Friday, September 16, 2016

A Historical Backstory: The Birth of A Historical Tour

"You're doing what???" my parents asked quizzically.

"Yeah. I've decided I'm going to train for a half marathon." I explained with a smirk on my face. I held up the torn out page from my Runner's World magazine. I pointed at the picture. "It's in early January. I figure that since it is June now, that gives me seven months to train. If I were to run in a race before January, there's no way I could train thirteen miles by then."

"Okay, Andrew," my dad said. "If you think you can train for a half marathon between now and January, then we will figure out a way to get you down to Disney for the race. You just need to remember that you're starting your freshman year of college in two months and that your studies come first."

"I know, Dad."


"ARRRRRRGH!" My Dad and I yelled, alongside two cast members dressed as pirates while another runner took our picture.

We were getting ready to participate in the Pirate and Princess 5K at Disney-MGM Studios, early in the morning hours of January 5, 2007. My dad, not a runner at the time, had agreed to travel with me down to the Walt Disney World resort so I could participate in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. However, he also agreed to train for the 5K the day before the half marathon. Together, we would run through MGM amid a number of cast members dressed like pirates and various Disney princesses. As we ran past the Sorcerer's Hat, my dad even joked with a group of princesses that he "may need CPR." The characters giggled royally and waved at him as he huffed past.

The following day, I would fulfill my dream of running the Walt Disney World half marathon, beginning outside Epcot, running up and through the Magic Kingdom, and finishing beneath Spaceship Earth. I would complete this race in 2 hours and 24 minutes, which was about thirty minutes slower than I completed the Grand Rapids Half Marathon three months before, at 1:54.

This weekend was a significant one in my life. I fulfilled my dream of completing another half marathon, this time in my favorite place on earth. Shortly after returning home, I would also meet a wonderful girl, the one I would eventually marry and start a family with. However, this weekend also meant that I missed out on something that could have been potentially important for me, but helped to cement my love of history. A few weeks before, on December 26, 2006, president Gerald R. Ford passed away. His funeral and burial would be conducted in my hometown of Grand Rapids Michigan, an event I missed while running the half marathon in WDW. As I returned home, I fervently researched the event and watched replays of his funeral which took place a few miles from my house, showing me the significance of history and the role my hometown played in American history.


"Here goes!" I said to my girlfriend as I clicked the send button. I watched as the article I wrote disappeared into the WorldWideWeb to the email address for Orlando Attractions Magazine. The founder of the magazine, a prominent Disney podcaster, had made an all-call a few weeks before asking his listeners to submit ideas and articles for the first issue of the travel magazine. I had decided to write about the trip my dad and I had taken to Orlando to run the half marathon, a story that would eventually be published in the premier issue of the magazine.

I would go on two write one more article published in the magazine, the topic dealing with Disney collecting and Disneyana. However, as the popularity of the magazine expanded and it became less "environmentally friendly" to publish magazines in print and the trend adjusted to blog articles, I approached the editor of the magazine with a new idea.

What if I, as a trained historian and aspiring history teacher, researched some of the more popular Disney attractions and argued whether the details in the attractions were historically accurate? The editor thought this was a great idea, but asked that we publish the article on the blog for the magazine.

I spent the next few months researching the historical details for one of my favorite Disney attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean. The final product was a ten page article, examining everything from the architecture of the burning town, the layout and historical facts behind the fort the queue winds through, to even the design of the attraction vehicles. I also examined whether pirates buried treasure, talked the way they are portrayed as speaking, and even whether pirates will "pillage, plunder, rifle, and loot." However, the editor of the magazine felt my article was "too academic" and did not fit his target audience. He insisted that I cut down my article to a more bite-sized entry that would appeal more to the layman. You can find the article eventually published here. I later went on to publish a second article about the Jungle Cruise, examining how the classic attraction was actually based on a very dark period of history, the age of imperialism. However, after publishing this article, I received an email from the editor of the magazine explaining that a few readers had written to him complaining about my "lack of understanding" on the Jungle Cruise, tearing my article apart by ultimately saying I didn't know what I was talking about, either in terms of historical fact or Disney history and details. He would go on to say that I either needed to prove my facts or he would pull my article from the site. I was adamant that I knew what I was talking about, citing sources from my extensive research, including courses I had taken in college and academic and literary pieces. The blog would eventually publish the following disclaimer on its website prior to my article.

"Editor’s Note: This article is Andrew’s interpretation of the history behind different sections of the Jungle Cruise attraction. No one knows exactly what the inspiration behind the design was except the Disney Imagineers who built it, so this article shouldn’t be taken as Disney fact, but how one man interprets it through research. His sources are listed below the article."

As a historian, this was a slap in the face. I was especially frustrated, as I had been told not to make it too academic so the layperson would actually read the article. I watered down the historical detail for the readers, and was now being disrespected as a historian both by readers and the person who had given me the opportunity to write. I took this as a sign that I would no longer write for the magazine, as the editor stood by the fact that I was wrong. I would not write historical articles for a long time after that. That was 2012.


In November, 2014, I received a rather odd email. I didn't recognize the name of the email nor the domain, and frankly I was not sure if it was legit or not. The email basically said something along the lines of "I've seen your historical research articles that you did for Attractions Magazine and I am wondering if you'd be interested in writing a book similar to the research you did for those articles." I looked into the publishing firm to find that Theme Park Press had actually published some authors with which I was already familiar, including Jim Korkis and Didier Ghez. I began writing back and forth with the publisher, pitching him some ideas of chapters I would like to include in my first book, which would become A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Vol. 1. He agreed to allow me to use my original academic essays written about Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise that the editor of Attractions Magazine later made me cut down for the lay reader (as a result, if you're interested in knowing more historical detail behind the attractions, read Vol. 1 for more info). These two chapters would be joined by chapters detailing Main Street USA, Adventureland, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Crystal Palace, Tomorrowland, and the Carousel of Progress, published in March, 2015.

And the rest, as they say, is history. I've once again accomplished a lifelong dream of becoming a published author, not once but twice with the recent publishing of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Vol. 2, both of which can be found on Amazon (here and here) or Volume 2 focuses on topics including Spaceship Earth, Casey's Corner, Storybook Circus, the Country Bear Jamboree, and the Sunset Ranch Market.

A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Vol. 3 is in production, although after hard work on writing Vol. 2 during my recovery from a traumatic injury (which I'll write about in the future) in only four months, I've decided to take a bit of a break from regular writing.

Thanks as always for reading! I'll be taking a break from the blogosphere for the weekend. Enjoy your weekend!


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