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Lincoln bicentennial a missed opportunity for Disney's theme parks

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Published: February 10, 2009 at 3:39 PM

Tuesday Park Visit: (Well, should have been....) Thursday marks the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, considered by many America's greatest president. Walt Disney was among those fans of Lincoln; the first audio-animatronic figure Disney had built was of his fellow Illinoisan.

So what better way to commemorate Lincoln's bicentennial than watching him "come to life" at a Disney theme park, with either Disneyland's Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln or Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents?

Well, those would have been nice ways to mark the day... if either of those attractions were open.

The Hall of Presidents is down for refurbishment until July and Disneyland closed Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for a 50th anniversary film about the opening of Disneyland, which is still showing in Mr. Lincoln's old theater, three-and-a-half years after Disneyland's 50th anniversary.

Main Street Opera House at Disneyland

Not having either of its Lincoln animatronics open for the bicentennial represents are rare missed PR opportunity for Disney. Yes, Disney needs to install a Barack Obama animatronic in Florida. But could you imagine the press that Disney would get if it had debuted the Obama figure not in July but on Thursday, Lincoln's 200th birthday?

Fate rarely deals more fortunate hands than that - to have, on Lincoln's bicentennial, the debut in the Hall of Presidents of the nation's first black president, who, like Lincoln, was a former member of Congress from Illinois and who also is married to the descendent of slaves freed by Lincoln.

Ya think maybe that would have gotten some airtime around the country?

Or Disney could have taken this opportunity to replace the 50th anniversary show at Disneyland, returning Lincoln to the Main Street Opera House on the occasion of his 200th birthday. That would have provided a local angle that Los Angeles-area media would have seized upon to mark the day.

I'm sure that the extensive rehab of the Hall of Presidents will impress when it opens this summer. But if Disney and his team could build the entire Disneyland park in one year, as the 50th anniversary film reminds us, surely Disney could have prepared its Obama animatronic in three months, to meet this bicentennial deadline? (And left the more extensive refurbishment for later in the spring.)

C'est la vie. At least there will be one place where folks can watch Mr. Lincoln come to life on his birthday: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. I've never been, but when I visited with attraction designer Bob Rogers last month, I got to see copies of some of the figures that went into that museum, which Rogers' firm helped design.

Robert Niles and Abraham Lincoln

The museum will webcast a reading of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Central Time (10:30 a.m. Eastern). It'll be a simultaneous reading with people participating from around the country. I hope you'll look in. I just wish that the Lincolns in Orlando and Anaheim could have participated, too.

Readers' Opinions

From David Graham on February 10, 2009 at 3:53 PM
I couldn't agree more Robert!!!
From Deidre Dennis on February 10, 2009 at 4:22 PM
We've been to Disneyland 3 times since 2005 and Disneyworld once since 2006. We have never had the opportunity to see the Hall of Presidents @ WDW or President Lincoln @ Disneyland. I was crushed to learn the Hall of Presidents will be down when we go this June as well... we're heading back home on June 29!

At any rate, I guess we'll have to stop by the American Pavilion @ EPCOT to get even a taste of what these other attractions are like.

From Corey Romberg on February 10, 2009 at 4:33 PM
True, but the Obama AA will debut on the 4th of July, which is quite an important day as well, and should still draw some media attention because of that
From Laura Barker on February 10, 2009 at 5:37 PM
Agreed!

Even though Disney may be missing the boat I can guarantee that Lincoln Amphitheatre is not! The world premiere of LINCOLN, a new theatrical experience, will take place this summer in Lincoln State Park on the very grounds where Lincoln grew up in Lincoln City, Indiana.

The amphitheatre is a 1,500-seat, roofed theatre ... very unique ... and the new production will leave audiences with an understanding of the role Indiana played in shaping Lincoln's character. For more information you may visit LincolnAmphitheatre.com.

We'll be doing it right! Happy Birthday Abe!

From Joshua Counsil on February 11, 2009 at 7:47 AM
Man, I hope they don't put one of Obama's really generic speeches in that attraction. Please choose an interesting speech, not one riddled with the terms "change", "yes we can", or "the audacity of hope". He's had some genuinely interesting speeches, but people seem mostly drawn to the ones filled with empty rhetoric.
From Robert Niles on February 11, 2009 at 8:29 AM
Two words:

Drinking. Game.

From Anthony Murphy on February 11, 2009 at 9:00 PM
Well WDW should be closed to get opened with Obama. I actually think they are not doing it fast enough. He will be a big draw to WDW. Still, if Walt was alive, he would want the Great Moments to be open. Thats, in my opinion, the disappointing part!

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