Nestled in the heart of the Magic Kingdom® Park’s patriotic Liberty Square, The Hall of Presidents takes guests on a theatrical journey through the history of the United States and allows them to experience all forty-three presidents on one stage. As riveting as it is informative, this attraction tells our story and is worth a visit on your next trip to Walt Disney World®.
Long before Walt Disney World® first opened its gates, Walt Disney imagined an attraction in Disneyland® titled “One Nation Under God” where guests could learn about the presidents and view their likenesses sculpted in wax. While the attraction never came to be a reality, Disney had a second chance at creating a presidential experience for guests when the 1964 New York World’s Fair was being developed. With the new technologies of the sixties, Disney was able to create an audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln and introduce the world to the original version of the classic attraction Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Guests at the World’s Fair were so amazed by the animatronic Lincoln, who could stand up and deliver a speech, that the it was soon opened in Disneyland® where it can still be experienced today.
The Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World® opened with the Magic Kingdom® Park on October 1, 1971 and has its own rich history. The original version was narrated by Lawrence Dobkin and featured a speech by George Washington who was voiced by legendary Paul Frees. Frees also lends his voice to some other familiar Magic Kingdom® Park characters – the Haunted Mansion®’s Ghost Host and Pirates of the Caribbean®’s auctioneer. In 1993, the attraction was renovated to focus more on civil rights and once again featured Lincoln delivering a speech very similar to his original one from the World’s Fair. At this time, Maya Angelou was also made the narrator. In 2000, the attraction was again modified to include new president George W. Bush, and J.D. Hall became the new narrator. In 2009, the attraction once again closed to install Barrack Obama, and opened with a new narration provided by Morgan Freeman.
While the film aspect of the attraction is entertaining in itself, the real draw are the animatronic representations of the presidents. Each time a new president takes office, they are soon added to the attraction. Beginning with Bill Clinton in 1993, each president has recorded a speech for the attraction in the White House Library. While it is amazing to hear some of the president’s actual voices, it is the physical likenesses that are the most impressive. This is thanks to master sculptor Blaine Gibson who created almost every animatronic seen in the attraction. The use of an actual life mask, made while Abraham Lincoln was alive, was even used to help create his animatronic. Gibson retired some years ago, but came out of retirement to sculpt several of the presidents when they took office. The only animatronic not sculpted by Gibson is President Obama who was sculpted by Valerie Edwards. To see some of Gibson’s other work in the Magic Kingdom® Park, visit Pirates of the Caribbean®, the Country Bear Jamboree, and the Haunted Mansion®.
If you’ve ever experienced The Hall of Presidents and then felt like you might have seen some of their familiar faces elsewhere throughout Walt Disney World®, don’t worry – you’re not going crazy. When Epcot®’s Spaceship Earth was being created there was such a vast need for animatronics that some of the previously existing molds were used to create new scholars. This included some of the presidents! So, next time you are on Spaceship Earth, be on the lookout for these familiar faces: Teddy Roosevelt as an Egyptian priest and a Roman senator, Franklin Pierce and John Tyler as Islamic scholars, James Buchanan as Johannes Gutenberg, Eisenhower as a lute player, and Ulysses S. Grant as a sculptor.
Before even entering into the attraction, guests can experience a little bit of history just by taking in the architecture of the building which was inspired by the Federal-style civic buildings in colonial Philadelphia including Independence Hall. Once inside the rotunda, guests can walk through the lobby and observe presidential artifacts spanning the entire history of our country. One very special feature can be found roped off in the center of the room. The carpet there bears the official presidential seal which can only be seen elsewhere in the White House.
After exploring the lobby, guests enter into the seven hundred seat theater for the twenty-three minute show. Three massive projector screens begin playing the story of the American presidents and their relationship with the American people. Guests are taken up to the Civil War era when suddenly the middle curtain rises and the animatronic Lincoln rises and delivers a speech similar to the Gettysburg Address. Once finished, the screens resume telling the story of the United States up to present day. All three curtains then rise, revealing all forty-three presidents in a grand demonstration of the history of our country. Each president is introduced in chronological order, and George Washington then speaks briefly about taking the Oath of Office. President Obama then recites the Oath and delivers a brief speech about the American dream, and the curtains are lowered for a sweeping finish set to patriotic music.
While The Hall of Presidents is sometimes overlooked by guests in favor of more ‘popular attractions’ it really is a spectacle in itself and manages to provide a historical story in an entertaining way. Plus, there is something to be said about the inspiring sight of every president standing together as one. So, next time you are in the Magic Kingdom® Park, I strongly suggest stopping by The Hall of Presidents for a patriotic and amazing show!
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
Do you love The Hall of Presidents? What is your favorite part of the attraction? Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you!
Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.