|All photos via Disney Parks|
Walt Disney had a particular interest in the life and times of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Biographer Neal Gabler says, “In the fifth grade [Walt] fashioned a stovepipe hat out of cardboard and blackened it with shoe polish, dabbed a wart on his cheek, wrapped himself in a shawl, and came to class as Abraham Lincoln. He had even memorized the Getttysburg Address to recite.” His teacher was so impressed she called the principal in, who then paraded Walt to every classroom in the school!
Walt’s interest in Honest Abe didn’t lessen over time. In the 1950s, Walt and his engineers at WED had been toying around with robotics, and he was determined to create a human one, specifically of Abraham Lincoln, for Disneyland’s Hall of Presidents attraction. By 1961, the team had advanced its technology enough that their Lincoln figure, adapted from a tape system used on the navy’s Polaris nuclear submarine, could rise from its chair. These advancements came at a very opportune time.
The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair was approaching, and through a series of key networking and skilled negotiating, Walt secured a deal to exhibit his Lincoln figure in the “Land of Lincoln” pavilion, funded by the Illinois state legislature. This provided Disney ample funds to complete the project, one that National Geographic magazine called “alarming” in its realism. Walt’s Lincoln would find his permanent home at Disneyland Park when the Fair concluded in 1965.
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was updated in 2009 to install next-generation Audio-Animatronics. Lincoln now features a fully electric head—a first for human Disney Audio-Animatronics figures, which were formerly hydraulically operated—and an all-new, more lifelike sculpt and an expanded range of facial movement.
The attraction occupies Main Street Opera House. It begins with a film composed of dramatic paintings depicting President Lincoln’s upbringing through his time in the White House and which includes real photographs of the Civil War. As the film wraps up, Honest Abe takes center stage, rises from his chair, and delivers highlights from some of his greatest speeches.
Walt Disney himself selected the highlights first included in the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction.
With the upcoming United States presidential election at hand, take time today to discuss with your kids our nation’s political structure and point out to them why it is such a privilege that we citizens of the United States get to choose our leaders. Parents, be sure to express your civil right to choose our nation’s leader. Early voting is open in many states. Let your voice be heard! Also encourage your children who are 18 or older to get to the polls this year too.
Today, study some of Abraham Lincoln’s key speeches. Assign your children to memorize the Gettysburg Address or the Emancipation Proclamation. Discuss the significance of each and the effects Lincoln’s policies have had on our way of life today.
You can find copies of Lincoln’s speeches, letters, and other writings at Abraham Lincoln Online.
SCHOOL SUBJECT: History
SKILL LEVEL: Elementary, Middle Grades, High School
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