After having dealt with those record low temperatures that
this past Winter's Polar Vortex whipped up, I have to admit that I am genuinely
enjoying this year's belated (but much appreciated) Spring.
But that said, I recognize that late 2013 / early 2014
wasn't the only time that things got really, really cold here in the US.
One other time that immediately comes to mind is January 21, 1985. Which is when things got so cold in Washington
D.C. that then-President Ronald Reagan was
forced to move the swearing-in ceremony for his second term indoors.
But worse than that (at least for the 50 high school bands
who'd traveled to our Nation's Capital specifically to march in Reagan's
inaugural parade), all outdoor events which had originally been scheduled for
that date wound up being cancelled due to the record cold temperatures. Which
meant all these kids had practiced & fund-raised for months ... all for
Ronald Reagan at the grand opening of Disneyland Park on July 17, 1955.Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Well, leave it to The Walt Disney Company to take a
weather-related disappointment and then turn that into a once-in-a-lifetime
promotional opportunity. Given Reagan's unique relationship with the Mouse
(Let's remember that -- along with Bob Cummings & Art Linkletter -- Ronnie
was one of the three MCs who worked ABC's 90 minute-long live television for
the grand opening of Disneyland back in 1955), the Company was able to use back
channels and make an intriguing offer to the White House. Which was: If the
President would agree to come down to EPCOT
Center sometime later that year,
Disney would then attempt to restage Reagan's second inaugural parade.
Now you have to understand that the Secret Service is not a
big fan of the President's possible location being broadcast weeks, even months
in advance. Now add to that that the White House was still somewhat skittish on
the heels of John Hinkley's botched assassination attempt back in March of 1981
and ... Well, if any other company had made this offer to Reagan's staff, they
would have been turned down flat.
But again, given the President's history with Disney (More
importantly, given the many times that Reagan had been down to Disneyland
during his two terms as Governor of California, he was already well aware of
Disney's crack security team), Lake Buena Vista was the one place on this planet
that Reagan would be willing to travel to for a restaging of his second
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Mind you, there were a few caveats to this plan. First and
foremost, if some sort of threat to national security arose and/or an international
incident erupted on the day this inaugural parade redo was supposed to be
staged, President Reagan would (obviously) immediately opt out of this event.
More to the point, the Secret Service would be driving the show. They'd be the
ones putting together a security plan for the event and Disney Security would
be taking all of its cues from the Feds.
But once that agreement was in place, Walt Disney World
officials were then given permission to contact the 50 high school bands who
were originally supposed to march in President Reagan's second inaugural parade
and to then say -- in a vague sort of way -- that if these musicians could
somehow make their way to Orlando in late May ... Well, they might then get a
second shot at playing for the President / passing in review.
18 of those 50 high school bands actually took Disney World
up on its invitation. Mind you, that was mostly because Osceola
County offered to serve as the
official sponsor of what eventually became known as the President's Inaugural Bands
Parade. They put up $150,000 to help stage this event as well as defray the
transportation costs of the 2,800 student musicians who had agreed to take
part. The Walt Disney Company ponied up an additional $350,000 to help cover
food & housing. And several other Central Florida
businesses made donations to help out with additional incidental costs.
Marine One gets ready to land out behind the American Adventure pavilion.Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Which is why -- 29 years ago today -- musicians from 16
states were getting ready to march around World Showcase Lagoon. Per the Secret
Service's instructions, President Reagan arrived on property around noon aboard Marine One which then landed out
behind Epcot's American Adventure. The President and his wife then exited that
helicopter and were taken by limousine to a brief reception which was held
inside of this World Showcase pavilion.
After meeting with senior Disney officials as well as key
Florida politicians, the presidential party reboarded that limousine and were
then ... Well, the motorcade then drove all the way around World Showcase
Lagoon. As I understand it, Reagan himself requested that his team be driven all
the way around that 1.3 mile-long promenade so that he and the First Lady could
then see all of the high school band members who'd journeyed to Washington D.C.
& Orlando to serenade them on their special day.
After making a full circuit of World Showcase Lagoon, the
presidential party exited their limo at the American Gardens Theater. Where --
after Ronald & Nancy Reagan gamely posed for pictures with Mickey &
Minnie Mouse -- they then entered their specially constructed reviewing stand.
Which had been built to echo the colonial stylings of the American Adventure
right across the way but also included some uniquely modern features like air
conditioning & bullet-proof glass.
As Minnie Mouse and President Reagan look on, the First Lady gives Mickey Mouse abuzz on the schnozz. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
After the president and his party had settled in, the
National Anthem was played. Then newly installed Disney CEO Michael Eisner rose
and said ...
... I was in Washington 105
degrees ago. It was minus 20 degrees at the Inauguration and it's 85 here
today. Even though this isn't the official inaugural parade, it's the first
time since 1789 that it's not been in Washington.
I just want to say that -- if Walt Disney were alive today --he'd be proud to
be standing where I am, with the President of the United States. And I welcome
him, with Lillian Disney, (Walt's) widow to our great wonderful company here.
