Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Small Treasure in Walt Disney World: The Calliope

     One of my favorite things to do in Walt Disney World is to run around in search of places and items with historical significance. These little treats are littered everywhere around Disney property, and only require you to do a little research. This time, I want to talk about the calliope at Tri-Circle D Ranch at Fort Wilderness Resort.
     Fort Wilderness is a monster. It has a bus and boat system to get you there, and a bus system to get you from the resort to anywhere else in the resort. It's big. However, it is well worth the effort to visit the Tri-Circle D Ranch (named aptly for the tri-circled emblem of the Disney company). If you wander your way around the Ranch, you will first see many of the horses Disney uses on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom, as well as some famous animals from shows and movies. But this time I want to focus on the giant musical instrument/parade float/train car that you will find in one of the buildings. Here it is:

     This is a calliope, or a pipe organ played by moving the vehicle. It functions similarly to an old player-piano, with sheets of metal and holes and pins. This calliope holds significant historical value for Disney. Created in 1907, it was used initially in England as part of a circus. Later, Walt saw the calliope outside a small amusement park in Los Angeles in the 1940's and purchased it "as is" from the owner. Once fixed up, it joined several other calliopes to form part of Disneyland's Mickey Mouse Club parade upon the opening of Disneyland in 1955. It served briefly there, and then functioned mostly as decoration.
     Eventually, with no further for so many calliopes, Walt donated all of them to museums in 1962, except for this one. The dragon calliope since has appeared in a few Disney movies, and in 1981 was moved to Walt Disney World to be part of the tenth birthday celebration of the Florida park. Since then, the calliope has served in a few parades, and rolled down Main Street as recently as 2013. 
     The calliope today acts mostly as a connection to Walt himself. It inspired him and his daughters in their dream of building a park where families could go together. In disrepair, they bought it and made it something beautiful for Disneyland. And one might say that Walt's vision came to life in his parks. 
     Want to see a fun homage to this very calliope in Disneyland? Check out the second car on the Casey Jr. Train ride next time you're there. It was modeled after this very instrument:

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