Sunday, November 30, 2008

Park Mysteries #7

In the earliest days of the Magic Kingdom, many of those areas of the park which we today think of as being fairly integral were barely there at all. Tomorrowland was a long walk along a construction fence, Adventureland dead ended at the Tiki Room, and for the first few years the view at the end of Frontierland was essentially a mound of dirt, with a big green field where one day we would enjoy Big Thunder Mountain. Tom Sawyer Island was a knee-high grassy knoll dotted with white rocks. Along the back stretch of track for the Admiral Joe Fowler, things improved, with such static tableaus as the Banjo Cabin from which some banjo strumming could be heard, an Indian Village with no Indians, that burning cabin, and the just out of sight but boisterous river pirates in their cave hideout.

Within the first few years additional figures began to appear such as those Indians, their burial ground, Indian totem poles, moose, deer, and elk. The event of the 1973 construction of Tom Sawyer Island required the draining of the Rivers of America and so WED took the opportunity to add Beacon Joe and his dog Rufus to the Banjo cabin, more Indians at the shoreline of the river, and more wildlife on both the train and riverboat sides of that back stretch. A lot of this stuff is still there today.

But the construction of Tom Sawyer Island did cause the removal of some things, and these were probably the first items ever placed along the river for the entertainment of those plowing the river via riverboat, keelboat or canoe: whimsical little wood buoys marking various points along the river. These can still be observed today, marking such places as Raccoon Point and Howling Dog Bend, and their number is perhaps eight. Originally there were perhaps a dozen overall, and the mystery of this week is: what were they? It's a pretty good bet that in the early days at least a few were the same: Devil's Elbow has always been where it is in the river, and I'm willing to bet that the sign for Howling Dog Bend was where it is now or perhaps across the river. To the left, click to expand a 1973 blueprint prepared for the construction of Tom Sawyer Island; close observers will note not only the locations of the 12 original buoys scattered around the island, but the original Frontierland train station, an unusual location for some of the fake deer near where the exit of Big Thunder Mountain is today, and that mystery structure in Liberty Square I discussed in our last installment.

It's a minor mystery, for sure, but so little material exists today documenting what an October or November 1971 experience of Walt Disney World was like that we should treasure these things when we get them. I, for one, would like to know what the little signs said and where they were. For example: there's a little one out by where the main river branches westward to go to the Riverboats' spur line. The buoy marked "Twin Rivers Bend" today sits near the Big Thunder Mountain geysers, but wouldn't it make more sense at this more northerly location? What sign marked where the Tom Sawyer Island barrel bridge is now? Or Tom's Landing? The current set of location markers is Disney writing at it's best at writing evocative nonsense, with exciting locations like Tree Snag Reef or Deer Crossing Shallows. One can only imagine the now removed other exciting locations - probably lost to history in the Magic Kingdom's early but very transformative years.