You've heard Jim Korkis' secret stories of Walt Disney World. Then you heard more of Jim Korkis' secret stories of Walt Disney World. Now, with the neighbors gone home and the kids asleep, Jim has a special treat: other secret stories of Walt Disney World. Gather round.
You know what's more fun than finding Hidden Mickeys at Walt Disney World? Reading secret stories about Walt Disney World. And no one knows more Disney secrets than Jim Korkis. Just when it seems like the secrets well is dry, the often imitated, never duplicated Korkis hits a gusher:
Each story is short enough to read whenever you have a spare moment that needs Disney in it. That's, like, every spare moment, so pace yourself...
Part 1: The Walt Disney World Parks
Magic Kingdom: Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café
Magic Kingdom: Casey’s Corner
Magic Kingdom: Pinocchio Village Haus
Magic Kingdom: Main Street Confectionery Shop
Magic Kingdom: Tomorrowland’s Retro Future
Magic Kingdom: Stitch on the Loose
Magic Kingdom: Hall of Talking Presidents
Magic Kingdom: Cinderella Castle Mural
Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Magic Kingdom: Sir Mickey’s
Epcot: Germany Pavilon
Epcot: Reflections of China
Epcot: The World Showcase Art Galleries
Epcot: Universe of Energy Dinosaurs
Epcot: Secrets of World Showcase
Epcot: More Secrets of World Showcase
Epcot: The Flags of American Adventure
Epcot: Secrets of American Adventure
Hollywood Studios: Hollywood Boulevard, Part One
Hollywood Studios: Hollywood Boulevard, Part Two
Hollywood Studios: Rosie’s All American Cafe
Hollywood Studios: One Man’s Dream
Hollywood Studios: Changes in One Man’s Dream
Hollywood Studios: Granny Kincaid’s Cabin
Hollywood Studios: Roger Rabbit Remnants
Hollywood Studios: Theater of the Stars Handprints
Animal Kingdom: Macaws
Animal Kingdom: The Art of the Tree of Life
Animal Kingdom: The Boneyard
Animal Kingdom: Festival of the Lion King
Animal Kingdom: Bringing Dinosaurs to Life
Animal Kingdom: Rivers of Light
Animal Kingdom: Harambe
Animal Kingdom: Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
Part 2: The Walt Disney World Resorts
BoardWalk Inn: Miniature Carousel
BoardWalk Inn: Hidden Treasures
BoardWalk Inn: The AbracadaBar Story
Contemporary: President Richard Nixon
Polynesian Village: Breaking Up the Beatles
Polynesian Village: The Kukui Nut Tree
Wilderness Lodge: Hidden Treasures
Wilderness Lodge: The Headdresses
Shades of Green: The Story Behind the Story
Swan and Dolphin: The Story of the Swans and Dolphins
Part 3: The Rest of Walt Disney World
Disney Miscellany: Osprey Ridge Gone but Not Gone
Disney Miscellany: DisneyQuest
Disney Miscellany: Raglan Road
Disney Miscellany: Winter Summerland Golf
Disney Miscellany: Electrical Water Pageant
Disney Miscellany: The Boathouse Amphicars
Disney Miscellany: Characters in Flight
Disney Miscellany: Disney Springs Back Story
Disney Miscellany: Crossroads
Disney Miscellany: Wedding Pavilion
Part 4: The Rest of the Story
Men Who Made WDW: Charlie Ridgway
Men Who Made WDW: Bill “Sully” Sullivan
Men Who Made WDW: Bill Evans
Men Who Made WDW: Don “Ducky” Williams
Men Who Made WDW: Bob Gurr
Things That Never Were: Beastly Kingdom
Things That Never Were: The Never Built Mountains
Things That Never Were: Western River Expedition
Things That Never Were: The Excavator, Lagoon Islands, Dark Kingdom
Things That Never Were: Fantasyland Rides
WDW History: The Secret Origin of Churros
WDW History: Do You Remember Harry Holt?
WDW History: Dick Tracy
WDW History: Attraction Tributes
WDW History: Turkey Legs
WDW History: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
WDW History: Lincoln’s Gettysburgh Address
WDW History: Epcot Pavilion Dedications
Things That Disappeared: Main Street Electrical Parade
Things That Disappeared: Skyleidoscope: An Aerial Spectacular
Things That Disappeared: Merlin’s Sword in the Stone Ceremony
Things That Disappeared: Mickey’s Birthdayland
Things That Disappeared: The Birth of Pleasure Island
Things That Disappeared: Pleasure Island New Year’s Eve
Things That Disappeared: Bill Justice Main Street Mural
Things That Disappeared: Bill Justice Baby Care Center Art
Things That Disappeared: Who Was Cornelius Coot?
