Monday, September 12, 2011

People I've Met in the Past: Part One

Ah, the mighty Walt Disney World Pictorial Souvenir. How many times I've leafed through those pages, researching, scanning, staring - how many of those images have been burned indelibly into my brain. It's true, the real Walt Disney World can disappoint - there's no longer a slow-moving journey through the history of transportation in that big shiny cylinder at EPCOT, but with just a few leaves of paper, twenty or forty years old, and all that history between then and now seems to collapse - the past is always today. This is, of course, the great pleasure of paper collecting. Ephemera becomes a way to relive history, make it seem like the present. It's fun to hold that C ticket in your hand and plot to spend it on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride next time you're at Magic Kingdom. Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

In a way, this sense of lost things being possible to reclaim is especially potent with those pictorial souvenirs of the 70s and 80s. I still have my original one, hardcover, and that book is probably why I became obsessed with Walt Disney World. It still has the texture of my youth bound into its pages. You can see the indentations in the page where I tried to trace the Haunted Mansion when I was eight. So, in a very real way, these books and booklets, which only ever served a short-term marketing purpose of reminding people of their trips and perhaps inspiring new ones, have become windows to the past. It's a trip we've all taken often.

A lot of those photos have become like old friends. And unlike the photographs of today's marketing blitz, they show people in the park how they often really are - unrehearsed, somewhat unglamorous and sort of dopey looking. So let's take a trip into the past and revisit some of the better dopey Walt Disney World denizens of her first ten years. Maybe you'll run into your favorite along the way.

I've often wondered if she's implacable or just embarrassed with her 50 gallon sombrero on. The hesitant tugging at the edges suggests she's seen the camera and is hiding her face. Or maybe there's just a wind and it's threatening to blow away.

Go ahead kid. Touch the mouse. I dare you.

No words can possibly do justice to the sort-of nerdy archer.

Yellow bell bottoms. Yellow and turquoise tile floors. You know you want to be there right now.

It's sort of hard to tell what the dynamic of this hug is. Whatever it is, the kid in the blue sailor outfit could care less about us and our darn pictorial souvenir. No matter how many times I see this, it's still good for my soul to know that Frontierland looks exactly like that today. Not even the signs have changed, nor should they.

Screaming. Whenever you meet Baloo. Screaming.


These people look genuinely terrified by that flambe. Is this some sort of statement about the regular quality of service at the Pueblo Room? And, oh yes. The white suited guy looks on, impassive to their plight.

The Duke shops at Kingdom Jewelers. Is that a Marquis cut or a Lozenge cut you've got there, pilgrim? Oh, come on, you always thought of it while looking at the book, admit it. By the way: I've color corrected this one and I'm shocked at how green that shop was. I always assumed it was a weird printing artifact but, no, it really is an all jade green jewelry store.

Okay, this guy cracks me up. First, he looks too cool, with his pomaded hair, jacket and shades both for that family and to be that lost. Secondly, he's using a wall map as a park map. Seriously, look at that, it's the 1972 original Magic Kingdom wall map folded in thirds, the one with the bugged-out colors. I call him "Genius Guy".

You didn't seriously think I'd let this one go, did you? Child Vs. Dwarf is still brilliant. Think of it: this face-off has been ongoing for forty years now. In another forty years it'll still be happening.

Gene Hackman in a teacup. Actually, this one is sort of disappointing, because this guy looks markedly less like Gene Hackman when scanned in huge and color-corrected, instead of while squinting at forty-year-old paper. You want to see Gene Hackman at Walt Disney World?? Here you go:

There it is. Gene Hackman versus the Salt Water Express. I think the drugs are hidden in the guitar.

It's Gondolier Day at the Haunted Mansion! If you don't believe me, look at the guy further on up the line from the guy in the red stripes; he's wearing blue stripes and a straw hat. See? Totally a Gondolier. By the way, this photograph is impossible to take today; it'd look like an explosion in a red canvas factory. It's pretty cool to see the way this looked before even the familiar green canopy was up. Can't have been fun to wait in the sun, though.

Another classic. Who doesn't remember Old Guy In The Window?

