Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hidden Disney detail: the father's newspaper in Carousel of Progress is out of place... but it's interesting anyway

You know that first scene in Carousel of Progress, when the Father tells us it's around the turn of the century and the robins are back for the season? It's meant to be Valentine's Day (each scene is a different holiday - Fourth of July, Halloween, and Christmas are the other ones) around 1900. My zoom lens tonight caught a detail that, for a change, doesn't belong. It's the newspaper gripped by the father, and it's out of time.

The paper carries the date July 25, 1863. That would make it a 40 year old relic by the time the father brandishes it when us visitors come to his "house"!

Sorry it's a little bit out of focus when this zoomed in.

So, the date is wrong. Maybe they just wanted to use something that LOOKED antique to our eyes, so they grabbed a real newspaper that looked like it would fit. End of story? Maybe.

Look again at the paper. We see "Leslie's" and "trated" - a Google search takes but a moment to turn up Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, which War and American Popular Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (edited by M. Paul Holsinger) tells us was a weekly publication started in 1855 and reaching up to 200,000 subscribers by 1861.

The real Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper logo.

After the Civil War started, it became a solidly Union newspaper. It went into decline after that and finally closed by 1922.

And July 25, 1863? The siege of Vicksburg was the story that day. It came just after Gettysburg, and was seen as a turning point for the North in the war.

Now look at what the Father is holding in his hand:

Is this an image of the Siege of Vicksburg?

So while the Father *could* have easily subscribed to Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1900 (it wasn't out of business for another 20 years!), the particular issue he's holding would be quite old by the turn of the century.

It's likely that the Imagineers wanted something that looked good and seemed period-appropriate. It's a bit unusual for them not to opt for authenticity to the 1900 time period - Disney designers usually do want authenticity, when given a choice - but they probably figured that it was far enough away from the audience to pass muster. And they *did* use the name of a real newspaper.

That newspaper had a July 25, 1863 issue, which fortunately exists as an electronic archive. Here's the image:

and here's a closeup of the newspaper (first), compared to the Disney attraction (second):


Looks like a match for the Battle of Vicksburg! It appears the Imagineers really did recreate an entire issue of the Frank Leslie Illustrated Weekly faithfully.

The paper is definitely an anachronism--an object "out of time" in the 1900 house of the Carousel family. But at least it looks authentic, and has an interesting history.

What is the Frank Leslie connection? Apparently, Walt Disney himself had been taken with the Leslie weekly's coverage of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, which predated his birth. Walt's fascination with that Exposition would later find form in the Main Street in Orlando (check the candy story, general store / glassblowing store for further proof -- coming in a future post).

But did Walt commission this? Confusingly, the evidence points to no:

Unless that's the same newspaper (unlikely, given the shape), Walt's era Father had a different paper. That means the Frank Leslie connection was added later (likely in the 1990s). Do we dare credit Michael Eisner and his insistence on details? In this case, it seems warranted. Someone demanded things look authentic, and a second someone grabbed for a newspaper Walt would have liked. We're definitely in the post-Walt era here, constantly second guessing what Walt would have done.

12/23/13: the newspaper was correctly identified as coming from July 25, 1863, and reference to Battle of Manassas Gap removed (which had been on July 23, 1863)

12/24/13: Walt photo added and speculation about his relationship to the newspaper. 

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.