Things That Disappeared: Seashore Sweets
Appendix: WDW Architheming and Entertainment Architecture
As new tomorrows speed toward us at an ever-increasing rate, there is a danger that the important stories of the past will be forgotten and left far behind. As I get older, I tend to forget things or things blur together so it becomes more and more important to write it all down.
A fellow Disney writer once told me that he wrote articles and books so that he wouldn’t have to worry about remembering it any more. He could always just reference that written record instead of trying to maneuver through his memories or disorganized collection to find the information he once knew quite well.
I find that I have begun to do that as well since the flood of new information is constantly crowding out older familiar stories. Things I once had glibly at the tip of my tongue I now struggle to recall.
I was recently taken aback when I tried to find some Disney anecdote I knew I had and couldn’t find it anywhere. Searching the internet for past articles and skimming various magazines proved no help either, even though I knew that I had shared that rare information with others.
It turned out that I had mentioned it on a podcast that was no longer available. It took some work to retrieve that information and write it down. Websites and podcasts disappear, so there is a need for a more permanent location like a book for those tales of Walt Disney World.
This book claims to reveal secret stories and is the third in a series. How many more secret stories could there possibly be? Surprisingly, quite a few, especially with new things appearing with some regularity at WDW and even more significant additions like Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land to come in the next few years.
Finding these new stories is sometimes just as difficult as trying to uncover the ones from the past. If one of the problems of Pleasure Island was that there was too much signage and it was all very convoluted, then one of the problems with Disney Springs is there is not enough signage to explain the story.
Buildings have dates and there are odd physical references stuck in even odder locations, but there does not seem to exist, at least for the regular Disney guest, any written documentation of how it is all connected. Cast members, as usual, are not being told the story of their location either, so they can’t authoritatively help a curious guest to connect the dots correctly.
It is hard to keep a story alive if nobody knows it.
A friend told me that guests don’t care to look anymore or take time to appreciate the seamless storytelling elements. They need to rush for their FastPass or dining reservation and don’t have time for the joys of discovery. A trip to Walt Disney World today is an “appointment vacation.”
In the old days, people didn’t take vacations. They didn’t have the free time or the money. Fortunately, at the turn of the century, the development of trolley parks at the end of a trolley line, and usually near a body of water like a beach, lake, or river, provided an afternoon’s inexpensive entertainment for those without much money or time. Those trolley parks often grew into familiar amusement parks like Coney Island and Cedar Point.
In the old days, people with money who went somewhere such as a big city or Europe took tours sometimes offered by the upscale hotels in the area. That is why these people were called “tourists.” A tour entails learning about things, why things are there, what they mean, how they were built, the people involved with the project, and other facts shared by a knowledgeable guide. This background information enhanced the overall appreciation of what the tourists were seeing.
When Walt Disney went on vacation, he purposely studied the areas where he was going to visit so he had a better understanding of what to see and what was the history behind it. His wife complained that he always knew more than the official guide.
I keep assuming that people must already know all this stuff and I keep getting reminded that this is not the case. Walt Disney World is a living entity, constantly changing and growing. It is the size of a city-state which is why there are so many things still to write about and so many things to better understand.
I grew up knowing some of this stuff. I worked at Walt Disney World in Guest Relations and in backstage tours where much of this information was always being discussed and everybody seemed to know it. Even a simple story is made up of many different layers, as I quickly discovered.
I can’t take for granted that people reading this book will immediately recognize the name of an Imagineer or what they were responsible for contributing. I can’t assume that people will remember that a certain attraction or entertainment once existed.
So while some of you reading this book may feel I am being too cautious and precise in identifying something or spending too much time covering what to you is “familiar territory,” for many others it is brand-new material with no previous source of reference.
I consider myself a caretaker of these stories for the next generation. I feel a responsibility to share these tales as they were so generously shared with me and to do so in the most accurate and complete way possible.
As famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes suggested, we need to teach ourselves to observe, not simply see something. Observation means taking note of the details and how all those details connect.
