The Walt Disney Company has always been great about recognizing the accomplishments of its employees, including the Imagineers who helped to great the beloved parks and attractions. While some of these tributes are obvious, such as the famous Windows on Main Street, others are less well-known, as various characters and details have been inserted into the parks and attractions as a nod to the importance many legendary Imagineers have played in the history of the theme parks. As the oldest park at Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom is the most nostalgic for guests and Disney fans alike, resulting in the most hidden tributes to its favorite designers.
1 – Grandpa Marc, Brother Claude, Francis Xavier, Brother Roland, Uncle Blaine
Perhaps the most Imagineer tributes can be found at the Haunted Mansion, specifically in the themed graveyard queue. The tombstones feature rhyming, witty epitaphs in remembrance of the family that had previously lived at the mansion. Many of the names that are listed on these tombstones reference the Imagineers that were instrumental in the development of the attraction in the 1960s at Disneyland. Grandpa Marc refers to Marc Davis, a concept artist who designed many of the portraits and ghostly characters. Brothers Claude and Roland refer to Claude Coates and Rolly Crump, who independently designed story and artistic concepts for the attraction: eventually aspects of both artists’ would find their way into the attraction. Francis Xavier refers to Francis Xavier “X” Atencio, who wrote both the script for the attraction and the lyrics to “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” Finally, Uncle Blaine references Blaine Gibson, legendary Disney sculptor who created the busts of many of the mansion’s occupants, as well as those found in Pirates of the Caribbean and the Hall of Presidents.
2 – There Was…Blood on the Saddle
One of the funniest moments in The Country Bear Jamboree is when Big Al, the overweight and inebriated bear, plays his guitar and sings Tex Ritter’s sad song, “Blood on the Saddle.” The character is modeled after Disney Imagineer and artist, Al Bertino, who was integral in the design and creation of the musical revue.
3 – Casey Jr. Comin’ Down the Track
While the cartoonish train in the Storybook Circus area of Fantasyland originates in 1941’s Dumbo, the depiction of the character in the Magic Kingdom is based upon legendary Disney animator, director and Imagineer, Ward Kimball. Much like Kimball, this iteration of Casey Jr. has spectacle-like eyes, childlike face, and face-spanning smile. While Kimball had done animation work on the Dumbo, it was his deep love of trains that earned him this tribute. In fact, Kimball was one of the individuals, along with Disney engineer Roger Broggie, who first inspired and supported Walt Disney in his dream of building the Carolwood Pacific, his 1:8 scale railroad through his yard in Holmby Hills.
4 – Wildest Ride in the Wilderness
Other than Professor Cumulus Isobar, whom guests see only briefly as he bails water out of his cart, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad doesn’t seem to have any characters. However, in 2013, Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad went under an extensive refurbishment, which included the addition of many thematic elements to the standby queue, which helped to tell the story of the Big Thunder Mining Company. One of these elements is a painted portrait of the mining company’s founder, Barnabas T. Bullion, who is determined to strike it rich in the area in spite of his employees’ insistence that the site is dangerous and possibly threatened by angry Native American spirits. Bullion’s appearance is based on legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter, who was integral in developing and designing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the 1970s.
Honorable Mention: Call in the Spirits, Wherever They’re At
While not an official tribute, one Disney Imagineer was used to portray a character in the Haunted Mansion. Imagineering costume designer, Leota Toombs, who had designed outfits for animatronic figures for the Disney-created attractions at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair and Pirates of the Caribbean, was chosen to portray the disembodied head of Madame Leota, the mystic trapped inside the crystal ball in the mansion’s seance room. While Madame Leota’s voice does not belong to Leota Toombs (that role was given to actress Eleanor Audley, the voice of Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent and Cinderella’s Lady Tremaine), Toombs’ voice can be heard in her portrayal of “Little Leota” at the conclusion of the attraction just prior to disembarking the Doom Buggies.
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