Disney in the Classroom
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Disney As a Classroom - The Greatest Speech
Six score and nineteen years ago Abraham Lincoln spoke some of the greatest words ever written.
These words came to be known as the Gettysburg Address which most scholars credit with redefining what it means to be an American. However, despite the obvious importance of these words many Disney fans were dismayed when the Gettysburg Address became the featured attraction in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Many felt that the words of the Address belonged to another time and that they would have no meaning to a new generation of Americans. I would like to suggest that this kind of attitude about the Gettysburg Address is at best misguided and ask you to consider what I have to say about the Gettysburg Address and about the revised Great Moments. My hope is that by considering my thoughts you will see why that the Gettysburg Address can still speak to us today and that the current version of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln gives us a wonderful opportunity to truly understand our greatest President.
THE ORIGINAL ATTRACTION
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was originally an attraction at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The sponsors of the Illinois Pavilion wanted to celebrate the state's connection to Lincoln. When they heard about Disney's work with Audio-Animatronics they agreed to sponsor the implementation of an audio-animatronic Lincoln. Disney's creation turned out to be much more than they expected. Audiences actually felt they were meeting Lincoln. (So much so that young boys would shoot ball bearings at the AA Lincoln figure, expecting it to react.) The show celebrated Lincoln's accomplishments and included (in the pre-show) a statement of Lincoln's stand on slavery, the last paragraph of his Second Inaugural, and a reading of the Gettysburg Address. The show concluded with the Lincoln AA figure giving an address (a clever combination of words from several Lincoln speeches) presented as if he was speaking directly to the audience in the theatre. The attraction was extremely popular. So much so that Walt built another AA Lincoln so that the attraction could be brought to Disneyland. However, as people became familiar with audio-animatronic technology; Mr. Lincoln didn't seem so real anymore. The crowds began to fade away. The attraction was closed in 1973. In 1975, protests by guests bought it back. Great Moments now featured an even more impressive AA Lincoln but the celebration of his accomplishments was toned down. This meant much less about Lincoln's role in the Civil War and no reading of the Gettysburg Address. After a short burst of renewed interest, Lincoln popularity again waned. Great Moments had once brought Lincoln back to life for millions of people. Now it seemed a relic of a more innocent time. Perhaps a more jaded audience needed something more to understand who Lincoln was and what he accomplished.
THE SOLDIERS' PRESIDENT
"Lincoln was always the soldiers' president. He liked to mingle with enlisted men. He visited wounded soldiers in the hospitals. The military personnel had returned a 75 percent vote for him in his re-election the previous November."
- Lincoln's Greatest Speech, The Second Inaugural, Ronald C. White p. 39
During Abraham Lincoln's Presidency his door was open to anyone who could schedule an appointment. Most of these people wanted a favor from the President; the most common request being a pardon for a soldier convicted of desertion. Lincoln even saw "two women from Tennessee.....asking for the release of their husbands, who were being held as Confederate prisoners of war." (White p. 117) Lincoln was especially willing to see Union soldiers since he felt a great responsibility for their welfare. Even a private could probably see the President, if he was willing to wait.