For the first two weeks of February 2016, the WDW Radio Blog Team will be reviewing great moments in Disney History. These moments have impacted the history of the company through film, parks, innovation, events and more.
Disney is known for great reveals. For example, the Imagineers designed the entrance of the Magic Kingdom Park to hide Cinderella Castle until that moment you turn that first corner on Main Street, U.S.A. Being able to hide and reveal a 189 ft. castle is certainly an impressive feat, but there is a greater reveal in Walt Disney World’s history, and the Imagineers had nothing to do with it.
The reveal came in the form of a hastily put together press conference on November 16, 1965. Why was it hastily put together? I’m glad you asked….
In 1965, all eyes were on Disneyland, which was celebrating its first ten years.
Well, most eyes.
The eyes in Central Florida were more focused on the swampland in and around Orlando that was being mysteriously bought up. Whoever was buying the land was covering their tracks well. He (or she?) was using dummy corporations like Bay Lake Properties, Tomahawk Properties and Latin American Development & Management. Another company, Reedy Creek Ranch Lands, was run by a guy named M.T. Lott (say the name quickly to get the joke). Yet another company, Ayefour Corporation, hinted at why this land was so valuable (Ayefour = I-4, the interstate that runs through Orlando). The most telling clue to the mysterious buyers identity was the company RETLAW, but it seems nobody thought to spell the word backwards (Retlaw backwards is Walter).
Rumors abounded as to who could be buying up all this useless swampland. Ford? McDonnell-Douglas? Hughes? Aircraft? Boeing? The Mafia? Disney?
Emily Bavar, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, went out to California to cover Disneyland’s Tencennial celebration and decided to to see if that last rumor had any merit to it. Our intrepid reporter took the opportunity during a lunch to ask Walt if he was buying up the land in Orlando. Walt quickly waved off the question and listed off a number of reasons why Orlando would be a terrible place to build a themepark.
In his response, Emily noticed two things:
- Walt didn’t actually answer her question
- He knew an awful lot about Central Florida
“Walt was a bad liar,” she was fond of saying later.
That night, she wired a story to the Sentinal with the headline, “Disney Hedges Big Question.” It was a small article and it wasn’t until she returned to Orlando that she was able, with help from her editors, to put all the clues together.
Later that week, they ran a longer article with their new theory and by the following Sunday, they were confident enough to run a front page article with the headline, “We Say: ‘Mystery’ Industry is Disney.” That was October 24, 1965. Three weeks later, on November 16th, Walt was in Orlando for the aforementioned press conference, with the Governor of Florida, to announce his plans: a new themepark like Disneyland but bigger and something called a “city of tomorrow.”
Cloak and dagger secrecy. Mystery and intrigue. Clues to follow. And a grand reveal. It is fitting that a place with such an emphasis on telling a good story would have a good origin story itself.
A couple of years ago, I was able to go to Orlando’s history museum. They have, among other things, a great section about how Walt Disney World came to Central Florida and the impact that it has had on the city. These are a couple of pictures I took from the museum:
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
Chris grew up during the Disney renaissance of animation and took his first trip to Disney World when he was ten. Even though he has loved Disney his whole life, his obsession didn’t start until he began planning a trip for his honeymoon. Right now, his primary job (at least the one that doesn’t pay the bills) is to indoctrinate his daughter with his love of Disney while at the same time convincing his wife to move to Orlando so he can become a tour guide in the parks.