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Disney Updates Its Stalwart Star, Abraham Lincoln

By Edward Epstein

Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, May 28, 2024

The Walt Disney Company is investing millions of dollars to update its audio-animatronic President Abraham Lincoln at Disneyland in southern California, where it has been a star attraction on and off since 1965.

The Orange County Register reported that the company "filed building permits valued at $5 million with the city of Anaheim to replace show elements, lighting, audio, and show systems on the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction in the Main Street Opera House." Other work will be done on electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems at the attraction.

The lifelike Lincoln stars in a 15-minute show in which he expounds on the importance of American democracy and the need to safeguard the country's system. His words are drawn from several speeches he delivered in the 1850s as a rising Illinois politician. His words are voiced by actor Royal Dano. According to Dano's Wikipedia biography, the actor was personally selected by Walt Disney because the entertainment mogul felt that his voice most closely resembled descriptions of Lincoln's voice. Dano died in 1994.

Disney, who was born in Chicago in 1901, recalled that he admired Lincoln from an early age. When he was five, his family moved to Marcelline, Missouri. There, historian Brian Craig Miller of Emporia State University says, the young Disney decided to celebrate Lincoln's February 12 birthday each year by dressing up as the late president and getting up in class to recite the Gettysburg Address from memory. Miller is working on a book on Disney and Civil War memory.

The robot Lincoln premiered in the Illinois Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, which was held during the centennial of the Civil War. Miller says the democracy-focused message from Lincoln had as much to do with the Civil War as the Cold War, which pitted the United States and the democratic West against the Communist bloc.

The Disney Company moved the Lincoln attraction to its Anaheim park in 1965. Walt Disney died in 1966.

The attraction has closed at various times over the years but has been brought back. In 2001, Miller said in interviews that historian Eric Foner revised the script for Disney to focus more on emancipation. That version of the presentation closed in 2004, and the previous script returned when Great Moments reopened in 2009.

Over the years, the robot Lincoln has been updated to utilize the latest technology.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which is performed in a 500-seat theater, is closed while the work is being done. It might reopen as soon as mid-June.

Lincoln is also featured, along with other American presidents, at an attraction at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Image from the Library of Congress


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