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5 Times When American History and Disney History Collided

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.


The past two weeks of WDW Radio Blog articles have covered significant moments in Disney history. Events that defined Disney and continue to shape the company and the brand to this day. However, there have been multiple moments in the history of Disney Parks that non-Disney news collided with Disney. Sometimes major events happened on Disney property, other times the peskiness of reality affected the parks. Those are the events we’ll focus on today.

1955 – Disneyland‘s Opening Draws Foreign Dignitaries and Future Presidents

waltThe opening of Disneyland was broadcast live on television, quite an undertaking considering TV was still a new format and didn’t have 24/7 programing like today. Many notable people made the trek to Anaheim for opening day and the subsequent decades. Ronald Reagan, celebrity and future US president, was one of the hosts of the live event. The Shah of Iran visited in 1962, a far cry from today’s political climate, and even rode the Matterhorn with Walt.


November 1973 – “I am not a Crook”

One of the most repeated lines of any US president was uttered at Disney’s Contemporary Resort of all places. Richard Nixon said these words in a conference held from the hotel. This came after the Watergate scandal, but before resigning from office. Even the magic of Walt Disney World could not save his reputation.


November 23, 1994 – Nancy Kerrigan Loses the American Public’s Favor

In 1994, headlines were made when US Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan was injured by Shane Stant. He was paid to club her legs by the ex-husband of Kerrigan’s rival, Tonya Harding. With the media and public opinion on her side, she was invited to be in a post-Olympics parade at the Magic Kingdom Park. It was there she lost favor when footage aired of her telling Mickey that the parade was “corny” and “So dumb…I hate it.” As you can imagine, when someone talks badly of the “Greatest Vacation Kingdom of them All,” on a free trip, in a parade in your honor, people think differently. While Disney officials said the quote was out of context, the damage was already done.


1993 – Disney’s America: The Lost ParkDisney_america

At one point a new Disney resort was being planned for Virginia. Unlike Aulani – A Disney Resort and Spa, this would include a new theme park and be its own kind of Disney park experience. The park would have been based on American history. It hit many bumps during its planning stages, with opposition coming from several parties concerning where the park would be located and what value its historical content would bring. Other criticism largely revolved around the commercialization of history. Ultimately this park was never built.


September 1, 2001 – 9/11 Terror Attacks Close Disney Parks and Affect the Travel Industry

The events of the September 11 attacks in New York City did change the world, including the Disney world. With concerns about traveling, especially via airplane, and fear of another attack on another US landmark (the Disney castles and Spaceship Earth included), tourism suffered a steep decline. 9/11 is also one of the few days Disneyland or Walt Disney World was forced closed down their respective parks. The addition of metal detectors to the park entrances is just another sign of the real world’s impact on the escapist fantasy provided at Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, Disney does not exist in a vacuum, and bad things on this planet can affect them. Disney Parks continue to weather the storm because the temporary paradise they can create and the fond memories of good times with loves ones are a supremely powerful force.


History never to ceases to be made, and hopefully, our favorite Disney destinations won’t be ceasing to make history anytime soon either. “Here’s to the future and You!”




Orlando Sentinel

USA Today

New York Times 1New York Times 2

Laughing Place

Photos ©Disney


zackZack Kaplan is an avid Disney fan, and is not capable of buying a Tron pin if it looks nice. With the goal of visiting every Disney park, including Disneyland Mars WHEN it opens, he’s got his work cut out. When he isn’t writing about Disney he also likes playing games and being a nice guy. You can follow him on Twitter @SteelDiver if you like sarcasm.