It was said that Walt Disney always had one foot planted in the past and one foot planted in the future. This was evident in his creation of Disneyland with its lands devoted to both tomorrow and the frontiers of America. In fact as early as 1956, plans existed to create an area off Town Square called Liberty Street, which would be devoted to celebrating the history and founding principles of the United States. The centerpiece to this land would be an attraction called One Nation Under God and would have as its finale a Hall of Presidents showcasing each of America’s presidents with a distinct focus on its 16th Chief Executive, Abraham Lincoln.
As the early 1960s approached, Walt’s creative attention was increasingly focusing on the upcoming 1964 World’s Fair to be held in New York City. When all was said and done Walt would be the creative force behind four World’s Fair attractions including it’s a small world and the The Carousel of Progress.
Robert Moses, the controversial figure behind much of the urban planning of New York City in the middle of the 20th Century was serving as president of the World’s Fair when he met with Walt and on one occasion Walt showed Moses his Hall of Presidents mockup and their prototype Mr. Lincoln audio-animatronic. Robert Moses was so impressed he declared he wouldn’t open the Worlds Fair without it.
While Walt’s imagineers toiled away at perfecting the complicated Lincoln figure, Walt sought the vocal talents of Royal Dano to portray Lincoln’s voice in the attraction. Dano was known to Disney audiences from his recent work in Disney’s sequel to Old Yeller, Savage Sam and had also portrayed Abraham Lincoln on television in a 5 part historical series entitled Mr. Lincoln.
While sculptor Blaine Gibson created Lincoln’s form with the help of an 1860 life mask created from Mr. Lincoln’s actual face, Walt asked writer/director James Algar to write the speech Mr. Lincoln would give. Walt suspected audiences might expect Lincoln to deliver his famous Gettysburg address and so he refused the notion instead having Algar draft a new oration derived from 5 different speeches Lincoln gave spanning 26 years of his life.
For the Soundtrack, Walt looked to talents of Disney’s staff composer Buddy Baker. Buddy Baker is familiar to disney fans for such memorable pieces as the Haunted Mansion, portions of the Carousel of Progress, America Sings, his arrangement of the French classical pieces in Epcot’s Impressions de France, The Many adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Tokyo DisneySea’s Journey to the Center of the Earth among countless others. He is also notable for having been a professor at LA City College in the 1950s where one of his students was legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith who went on to score the soundtrack to Disney’s Soarin’ attraction.
In order to create the scoring needed for the attraction, Baker not only incorporated traditional Civil War pieces such as “Dixie” and “When the Cruel War is Over”, but he also adapted his own compositions which he was creating for Disney’s 1963 television movie Johnny Shiloh which aired in 2 parts on NBC. His piece “Soldiers of Liberty” would be adapted into the stately Lincoln yheme. His other piece “North and South” from the movie would become “Hail to the Flag” which would underscore the portion of Lincoln’s speech where he predicted no foreign military force could “take a drink from the Ohio.”
Baker was not only tasked with scoring the main show of the attraction but also the queue and area music guests would visit before entering the show. He composed a 10 minute track for those areas using elements of his show score.
Choral arranger Alan Davies joined forces with Baker to create the finale anthem of the show. They used an interesting technique. They created multiple different recordings of the 32 voice choir. Some were individual sections of the choir, others were the full ensemble with the vocalists placed at varying distances from the microphone to recreate the resonance of a cathedral. The music was then played softly starting with the stereo speakers in the back of the theater and slowly grew in volume toward the front giving the audience a sense that the choir was processing past them and up to the stage. Throughout the progression additional tracks were continuously added until the theater was filled with overwhelming sound for the final “Amen”.
Great Moments with Mr Lincoln ran for two years from 1964 to 1965 at the World’s Fair in the Illinois Pavilion. But in 1965 as part of Disneyland’s tencennial anniversary, a second great moments with Mr. Lincoln opened in Disneyland. On July 17th of that year, the parks actual 10th birthday, Walt Disney dedicated the second version of the show. This day marked the first time in history that one of Walt’s attractions would be playing simultaneously on both coasts.
The original Mr. Lincoln figure from the World’s Fair later reappeared in 1971 in the Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents, the final realization of Walt’s original One Nation Under God show concept from the 1950s.