrate in grand style! And what better way to celebrate than with a special parade?
50 Days to 50 Years
For my contribution to 50 Days to 50 Years, I’d like to shine the spotlight on Disney’s America on Parade. Fittingly, this magnificent procession that ran concurrently in Disneyland and Walt Disney World between June, 1975 and September, 1976. It joined a country-wide recognition of our country’s 200th birthday. I was not fortunate enough to have visited Walt Disney World during that time. And although I love Disney I am not, but any stretch of the imagination, a Disney historian. So to tell the story of America on Parade I have scoured the web and collected the best posts from those who take their Disney history seriously!
Is everybody all neat and pretty? Here we go!
America on Parade was designed to be just that: the story of America and the American way of life. Disney told the story in its usual over-the-top fashion. Complete with the help of a one-of-a-kind band organ, fifty floats, and more than a hundred and fifty performers dressed as giant dolls that were created to represent the American people! The parade lasted over half an hour and was both the daytime and nighttime parade during its fifteen-month run.
Let’s find out a little more about this spectacular piece of Disney entertainment!
America on Parade
The first stop on our America on Parade tour is Yesterland.com, a “theme park on the web”. I am grateful to Werner for the use of his excellent parade images. (Obviously, they were taken at Disneyland, but they’re the best I’ve found anywhere!)
The next stop on our Disney tour will be Designing Disney.com, a blog “dedicated to the art of Disney theme parks & Disneyland Resort Paris”, where you will find an excellent and detailed article about the parade by Maxime.
The Disney organization designed the parade units to look like huge toys, and the characters to be outsized dolls. The size of the show made the presentation easily visible. Visibility, however, was only one reason for the gigantic scale. For, like every aspect of the production, the bigness of the parade units and characters contributed to the celebratory atmosphere – an atmosphere calculated to make everyone, old as well as young, see the parade through the eyes of a child.
Disney on Parade Music
(Think: 1970’s version of the Toy Story Midway Mania queue!) Something that I found particularly fascinating was the story behind the music created for the parade. Maxime tells us that the parade planners wanted a band organ to play the soundtrack of classic American music.
…two years before the start of the pageant they began a search for a real mechanical music box to play the selected songs. Eventually, they found a completely restored 1890 band organ- in Silkson, Missouri. Known as “Sadie Mae” , the instrument had some two hundred pipes and worked on the same principle as a player piano, except the punched-hole piano books were used instead of piano rolls.
When Disney learned that there was only one man in the world who still possessed the skill to make these piano books by hand, they sent the musical arrangements all the way to Antwerp, Belgium. Impressively, the books could be created especially for the Sadie Mae!
Then Sadie Mae was taken apart and shipped to Nashville, where it was reconstructed in one of that city’s many recording studios and given the new books to play. The tapes made in Nashville were shipped to Los Angeles, where still in another recording studio [the] music was embellished with the sounds os a Moog synthesizer.
Classic, yet very 1970s!
People of America
Continuing on our tour, let’s stop by Walt Dated World. This is “the home for all your favorite Walt Disney World Attractions which no longer exist”. Mousketeer Allison gives us another informative post about this parade which only exists now in guests’ memories:
Entertainment head Bob Jani led Disney designers in creating not only the floats, but also over 300 8-foot tall costumes with oversized heads that told the story of American history. They were referred to as the “People of America”, whose costumes were later adapted for Epcot during the park’s early years. You could see “People of the World” walking around World Showcase and they were featured during the Grand Opening television special with Danny Kaye.
I laughed when I read Werner’s caption under that last photo. He states “The People of America were a bit creepy!” He writes,
The “People of America” must have seemed like a good idea to the parade’s designers. The dolls would be so large that even adults would feel like children. However, the actual results were a bit creepy. The characters were not endearing or lovable. They were like adults with the faces of babies- sometimes babies with facial hair- with their huge eyes staring blankly.
Back at Walt Dated World, Allison tells us that Disney’s bicentennial parade inspired a lot of merchandise:
Coca-Cola commemorated the Bicentennial with special glasses, including the one below for America on Parade. Little Golden Books celebrated the nation’s 200th Birthday with an America on Parade book. Other items included coins, mugs, picture and history books, plates, Viewmaster reels and a lunch box.
We have one more stop on our Disney on America Parade blog tour. This one is for all you book collectors, teachers, and homeschoolers! At Imaginerding.com (Books, Movies, Links and Theme Parkeology) George is a librarian and self-proclaimed “Disney Geek.” He gives us an insightful review of the book, Disney’s America On Parade- A History of the U.S.A. in a Dazzling Fun-filled Pageant, by David Jacobs.
The introduction to the book (six full pages) is the only section that discusses the parade. The rest of the book is written as a primer for anyone looking for more information about the first 200 years of America’s history. I would hazard a guess that it is geared towards the sixth through eighth-grade history student. Seriously, it is a history text…
By far, the best feature of the book is the images. Concept art and in-park photos appear on almost every page. In addition, there are three foldout pages that show the parade in action at Disneyland…
America’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration
Of course, what post about a Disney parade would be complete without a video from YouTube! Here, in all its red, white, and blue glory is Disney’s America on Parade.
I hope you enjoyed this Walt Disney World 1976 post! I had fun learning about America on Parade. If you would like to learn more about Walt Disney World history, visit the above links for some fascinating reads and hard-to-find photos of the World in years gone by.
Thanks for reading,
The Disney-lovin’ Spectrum Mom
Oh my gosh- wasn’t that amazing? Kathy’s use of “guest post within a guest post” was ingenious! We have to thank Yesterland, Walt Dated World, Designing Disney and Imaginerding for being our surprise mystery guests! I’m sure many of us will become “regulars” at all five of these blogs.
Tomorrow, 50 Days to 50 Years welcomes Heidi from Heidi’s Head. Go 1977!