After Michael Eisner completed his introduction, President Reagan stepped up to the podium and made a few brief
remarks. Noting that he and the First Lady (before they had flown down to Florida)
had started their day ...
... at Arlington Cemetery -- and I just wonder if because of
the special character of this day, Memorial Day, if we couldn't perhaps bow our
heads for a few seconds in silent prayer for those who have given their lives
that we might live in liberty. [A silent prayer was observed.] Amen.
Well, indeed it is an honor for me to be here today to
receive a magnificent gift that I received on a second and very much warmer
Inauguration Day. I understand that in preparing for this event more than 2,500
young people worked with sponsors in the private sector who donated food,
transportation, and lodging. And each of you who helped to make this private
sector initiative possible has my heartfelt thanks.
And once Reagan had completed his remarks, this grand procession
-- which was led off by a stars-and-stripes-wearing Mickey Mouse and the
combined Osceola & St. Cloud high school bands -- finally got underway. And
this time around, it wasn't frigid temperatures that wound up threatening
parade participants. But rather 90 degree heat & Central Florida's
ridiculously high humidity levels.
The Pascagoula High School Band passes the presidential reviewing stand.Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
But in spite of the brutally hot weather, an estimated
60,000 people made a special trip out to EPCOT
Center with the hope of seeing
President Reagan up-close. Sadly, most of these WDW visitors wound up confined
to Future World. Only those that arrived at this theme park early-early on the
morning of the 27th and who had then passed through multiple security checkpoints
were then allowed to stand along the actual parade route.
After all 2,800 performers had moved clockwise around World
Showcase Lagoon along the 1.3 mile parade route, there was then a spectacular
daytime fireworks display (which was to have used the most shells ever for a
Disney World display. Up until that time, anyway). Not to mention the release
of 15,000 balloons as well as a flyover of EPCOT by four F16 fighter jets. And
once all of this Disney-style hoopla was complete, President Reagan and his
party were once again taken by limo out behind the American Adventure pavilion.
Where -- after reboarding Marine One -- they were then whisked off to Miami
for a Republican fundraiser at the Omni Hotel.
Yes, it was a very special day at Walt Disney World. And no
one was happier that the Company had actually managed to pull off this
publicity coup than Disney's then-newly installed CEO Michael Eisner. You see,
not only had Michael & his wife Jane been invited to sit in the
Presidential reviewing stand with Reagan's party. But -- by Eisner's estimate
-- EPCOT Center
received $100 million worth of free publicity that day. Which -- given that
attendance had recently begun falling off at this troubled
science-and-discovery theme park -- was just the shot in the arm that EPCOT
Center needed at that exact moment.
By the way, if you want to see what it was actually like to
be at EPCOT Center back om May 27, 1985, Walt Disney World Media Productions
put together a 90 minute-long TV special which chronicled the entire President's
Inaugural Bands Parade. And it's worth taking a look at if only to see how this
then-2 & 1/2 year-old theme park looked back in the day.
This was great! A fascinating piece of US and Disney history. I enjoyed the Presidents speech about freedom and liberty and the involvement of government. Makes me think how times have changed. Thanks for sharing this!
The quoted portion of Michael Eisner's speech states "... I was in Washington 105 degrees ago..." and I just wondered if that wasn't supposed to read "... I was in Washington 105 days ago".
EDITOR'S NOTE: No, it's supposed to be "degrees." Eisner is making a joke about the fact that, when the President's second inaugural parade was originally supposed to be held, it was 20 degrees below zero in Washington D.C. And on the day that Disney was staging the President's Inaugural Bands Parade around World Showcase Lagoon, it was a humid 85 degrees. Hence the "105 degrees" gag.
More to the point, if you were to actually do the math, between January 20 (Reagan's second inauguration) and May 27 (the date the President's Inaugural Band Parade was held), 1985, there are 127 days, not 105 days. So your attempt at a correction isn't even correct from a calendar-based point of view.
Still, thanks for playing ...
I came 'On Stage' this day through EPCOT's China exhibition and immediately ran into Michael Eisner. "Mr. Green Mail!" As my colleagues referred. We spoke briefly but I was trained to exchange niceties and move on. I was an integral part of the show in my 'French Foreign Legion' costume but if I wanted to work Special Events, I had to be professional at all times...and I was spot-on " The Disney Look".
When I arrived at Center Showcase, EVERYTHING was different. People were milling about in suits and 'Back Areas' was off limits unless you had Gold Ears on your name tag. I did not but I belonged. I was scheduled to be here. Then, I got the word. "The President will be arriving within the hour." I was numb to 'Celebrity' and had just met Michael Eisner. President? What President?
President Reagan arrived and I suddenly understood the magnitude. I was in the midst of Greatness. He was short in stature but, with the Planet Earth as a backdrop, Mr. Reagan was 10 foot tall and walked on air. He was talking with me and from that day forward he was My President!