Hello, Mr. Lincoln: The best Disneyland attraction you might have missed

Road Journals Blog—In the stampede to get to the E-ticket rides, most folks run right past “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” a wonderful relic from the early days of the park, when Walt Disney’s personal passions set the tone and direction, and animatronic robots made people gasp in amazement like we do now at Avatar or photos of Mars.

If you’re not driven by adrenaline, whiny kids, or an irrational need to get to Space Mountain, I advise you not to miss this. Presented in the opera house (the first building on your right as you enter Main Street), “Mr. Lincoln” is a gem of an attraction—wonderfully nostalgic, surprisingly moving, and still able, at least in my family’s case, to elicit wide-eyed wonder.

The show is really a twofer. The first part is “The Disneyland Story” exhibit, which offers a terrific walk-through history display of Disneyland, including the Griffith Park bench where Walt dreamt up Disneyland while watching his daughters on the nearby merry-go-round, and models of Sleeping Beauty’s castle and Splash Mountain.


Loren Javier/Flickr

The mini-museum follows Disneyland’s evolution from opening day in 1955 all the way through tomorrow’s coming attractions. At the end, there’s a funny short film from 2005—Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years—starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck that’s bound to bring back fond memories for people like me, whose last trip to Disneyland had been somewhere back in the Pleistocene era. It includes footage of long-defunct rides like the Tomorrowland flying saucers and Country Bear Jamboree, and a hilarious bit where the world of the distant future (1986!) is filled with inventions like flying cars.

From here, you enter an anteroom displaying an intricate model of the U.S. Capitol and a video explaining Walt’s lifetime fascination with Lincoln. (In elementary school he could recite the 256-word Gettysburg Address.) This is a lot of build-up for the actual “Great Moments,” but in the end animatronic Abe delivers—walking and talking in amazingly lifelike fashion, and making it easy to understand why National Geographic, after watching the show at its debut during the 1964 World’s Fair, reported that Lincoln was “alarming” in his realism.

Here’s some other cool tidbits I learned (the last one from the well-informed Disney docent on the way out):

  • Abe’s head is modeled on an actual life mask made of Lincoln by Leonard Volk in 1860.
  • Lincoln was the first audio-animatronic figure ever created by Walt Disney.
  • The model of the U.S. Capitol is hand-carved from Caen stone quarried in Normandy. It took three years to build.
  • Steve Martin worked at Disneyland all through his teens, including three years at Merlin’s Magic Shop, where got his start performing magic tricks. (He discusses this in the film.)
  • Walt’s private apartment is across from the opera house, above the fire station. Disney often stayed there while he was overseeing construction, leaving a light on in the window to let people know he was in. Every night since Walt’s death, a light has been left in the window in his memory.

Do you have a Disney favorite? Something many people might otherwise overlook?

Bonnie Wach's "Disneyland Attractions" story appears in the March/April 2011 issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

Comments

Disney created Abe Lincoln for the State of Illinois Pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1964-1965, then moved him (and a few other attractions including Pepsi-Cola's salute to UNICEF "It's a Small World") to Anaheim after the fair ended.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the animatronic excess of the Enchanted Tiki Room, "where the birds sing words and the flowers croon!"