Just seeing something is not necessarily reality. The Mbuti pygmies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who live their entire lives in deeply wooded areas had never learned to manage concepts like foreshortening. Upon their first exposure to a wide plain with distant herds of buffalo, they perceived it as tiny insects dancing directly before their eyes.
Our perception of things is both subjective and culturally influenced and that is certainly true of what we think we see at Walt Disney World.
One can cultivate an intimate knowledge of a place but still be ignorant of its hidden facets. It is always my hope that by sharing these stories it will help others to better understand and enjoy Walt Disney World. Please remember that there is always more to any story, including the ones in this book, but the tales recorded here are a good place to start.
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for over three decades. He is also an award-winning teacher, a professional actor and magician, and the author of several books.
Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, right next to Burbank, the home of the Disney studios. As a teenager, Korkis got a chance to meet the Disney animators and Imagineers who lived nearby, and began writing about them for local newspapers.
In 1995, he relocated to Orlando, Florida, where he portrayed the character Prospector Pat in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom, and Merlin the Magician for the Sword in the Stone ceremony in Fantasyland.
In 1996, Korkis became a full-time animation instructor at the Disney Institute teaching all of their animation classes, as well as those on animation history and improvisational acting techniques. As the Disney Institute re-organized, Jim joined Disney Adult Discoveries, the group that researched, wrote, and facilitated backstage tours and programs for Disney guests and Disneyana conventions.
Eventually, Korkis moved to Epcot as a Coordinator for the College and International Programs, and then as a Coordinator for the Epcot Disney Learning Center. He researched, wrote, and facilitated over two hundred different presentations on Disney history for Cast Members and for such Disney corporate clients as Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Blue Cross, Toys “R” Us, and Military Sales.
Korkis has also been the off-camera announcer for the syndicated television series Secrets of the Animal Kingdom; has written articles for several Disney publications, including Disney Adventures, Disney Files (DVC), Sketches, and Disney Insider; and has worked on many different special projects for the Disney Company.
In 2004, Disney awarded Jim Korkis its prestigious Partners in Excellence award.
If you have a question for Jim Korkis that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
I was about 15 when I interviewed Jack Hannah with my little tape recorder and school notebook with questions printed neatly in ink. I learned to develop a very good memory because often when the tape recorder was running, people would freeze up. So, I sometimes turned off the tape recorder and just took notes which I later verified with the person. I always gave them a chance to review what they had said and make any changes. I lost a lot of great stories, although I still have them in my files for future generations, but gained a lot of trust.
I was very, very lucky. I was a kid, and it never occurred to me that when I saw their names in the end credits of the weekly Disney television show that I couldn't just find their names in the local phone book and call them up. Ninety percent of them were gracious, but there were about ten percent who thought it was a joke and that maybe one of their friends had put me up to phoning them.
It was like dominoes. Once I did one interview and the person was pleased, he put me in touch with others. After some of those interviews were published in my school paper and local newspapers, it gave me some greater credibility. Later, when they started to appear in magazines, I got even more opportunities.
JIM: You know, one of the proudest things for me about my books is that not a single factual error has been found.
To do my research, I start with all the interviews I've done over the past three decades, some of which are some available in the Walt's People series of books edited by Didier Ghezz. When necessary, I contact other Disney historians and authorities to fill in the gaps. And I have amassed a huge library of books, magazines, and documents.
When I moved from California to Florida, I brought with me over 20,000 pounds of Disney research material. The moving company that had just charged me a flat fee was shocked they had so severely underestimated the weight, and lost thousands of dollars. That was over fifteen years ago and the collection has only grown since that time.
About The Vault of Walt Series
JIM: I was fortunate to grow up in the Los Angeles area at a time when I had access to some of Walt’s original animators and Imagineers. They shared with me some wonderful stories. I wrote articles about their for various magazines and “fanzines” of the time. All of those publications are long gone and often difficult to find today.
As more and more of Walt’s “original cast” pass away, I realized that their stories had not been properly documented, and that unless I did something, they would be lost. Everyone always told me I should write a book telling these tales and finally I decided to do it.
JIM: She actually contacted me. Her son, Walter, loved the Disney history columns and articles I was writing and would send them to her. I was overwhelmed that she enjoyed them. She was appreciative that I tried to treat her dad fairly and not try to psycho-analyze why he did what he did.
