The Little Details of Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square You May Have Never Noticed
In my humble opinion, Liberty Square is perhaps the most under appreciated area in all of the Magic Kingdom. For the most part, it’s a land devoid of attractions with the sole exceptions of Haunted Mansion and the Liberty Square Riverboat. While both attractions are iconic in their own ways, the land itself often tells a far more intricate story that many guests realize at first glance.
So, after talking with a few friends on Facebook after sharing the photo below, I figured why not dive a little deeper into some of the lesser known hidden stories of Liberty Square. Today, I’m trying to stay away from the more “mainstream” details that tend to make their rounds including (but not limited to) the “river of poop” marked by the color changes of the pavement of the land (which may or may not be entirely true), the crooked shutters representative of the worn leather straps that would have been period correct, or even the two lanterns high in the window reminiscent of Paul Revere’s midnight ride.
Instead, we’re looking a little deeper at some of the things even a select few of the more versed Disney parks fans may have never noticed along the way! While some of the stories may vary slightly depending on who tells them, it’s interesting to note that many of the details exhibited in Liberty Square often go untold. As a result of that point all on it’s own, let’s jump right into today’s breakdown and a closer look at some of the iconic details that truly set Disney World and that Disney theming apart from all the rest!
A Transplanted Tree
From a very young age, Walt Disney exhibited a fascination with American history that seemed to continue on in his thoughts for years to come. As a young boy Walt and a classmate in elementary school designed and performed small skits for local theaters and school productions based off of their favorite presidents and historical circumstances. While the teachers praised their efforts, that small scale fascination seemed to stick with Walt for many years.
In the early 1950’s Walt Disney bought the rights to the classic novel Johnny Tremain. The novel, which was a favorite of Walt’s, led to an onscreen film released by the Disney company in 1957. The movie itself never stood the test of time quite as well as others, but the story transcends into the parks in a way that you may have completely overlooked. Believe it or not, that’s where our transplanted tree story begins and the tree in this story is none other that the iconic Liberty Tree.
The Liberty Tree concept developed directly around the time the Johnny Tremain film released. If you happen to be wondering how that is possible when the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World didn’t officially open until 1971, the answer is found in the lands rich history.
At one point in time the entire Liberty Square concept was destined for Disneyland. Sadly, the technologies Walt needed to make his dreams for the land a reality, were not technically possible at the time. Thankfully, as always with the Disney company, a good idea never truly dies. Later on, Walt decided to bring that once conceived idea for Disneyland to his latest development, Walt Disney World.
As is typical in large scale projects, Walt’s Imagineering and horticulture group faced a daunting task in making this dream a reality. While Walt never got to see his Liberty square (Liberty Street in his original design) concept fully developed in Florida before his death in 1966, a few select Imagineers continued his plans down to the very details. One of those many intricate details led to one of the greatest challenges in theming history, the placement of the Liberty Tree.
In the development phase, the design group bringing Liberty Square to life found what they believed to be the perfect Florida representation of the tree pictured in the classic Johnny Tremain film, a Southern Live Oak. The tree was perfect, but there was one huge problem, relocating it. Typically, tree relocation is quite simple, but when the tree being moved weighs over 38 tons, a whole new series of challenges present themselves. If you were to use typical methods of roping the trunk and lifting, it could destroy the delicate inner structures of the tree (it would’ve been destroyed by its own weight). On top of the weight problem, the earmarked tree was 8 miles east of where it needed to be relocated in the Magic Kingdom.
The solution to their problem tells a story of its own. In the early days of Disneyland, Walt told one of his top landscapers, Bill Evans, that he wanted to remove a Coral tree from the park in order to replace it with a man-made tree which could support the weight of the electrical equipment needed for his next big idea. Evans knew the tree was too large to up and move without damaging it, he found a new way to disperse the weight and safely relocate it. In order to do so, a series of beams were drilled through the tough inner core of the tree to disperse the weight. The beams, which were drilled in a crossing pattern, would spread the weight around and allow for the safe removal of the Coral tree.
Years down the road, Evans was still with the Disney company and conveniently helped with this Liberty Tree project. Borrowing from this earlier idea, the Liberty Tree was lifted in a similar manner and relocated over a period of time to the location where it still stands today.
So, while many guests assume the tree is fake, it was certainly all a part of the larger plan for the land and a detail that Disney certainly did not have to include. Fortunately, the creative minds of Imagineering knew what their former head of creations would have wanted, and the backstory is something that Walt recognized would have purpose years down the line. That level of authenticity was always a key part of the experience and very well could have played a role in what has become one of the most “untouched” lands in Disney history.
Today, the Liberty Tree marks the largest living tree ever transplanted on/to Disney property. It is also the largest living aspect of the Magic Kingdom and has helped develop over 500 new trees across property. The Liberty Tree itself is certainly beautiful, but be sure to think of it’s rich history next time you pass through Liberty Square. Appreciate the details, and take in one of the last stories Walt Disney personally developed.
A Single Doll Tells A Story
Just around the corner from the Liberty Tree and the Hall of Presidents you can find a single window with a small doll carefully placed in a rather prominent spot just in front of the curtains. As the story goes, early colonists would place a single doll in the window of homes that contained children in the case of a fire or emergency situation to signal to firefighters that a child was present in the home. At the time, there was a certain prioritization process when fires broke out and this is an incredible hidden aspect pointing to the authentic level of detail Liberty Square encompasses.
The Signage of Columbia Harbour House
In a similar yet different way, as you round the corner coming from Fantasyland and pass through that portal type “tunnel” that leads you into Liberty Square, look up and to your left to find a sign. The sign itself features two shapes, one is a chicken and the other is a fish.
During the time period represented by the area, a vast majority of society was illiterate. Instead of trying to write words for signs, it was far easier at that point in time to depict what a business or location sold by means of pictorial references so that people could see what the building was known for or sold within.
The Eagle and the Arrows
Just around the corner, if you look carefully you’ll find a second sign referencing Columbia Harbour House. While this sign does use words, which is largely for the modern theme park guests benefit, it also features an image of the eagle. To many, the eagle appears quite similar to one that many of us as Americans have seen time and time again on the back of the dollar bill. However, this representation of the eagle, the olive branch, and the arrows is slightly different.
The eagle represented is crying and in a “less that dominant” position. The olive branch is in the eagles dominant right hand opposed to the current iteration of the arrows in the dominant right hand in a position of power. At the time in history represented by the various years of Liberty Square, the colonists were on the verge of war and the area was broken in a way that is hard for us in the modern world to fully grasp and understand. It’s a symbol of the times hidden in plain site and one that only the most detail oriented guests will ever pick up on.
The Old Harbour House Name
Believe it or not, the Columbia Harbor House began its journey in the parks as the Nantucket Harbour House when it debuted with the park in 1971. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the select few with a copy of the 1971 park map, dive into the details and you’ll find the Nantucket Harbour House name proudly present on the simple map depicting the earliest days of Magic Kingdom.
While this list only scratches the surface of the many level of intricate details in this land of Magic Kingdom, it’s interesting to note that there are far more details in the Walt Disney World experience that the vast majority of guests will ever fully recognize. To me, that’s one of the many wonders of Walt Disney World. There’s always something new to uncover and the ever changing parks keep us coming back time and time again!
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!
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A few short years ago, I was sitting in a college apartment trying to figure out what was "next" and came up with this idea to share my accumulated knowledge of the Disney Parks and Resorts with others. The end goal was to help others make the most of their Disney experience and it's been quite the journey!