High-Flying Heritage

High-Flying Heritage: A Walt Disney World Moment 50 Years in the Making

By Becky Cline and Kevin M. Kern, Walt Disney Archives

Every now and then, we here in the Archives have the honor of spotlighting historical materials so unique from our collection that the objects themselves seem to transcend matters of just Disney history and cross over into a realm documenting a wider moment from popular American history. One such item from our collection highlights such an intersection rather perfectly—an otherwise all-too-normal-looking American flag that was used during the grand dedication ceremony for the Walt Disney World Resort in 1971. This flag—a gift from a U.S. president, nonetheless!—has rested safely in our collection for 50 years now and helps weave a fascinating story that connects several important historical locations on the pop culture landscape from Washington, D.C., to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and beyond.

Recently, while reflecting on the now half-century legacy of the Walt Disney World Resort for various projects (including assisting with the development of the recent coffee table book for Disney Editions, A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth), the Archives began assessing our collection for historical objects that could highlight important stories to share about the history of the resort. Specifically, while curating items for a small historical exhibit to display at the resort for the recent 50th anniversary kick-off festivities, one item piqued our interest, landing squarely in the realm of “this is a story we have to tell!” That item, as you may have guessed it, is the aforementioned flag.

High-Flying Heritage
The American flag presented to Roy O. Disney by U.S. President Richard Nixon flies over Main Street, U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom during the dedication of the Walt Disney World Resort on October 25, 1971.

The details of this piece are rather (and amazingly!) straightforward—facts that are thusly laid out with beautiful simplicity: The 9-by-5-foot American flag that was raised over Town Square at the Magic Kingdom as part of the resort’s grand dedication ceremony on October 25, 1971, carried a special significance from a longtime friend of the Disney family: President Richard Nixon. An official gift from the president, the flag was first flown over the White House in Washington, D.C., on October 1, 1971 (“Opening Day” of Walt Disney World) and was subsequently delivered to the resort to preside over Town Square during Roy O. Disney’s October 25th dedication. A simple path, but quite the remarkable voyage for such an important symbol of Americana.

“As it is raised in Town Square,” wrote the President to Roy O. on October 23, 1971, “may it represent our faith in the American dream which is so much in evidence at Walt Disney World.” Shortly after the October 25th dedication events, the flag would make its way back to The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, where it was placed in the care of the Walt Disney Archives by Disney Legend Emile Kuri (on behalf of Roy O.) for long-term historical preservation. The flag has remained proudly in the collection of the Archives ever since, and safely tucked away it would reside for decades until another fateful October day, some half a century later…

Fast forward to September 30, 2021, where the staff of the Walt Disney Archives shared a very special one-day-only exhibit with visiting press in honor of the resort’s impending anniversary. Showcasing rarely seen historical objects representing the 50-year history of Walt Disney World, it was a natural opportunity, of course, to feature this important flag and its accompanying documentation with pride of place. Following the event, Becky Cline, the director of the Walt Disney Archives, had the honor of carrying the dedication day relic over to Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom to help kick off the next historical chapter in both the resort’s, and flag’s, storied existence.

High-Flying Heritage
The commemorative flag is installed at The Hall of Presidents attraction in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World.

There, Becky assisted Walt Disney Imagineering curators Jackie Herrera and Deb Van Horn to carefully install this slice of Disney’s own patriotic heritage in the lobby of The Hall of Presidents attractionThis “Grand Old Flag” can now be viewed alongside other fascinating artifacts that showcase the history of our nation’s great leaders and also serves as a fitting tribute to a monumental moment in the history of The Walt Disney Company.

Thus, as the sun rose on October 1, 2021, amidst the grand debut of The World’s Most Magical Celebration, and after carefully working with our Florida-based curatorial colleagues at Walt Disney Imagineering, the Archives was able to help return this trusty and inspirational emblem to the Magic Kingdom, allowing it to continue serving as a historical beacon of the resort’s legacy for all to see.