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Liberty Square, NJ

1987: my very public punishment after my own "trial" in Liberty Square, WDW.
1987: my very public punishment after my own “trial” in Liberty Square, WDW.

This column is normally about food…Disney food.

But not today.

It has been roughly two-and-a-half months since my last entry, but please know I have desperately missed writing these posts.  Why the absence?   Full-time teaching job combined with grad work, a year-old son, etc.  And while your circumstances may not be exactly mine,  you know the drill.Now, “life” alone has never stopped me from following my heart and setting fingers to keyboard in the name of WDW Radio.  If anything,  life has inspired my writing!  But what did put a crimp in my plans recently is the subject of this entry, and I shall elaborate now as concisely as possible:

It all started a few months ago when I was called to jury duty.   In all honesty, I’ve been called in the past and have served with pride,  but this time, I was in no mood for the experience for all of the reasons mentioned above.   But report I did, and the result was a seat on a jury for a rather serious crime.   The trial is over now,  but let me just say it was an emotional journey that taxed me and my fellow jurors not just in terms of time and effort and treasure,  but in endurance faith, and spirituality.   Now,  you may be asking yourself what could this possibly have to do with Walt Disney World®.  Please, allow me to explain.

As I’ve stated,  the trial was about a serious crime.  A very serious crime.  And there were many, many times in this long, tedious process when the judge would excuse the jury box for lunch, coffee, etc.   These breaks were welcome,  but since jurors can’t discuss cases with each other until deliberations begin,  it felt silly hanging around in the jury room or hallway with one another talking about sports or the weather after hearing riveting testimony or watching video of crooks being crooks.  So, I’d walk around by myself and try to relax.

Being a history buff,  there was plenty to see in the surrounding neighborhood.  While a rough town,  the city of Elizabeth, NJ, is fraught with Colonial history,  and I loved walking around and seeing the historic buildings, dilapidated as they may be now.   And man, oh, man: anyone who loves American history would have loved my walks.

The First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, NJ.
The First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, NJ.

Right next to the courthouse is the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, NJ.   Facing it from the front,  the church is a welcoming structure of ancient – in American terms – red brick with an impressive tall, white spire adorning it on top.   The building is framed with a wrought-iron fence and beset between a pre-Colonial cemetery on one side and a parish house on the other – quite out-of-place among the more modern buildings on the block.   To articulate the true significance of this church, here are a few quick details about its history:

–  the church was founded less than fifty years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and twenty years before Philadelphia was settled by the Quakers-   several Revolutionary war generals and soldiers are buried in the cemetery beside the church-   the church was burned by the British in 1780-   Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr attended school together at the church Academy years before their famous dual!   (My favorite bit of history!)

And it was on one of my walks – one of my many, many escapist walks — that something dawned on me:  one of the most enduring things about Walt Disney World®’s Magic Kingdom® Park is the experience of idealized America one gets while traveling down the nostalgic route of Main Street, U.S.A, through the hub of Cinderella’s Castle, and  bending left to the blithely wistful environs of Frontierland and Liberty Square.  It’s a journey that transports us from a turn-of-the-century American town, through the evolution – or rather “revolution” – of the nation’s founding years.   The architecture, the design,  the images – all of these elements blend together like the ingredients of a quintessential American apple pie to create a comforting sense of patriotism, freedom, and idealism.

Such history!
Such history!


And while Walt Disney World® was the furthest thing from my mind as I contemplated the evidence of the trial on one of my lunch breaks,  in hindsight I realized that these “history walks” were to me what Liberty Square has always been: a reminder of, what Walt called, the “dreams” and “hard facts” of our predecessors.   Many-a-time I’ve walked through Liberty Square and closed my eyes and imagined myself back in the days of the Sons of Liberty and everyone’s favorite fictitious patriot: Johnny Tremain.   With a turkey leg in my hand,  I’ve watched presidents come alive and recount their places in the great progression of American liberty and contemplated the actual days in which their calling was conceived while spying the Liberty Tree.  I’ve even purchased actual British tea in Epcot® and considered dumping it in the Rivers of America. (Ok,  perhaps I’ve gone too far.)   But with each trip, I’m reminded of one consistent theme: the ideals of freedom to which our forefathers aspired.

View of church from the jury room; in the distance,  you can literally see Newark Airport.  Get me on the next flight to Orlando!
View of church from the jury room; in the distance, you can literally see Newark Airport. Get me on the next flight to Orlando!

And that’s what my history walks did for me during that most trying time.  Whenever the details of the trial seemed hard to handle or fatiguing,  I’d look at that old church – the one that looked so much like the Hall of Presidents – and remind myself that I am but one small link in a long chain of Americans striving to live freedom and exist in a fair and just society.   In short, I live in a society where it is an honor and privilege to serve upon a jury of one’s peers,  and I owed it to the people involved in the trail to be as honest and faithful a juror as I could possibly be.

Now,  if only they had some massive turkey legs in the courtroom cafeteria, as well…

(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)

Rich McNanna is a seventh grade language arts teacher and avid Disney, baseball, and food fan from Westfield,  New Jersey.  He is a regular columnist sharing his passion for Disney food experiences and an avid listener and reader of the WDW Radio world. He and his wife dream of one day purchasing a Disney Vacation Club membership so that they can take their baby boy to the greatest place on Earth at least once a year…just for the churros.