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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Liberty Tree - Rich Disney History Hiding In Plain Sight!

The Liberty Tree - Rich Disney History Hiding In Plain Sight!  
by: guide4wdw - Collin

From a very young age, Walt Disney exhibited a fascination with American history that seemed to continue on with him for years to come. As a young boy Walt and a classmate in elementary school designed and preformed small skits for local theaters and school productions based off of their favorite presidents and historical circumstances. While the teachers praised their efforts, that small scale fascination seemed to stick with Walt for many years. 

In the early 1950's Walt Disney bought the rights to the classic novel Johnny Tremain. The novel, which was a favorite of Walt's, led to an onscreen, production quality, film released by the Disney company in 1957. While the movie itself has never really stood the test of time as many other classic Disney films did, the story transcends into the parks in a way that you may have completely overlooked. As you can likely imagine, that brings us to today's topic, The Liberty Tree. 

(Photo: Disney)

Believe it or not, the Liberty Tree concept developed directly around the time the Johnny Tremain film released. While many of you may be wondering how that is possible when the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World didn't officially open until 1971, the answer is found in the lands rich history. 

The Liberty Tree lives on today in Magic Kingdom, but at one point the entire Liberty Square concept was destined for Disneyland. Sadly, for those of you on the west coast, the technology Walt needed to make his dreams for the land a reality, were not possible at the time. Thankfully, as always with the Disney company, a good idea never truly dies. Later on, Walt decided to bring that once conceived idea for Disneyland to his latest development, Walt Disney World. 

As is typical in large scale projects, Walt's Imagineering and horticulture group faced a daunting task. Unfortunately, Walt never got to see his Liberty square (Liberty Street in his original design) concept really fully developed before his death in 1966, but a few select Imagineers continued his plans down to the very details. One of those many intricate details led to one of the greatest challenges in theming history, the placement of the Liberty Tree. 

In the development phase, the design group found what they believed to be the perfect Florida representation of the tree pictured in the classic Johnny Tremain film, a Southern Live Oak. The tree was perfect, but there was one huge problem, relocating it. Typically, tree relocation is quite simple, but when the tree being moved way over 38 tons, a whole new series of challenges present themselves. If you use typical methods of roping the trunk and lifting, it could destroy the delicate inner structures of the tree (it would've been destroyed by it's own weight). On top of the weight problem, Disney's earmarked tree was 8 miles east of where it needed to be relocated to in the Magic Kingdom. 

The solution to their problem ultimately tells a story of it's own. In the early days of Disneyland, Walt told one of his top landscapers, Bill Evans, that he wanted to remove a Coral tree from the park in order to replace it with a man-made tree which could support the weight of the electrical equipment needed for his next big idea. While Evans new the tree was too large to up and move without damaging the nature of the tree, he found a new way to disperse the weight and safely relocate it. In order to do so, a series of beams were drilled through the tough inner core of the tree to disperse the weight. The beams which were drilled in a crossing pattern would spread the weight around and allow for the safe removal of the Coral tree. 

Years down the road, Evans was still with the Disney company and conveniently helped with this Liberty Tree project. Borrowing form his earlier idea, the tree was lifted in a similar manner and relocated over a period of time to the location where it still stands today. 

So, while many guests assume the tree is fake, it was certainly all a part of the larger plan for the land and a detail that Disney certainly did not have to include. Fortunately, Disney knew what their former head of creations would have wanted, and the backstory is something that Walt recognized would have purpose years down the line. The authenticity was always a key part of the experience and very well could have played a role in what has become the most untouched land in Disney history. 

The theming is certainly iconic, but a few details really put the tree into the spirit of "Liberty." High in the branches above guests touring the parks lie 13 lanterns representing the original thirteen colonies and the American Revolution. While the lamps are simple, the nod to originality and history adds a detail that many guests will simply overlook. If your in the area, be sure to look for a minuteman's rifle in the windows near by and a simple doll cleverly placed in the window of the Hall of Presidents. 

As the story goes, during the unfortunate circumstances of much of the revolution, a simple doll in the window would exhibit that a child lived in the home in case of a fire. While other stories surround this doll, it shares a unique nature and simple historical element that creates a sense of authenticity throughout the land. 

Today, the Liberty Tree marks the largest living tree ever transplanted on/to Disney property. It is also the largest living aspect of the Magic Kingdom and has helped develop over 500 new trees across property. The Liberty Tree itself is certainly beautiful, but be sure to think of it's rich history next time you pass through Liberty Square. Appreciate the details, and take in one of the last stories Walt Disney personally developed. 

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