She also liked that I revealed things she never knew about her father. As we talked and I told her I was doing the book, I asked if she would write the foreword. She agreed immediately and I had it within a week. She even invited me to go to the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and give a presentation. She is an incredible woman.
JIM: Obviously, the ones about her dad were a big hit. She especially liked the chapter about Walt and his feelings toward religion. She told me that it accurately reflected how she saw her dad act.
JIM: That’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I tried to put in all the stories I loved because I figured this might be the only book about Disney I would ever write.
One chapter that I have grown to love even more since it was first published is the one about Walt’s love of miniatures. I recently found more information about that subject, and then on the trip to Disney Family Museum, I was able to spend hours examining some of Walt’s collection up close.
About Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?
JIM: I wanted to read a “Making of the Song of the South” book, but nobody else was ever going to write it. I wanted to know the history behind the production, why Walt made certain choices, and as many behind-the-scenes tidbits that could be told. I didn’t want to read a sociological thesis on racism.
Fortunately, over the years I had interviewed some of the people involved in the production, had seen the film multiple times, and had gathered material from pressbooks to newspaper articles to radio shows of the era.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Song of the South. I wanted to get the facts in print and let people make up their own minds.
JIM: I thought I knew a lot after being actively involved in Disney history for over three decades, but writing this book showed me how little I really know.
For example, I learned that it was Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck for decades, who did the whistling for Mr. Bluebird on Uncle Remus’ shoulder. I learned that Ward Kimball used to host meetings of UFO enthusiasts at his home. I learned that the Disney Company tried for years to make a John Carter of Mars feature. I learned that Walt himself tried to make a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. I learned that Disney operated a secret studio to make animated television commercials in the mid-1950s to raise money to build Disneyland. And so much more.
Even the most knowledgeable Disney fans will find new treasures of information on every page of this book.
JIM: Walt Disney was not racist. That is one of those urban myths which popped up long after Walt died, and so he was unable to defend himself.
In my book, I make it clear that Walt had no racist intent at all in making Song of the South. He merely wanted to share the famous Uncle Remus stories that he enjoyed as a child, and he treated the black cast with respect and generosity.
Many people don't realize that the events in the film take place after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction. So many offensive Hollywood films made at the same time as Song of the South, even one with little Shirley Temple, depicted the Old South during the Civil War in an unrealistic manner. Walt's film got lumped in with them, and he was a visible target for a much larger crusade.
With John Cawley:
Magicians are known for making things, and sometimes even people disappear, but at the BoardWalk Inn, a group of magicians themselves disappeared. And haven't been seen since.
The AbracadaBar at the Boardwalk Resort opened in July 2016 serving enchanting elixirs and curious concoctions in the location previously occupied by SeaShore Sweets.
According to Disney publicity:
This little lounge was a former stomping ground for the famous magicians, boardwalk illusionists, and lovely magician’s assistants of the Golden Age. After a show, prestidigitators would gather to “conjure” up new cocktails, swap magic tips and tricks, and stay up all night attempting to “out-charm” each other with their extraordinary illusions.
According to BoardWalk lore, it was on just such an evening that every single magician in the lounge vanished into thin air, and were never seen again.…
Now, after sitting vacant for nearly seventy-six years, it is back in operation for the general public.
It was on a Friday the 13th in September 1940 that the mysterious disappearance occurred, but since this private sophisticated social club was left exactly as it was decades ago, the magic still remains strongly intact, and can be seen, heard, and savored in the bar’s signature cocktails including Elixir 13, a mixture of Lucid Absinthe and water that may have helped cause the magicians’ disappearance.
The rich and ornate area is decorated with enchanted ever-changing magic show posters, mystifying mirrors, and vintage props and tricks left behind decades ago, including displays of locks and keys, cards, linking rings, and magic wands.
Even the wall paper has hidden images of interlocking rings, doves, rabbits, card suits, handcuffs, and other magical artifacts.
On one wall is a framed copy of The Boardwalk Bugle newspaper from Wednesday, November 13, 1940, telling the official back story:
The shocking revelations of a secret magicians’ lounge could point to new clues concerning the group of beloved illusionists who mysteriously vanished from our boardwalk weeks ago. Though, truth be told, we may be more perplexed than before.
A custodian working at BoardWalk’s magic club made the surprising discovery late yesterday evening when he rested his mop against a false door leading into the secret room. By the look of the room’s peculiar décor—including magical accoutrements and shelves lined with curious elixirs—this is no doubt the clandestine hideout of our missing master magicians.
