Join us for a binaural audio visit to The Hall of Presidents.
The Hall of Presidents, an attraction located in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, is a multi-media presentation and stage show featuring Audio-Animatronic figures of all 43 individual U.S. Presidents. Opened on October 1, 1971, along with the rest of the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World, it is housed in a building that resembles Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.
Walt Disney had originally wanted an attraction similar to the “Hall of Presidents” called One Nation Under God at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. After Disneyland had become a huge success, Disney proposed an extension of Main Street, U.S.A. called Liberty Street at Edison Square.
Disney originally wanted wax figures of all the U.S. Presidents, and later decided to try to make them animated figures, but the technology that he wanted for this attraction did not exist or fully meet his desire.
Disney decided to collaborate with his fellow Imagineers of WED Enterprises to try to make the first Audio-Animatronic figure in a human form. It would be one of Disney’s heroes: Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.
Disney and his Imagineers created an Audio-Animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln, more advanced than the ones produced for the Illinois Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. This eventually became part of the attraction known as “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.”
After Disney’s death on December 15, 1966, plans were moving ahead for the still under construction Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Since there was going to be another Disneyland-style theme park, this time officially known as the Magic Kingdom, Imagineers felt that one of the changes that would differ between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom should be in one of the themed lands.
The Imagineers decided that since Florida was close to the real New Orleans in Louisiana, having a New Orleans Square in the Magic Kingdom was a bit superfluous.
The old designs and concepts for Disney’s Liberty Street at Edison Square were reviewed, revised, and became the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square, serving as the alternative to New Orleans Square.
Liberty Square also serves as the alternative location for the Magic Kingdom’s version of the Haunted Mansion, which is located at New Orleans Square in Disneyland.
The Imagineers also thought that, as a follow-up to “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”, they could finally create Disney’s concept of “One Nation Under God”, and thus the created the Hall of Presidents.
The show begins with a film presentation of the history of the United States of America. It shows that the American way was forged through conflict and many long years of struggle. The main idea of the film is that the United States is not free from improvements. It is certain changes that prove necessary over the years.
The film also celebrates the liberties of the American people, the United States Constitution, and the progress of America in its early years.
The film then turns toward the future, saying that the leaders of tomorrow have to be committed to the Constitution and its principles, if the country is to survive.
A Saturn V rocket takes off, and the screens then lift up, and the U.S. Presidents take center stage. After the curtain lifts, all (at the time) 36 presidents are called in chronological order.
(At the time the attraction opened in 1971, the roll call ended with Richard M. Nixon. Over time, each newly elected President would have an Audio-Animatronic version of himself added to the show in their likeness.)
Each one responds to their name with a nod, wave, or other sign of acknowledgment. During the presentation, the Presidents fidget, talk to each other, and look around; all the while making the illusion seem quite real.
Abraham Lincoln then stands and takes center stage. His speech is remarkably similar to the speech he gave in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”.
After his speech, the show concludes with a rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” (the same rendition used in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”). However, as of 2009, the Battle Hymn of the Republic was replaced with America the Beautiful, but it reverted to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 2011.
The original show remained virtually unchanged from 1971 until October 1993. Additional Audio-Animatronic figures of Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush were then added when each entered into office.
Lawrence Dobkin continued to be the narrator, and re-recorded the roll-call for each new addition. The only major feature that changed before 1993 was the original adaptation of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” that served as part of the finale of the show.
It was the same adaptation used in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”. The adaptation was done in a lower key, and instead changed for a revised adaptation in a higher key.
The show closed in early September 1993 and was then completely renovated and re-opened in October 1993, after Bill Clinton had been elected to office. The changes to the show, which in some form remain to this day, are credited to Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia University.
He was able to persuade various Disney executives, most notably then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, that a new adaptation of the show was needed. Foner is responsible for completely rewriting and changing the script of the show in order to focus more on slavery and other ethical and civil related issues in the United States of America.
He is also responsible for rewriting Lincoln’s speech, which was originally nearly identical to that which Lincoln gave in the original version of “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”
While the format of the show remained in the sense of the photos, films, and other features used in the film and elsewhere in the presentation, the speed at which the films played, and what was shown on them was redone to fit the changed script. A new music score was also introduced.
Also, no longer would prominent members of the Disney Company narrate parts of the film. Instead, Maya Angelou narrated the revised script and gave the roll-call of the U.S. Presidents. New amateur actors gave the voices of the characters in the film.
Another feature that was added in 1993 was a speech given by the sitting U.S. President. Foner is responsible for writing the speech which President Clinton himself recorded at the White House. Followed by the current U.S. President’s speech, Abraham Lincoln would give the completely revised speech written by Foner.
The Lincoln Audio-Animatronic figure was also given eyeglasses, and held a piece of paper to glance to and from his speech. Some objected to this, saying that it dumbed down the depiction of Lincoln as a prominent and iconic figure.
For the 2001 update to the show, adding President George W. Bush and his speech, actor J.D. Hall replaced Angelou as the narrator, but he read from the same script as the 1993 version.
The Audio-Animatronic figure created for Clinton in 1993 was recycled and used for Bush; Clinton is now a lesser Audio-Animatronic figure.
Before the 2009 updates to the show, including the addition of President Barack Obama, the Hall of Presidents was closed between October 31, 2008, and July 1, 2009, to undergo an extensive renovation to upgrade its audio and visual effects and systems.
When Obama recorded his speech for the updated show on March 4, 2009, in the White House Map Room, he also recorded himself once again reciting the oath of office of the President of the United States.
Morgan Freeman replaced Hall as narrator for the 2009 revised show, and George Washington was added as a third speaking president.
The clip of the Saturn V launch was replaced with footage showing the first launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia. This footage had been recycled from the original version of Universe of Energy at Epcot.
That rundown of the history of the attraction now brings us to the day in late March of this year, 2015, when my family and I paused during a hot and crowded day to recharge while refreshing our knowledge of history.
Thanks for experiencing this attraction with us again.
I really do appreciate you taking time out to share my family’s Walt Disney World memories.
Since you’ve listened to this podcast, could you do me a few favors? Please like us on Facebook, we’re at facebook.com slash wdwpensieve, and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube, or whatever service you’re using to listen to the podcast.
Also, help spread the word, tell your friends about the podcast and encourage them to give it a listen and subscribe.
Please leave a review about the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast-listening service. Leaving comments and reviews help to increase the visibility of the podcast on these platforms, which could lead to more subscribers and increased circulation.
If there’s a particular attraction you’d like to experience with us, please send an email to email@example.com.
That will do it for memory thread number 10 in the WDW Pensieve. Once again, I appreciate you sharing our memories with us.
Thanks for listening and we’ll see y’all real soon!