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Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse Theme Parks


By Mike Patrick, Jr., M.D.

I don't know what the weather is like in your neck of the woods, but here in the heartland, the winter doldrums have officially begun. With ever-present clouds as thick as an army blanket and wind chills down in the single digits, the sunny days of our last Florida vacation seem like a faded memory, and the hope of our next trip hasn't yet dawned.

With this in mind, you'll understand my excitement in finding a book I had picked up on our last trip to visit the Mouse: The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom. Like so many other Disney mementos, the everyday drudgery of life back home made the little book seem less important, and I'm sad to report I had put it away and forgotten about it.

Until this week.

I found the book in my night stand and discovered a wonderful resource of amazing information. I thought sharing some of this newfound knowledge might lift you from the the winter blahs as well.

Our tour begins here. No, not inside the haunted mansion, but rather at the gateway to the Magic Kingdom--Main Street, USA.

You may have heard the inspiration for Disneyland's Main Street came from Walt's memory of growing up in the small town of Marceline, Missouri. But what you may not know is the street's design more closely resembles Fort Collins, Colorado. This was art director Harper Goff's childhood home, and it was his drawings that provided the details of the Disneyland original.

Florida's Main Street, USA is much larger than the Disneyland version. This is in keeping with the Magic Kingdom's sprawling landscape and the towering spires of Cinderella Castle.

It's a place that embodies the spirit of a burgeoning American town at the turn of the century. The Industrial Revolution is just taking hold. Horseless carriages share the street with horse-drawn trollies, and the electric light has begun to replace gas powered street lamps. It's a place where people work hard and play hard. It's a place we all know, but also a place that never really existed.

The imagineers call this design technique "heightened reality." The spirit of a place is captured, with little regard to producing the reality. Think about it. Where are the potholes and mud-puddles and sagging electrical lines? Where's the random vagrant? What happened to the stench of horse manure?

Instead, we have ornate architecture of the "Eastern Seaboard Victorian" style. We have the smell of baking cookies and the optimistic sounds of ragtime. We have shop windows low enough for kids to take a peek and upper-story windows that light up at night with flickering lamps and realistic shadows. The whole package is a wonderful embodiment of small town spirit and nostalgia.

Another imagineering technique heavily employed on Main Street, USA is "forced perspective." This is the construction of buildings with smaller details on top, resulting in the impression of height without imposing an overbearing sensation. The first floor of Main Street structures are twelve feet tall, second floors are ten feet, and third floors are eight feet. In addition, the ornate trimmings get smaller the higher they go.

There are a couple exceptions to this forced perspective scheme. The Main Street railroad station is full scale on all levels to accommodate trains and traffic. It also serves as a barrier, keeping the magical view of the street and castle a special reward for those lucky enough to enter.

The other exception is the Town Square Exposition Hall. Imagineers kept it full size to hide the  imposing facade of the Contemporary Resort.

One of my favorite details on Main Street, USA is the windows. I know you've seen them, and you've probably heard that the proprietor names are important figures from Disney's past. They are the engineers and artists and executives who have shaped the Magic Kingdom. These windows are like the opening credits of a movie, and fittingly, they begin and end with Walt.

The first of the Main Street windows is visible from outside the park. It is the Walt Disney World Railroad Office, and it proclaims Walter E. Disney as the "Chief Engineer." Clear down at the other end of the street, the last window--a small one above the Plaza Restaurant--is marked "Walt Disney, Master Classes in Design and Master Planning."

Between Walt's bookends are a who's who of Magic Kingdom history. Former President and Chief Operating Officer Frank Wells, an avid mountain climber, has the honor of the highest window on the street. It's way up on the third floor of the Main Street Market House, advertising Seven Summits Expeditions. It sports a picture of a mountain and announces Wells as President of the company. Seven summits. Seven themed lands. Gotta love Disney.

Donn Tatum is the proprieter of M.T. Lott Real Estate Investments. Funny thing is he was in charge of the team secretly acquiring land in central Florida in the late 1960's. One of the fake companies he used was M.T. Lott. Empty lot. Clever.

The Main Street, USA chapter goes on to describe the significance of many other windows. It outlines the history of Main Street vehicles, details expansion projects, and tells the story of Walt's passion for the steam locomotive.

If these historical tidbits interest you, pick up a copy of the book next time you're at Disney. But be sure to resist the temptation of casting it aside when you get back home. Keep it out. Read it. Not only will you be glad you did, but you'll better appreciate the little details of the Magic Kingdom next time you visit.

Stay tuned next week as we head into Adventureland!

Dr Mike is a board-certified pediatrician and host of Pediacast: A Pediatric Podcast for Parents. You can read his blog, listen to the podcast, and sign up for his newsletter at



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