But there’s just one dilemma … there are still no magicians in sight!
After investigating the magicians’ hideout this morning, The Boardwalk Bugle noticed something extra out of the ordinary about this already peculiar lounge. Glasses filled with odd elixirs still sat on the countertops.
Magic props and playing cards were scattered all about. And, stranger yet, all of the clocks in the room were set to thirteen past the hour—almost as if time froze and every magician disappeared on the spot.
When we questioned the club owner about her knowledge of the hidden room and the possible whereabouts of the missing magicians, she repeated the same unhelpful news we’ve been reporting for weeks now: “A good magician never reveals her secrets!”
According to multiple witnesses, the missing conjurers in question were last seen entering the loading area behind BoardWalk’s magic club on September 13th. All wore ostentatious costumes, and were accompanied by assistants, stagehands and crates filled with small animals—including doves, rabbits and the like.
Suspicions only arose when the touring magician Laslow the Lucky failed to appear for his much-anticipated matinee performance the following day. In addition to M. Laslow, it would appear that his assistant, multiplying rabbits and every illusionist on the Boardwalk vanished along with him.
Whether a good illusion or a simple misunderstanding, The Boardwalk Bugle will be certain to keep our dear readers informed about the whereabouts of our beloved magicians.
Continued in "OTHER Secret Stories of Walt Disney World"!
One of the iconic food treats at Walt Disney World is the infamous, enormous turkey legs that made their debut in Frontierland in the late 1980s. Originally, they were sold at only one food cart location, but the demand grew so large that they expanded to other Disney parks, including Disneyland.
Weighing roughly one-and-one-half pounds each, the legs have a taste that vaguely resembles ham thanks to being cured in a similar salt and sugar solution. The legs cost up to twelve dollars each.
Each leg is roughly 730–1,136 calories with a minimum of 36–54 grams of fat, according to the size of the leg. Orginally, Disney sold legs that were 22 ounces, but today the “jumbo” leg is closer to 34 ounces.
The turkey legs are not unique to Disney and are sold at carnivals, state fairs and other amusement venues around the United States.
A persisent urban myth was that the legs were so huge that they couldn’t possibily be from an actual turkey and must be from another bird like an emu or an ostrich.
Keith M. Williams, a vice president at the National Turkey Federation, an industry trade group, said:
People are accustomed to Thanksgiving turkeys, which are female birds, or hens which are traditionally much smaller; the males, called toms, are bigger—up to fity pounds apiece—and their legs are the ones that Disney serves.
Federal law prohibits the use of steroids to make turkeys and their legs meatier. However, farmers are raising larger turkeys because of demand and so the legs are larger as well.
Turkey legs are a favorite food of Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, who stated during an episode about Walt Disney World:
With the turkey, I can walk, I can gnaw, I can pull pieces off, I can put it down. And I just love salty, smoky, meaty. … It’s an American classic. It’s Americana.
I can put everyone’s mind at rest. It can’t be emu. I’ve eaten emu. It’s too big, And the meat would be a little more beefy. Emu has the consistency of turkey leg but the flavor of roasted veal. It’s got mild beefiness to it and a little more metallic.
In general, an emu leg would be about eight times the size of a turkey leg.
Marc Summers of Food Network’s Unwrapped: Walt Disney World stated:
Many guests aren’t familiar with smoked poultry, so they pick up on the salty flavor. Disney injects their legs with a salt--water cure for moisture, then smoke them. Turkey legs have pink meat because of the six-hour smoking process. It flavors the legs and keeps the inside meat pink and moist.
The food treat became so popular that in 2010, Disney created a line of merchandise souvenirs including hats, pins, magnets, t-shirts, and even air fresheners featuring an image of the turkey leg and the slogan “Nice & Juicy!” Disney bakeries even produce Rice Krispie Treat versions with chocolate icing as the skin.
By 2013, it was estimated that in Disney’s North American theme parks over two million of the jumbo turkey legs were sold and consumed each year. Turkey legs are no longer available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since March 1, 2016.
Disney has stated that the legs are meant to be shared and that the average park visitor walks about seven miles during a visit or enough to burn most of the calories from eating the leg. They state that the popularity of the food item is due to its novelty and its “comfort food” factor.
Continued in "OTHER Secret Stories of Walt Disney World"!