OLD GUY IN THE WINDOW POV!!! A rarely seen "backside of Traders of Timbuktu" shot. Check out that awesome bag the lady in the middle has. And of course, that freaky cow-horse creature in the front. They were all over the store:

See them up top? This store was called, depending on the era, either The Magic Carpet or the Brass Bazaar, and seemed to attract unusually high numbers of Blurry Old Folks. It was renovated into Elephant Tales in the late 80s and finally closed to make way for.... nothing. The Old Guy window still exists; it's behind a register in the "Agrabah" shop across from that awful Aladdin spinner. There are no window carpets, freaky horses, or blurry old guys there anymore. You really shouldn't go looking for it; you'll just get depressed.

I warned you!

I believe this is Papeete Bay Verandah. Wherever it is, it's very red. I seriously doubt anything this red would be allowed to be printed now.

Seating Area for the Sunshine Tree Terrace and, again, a picture you currently can't take because of the Aladdin spinner. It's hard to tell, but I think that's the Sunshine Tree / Floria Citrus Growers logo ringing the table. I really like how the yellow and green umbrellas put one in a citrus mindset without ever having to so much as show you an orange.

These come from a GAF Guide, specifically the "How To Take Pictures" section that came in all those early Magic Kingdom guidemaps. So these are obviously staged "family photos", but what's the deal with the children wearing ponchos??? Not only that, it's the same kids in each picture, but the ponchos are different! It can't have been fun to wear those in any sort of Florida heat, so it was probably a colder winter day (we get them in Florida, you know!) and the kids demanded them to stay warm. So some poor assistant had to high-tail it to Frontierland or wherever it was they got these things to borrow some ponchos. But why different ones? Did the kids fall in the sub lagoon after the second picture was taken??

The world will, likely, never know.

Hey! Guys! It's DST! I think! It stands for..... Something... something... Track! And they're at the Tomorrowland Terrace! And there's lots of backs of people's heads and stuff!

I'm 90% certain that this is The Space Port, Tomorrowland's original shop, which later became "Merchant of Venus" to funnel those happy happy kids leaving the new Alien Encounter attraction into a merchandise shop. My 1972 GAF Guide describes it as:
The Space Port - Contemporary Decorative Gifts
And I guess that describes what we see here pretty well. I love that polka dot dress! And what is that kid in the stroller reaching for, anyway? No shoplifting, kid!

Again, the inner Traders of Timbuktu courtyard. It kills me that this has been demolished. Old Guy Window is to the immediate right.

Possibly a nun? With a camera? Whatever, she's got an awesome bag and the first letter of "Frontierland" superimposed near her, so she's cooler than I am. She's in the middle of Liberty Square and the area right behind her near that tree is the current home of a speaker cleverly disguised as a birdhouse. Behind her is the future home of Thunder Mesa, I mean Splash Mountain. Before Big Thunder started construction in 1978, this area was known as "The Meadow" because...

....Yeah. All man made, however, which is pretty amazing. Show this to someone and dare them to identify it as Walt Disney World; it's fun.

Hey, watch out! You're gonna get squirted! Just kidding. This is thirty years before these guys would be made to squirt water, back when they were down in front of the Jungle Cruise and devoted to awesome drumming.

Hey! Yeah! Finally... some action!


Yow! Hot stuff! These demonstrate a beloved 'Pictorial Souvenir' motif... which things that don't really go fast... do.

And who could forget this handsome specimen:

"Listen, I'm awake, what else do you want from me?"

One could look at the kid grasping his face in the foreground there. Or the fact that there's a mob of people at The Lunching Pad there in the background. Or the fact that we can see the end of the Peoplemover track at the very top of the image; it wouldn't be finished until 1975 and just ended there in space. But you know what I love most? The rare on-the-ground view of the Great Construction Wall of Tomorrowland in the very back. Groovy.

I'll leave it up to you to decide what they're looking at. This is a blog about a family park, after all.

I'll end with one of my favorites. This captures everything wonderful and awkward about early Walt Disney World photographs. The staging, composition, Meadow in the background...

"Look happy! Look at it! Look at the bird!
Hey! Don't make it so obvious that you're holding him!
Look happy!"

...Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!