Monday, June 3, 2024

Between Books - Hidden History of Walt Disney World


Book cover for Hidden History of Walt Disney World wiht a black and white photo showing the park under construction from the viewpoint of the front gates

“I’d like to talk about EPCOT’s legacy by taking a look at EPCOT’s role in the proud American tradition of getting drunk on vacation (Nolte, 141).” You have my attention!

Disney books include a vibrant sub-genre of what I call “Secrets Books”! They generally consist of short chapters, often unconnected topically, and aim to bring readers deeper into the Disney story by ripping back the curtain. Some of these titles can be largely trivia books giving you quick looks behind the scenes. Others show us trends and make deeper connections about our beloved theme parks. I don’t recommend overlooking these books, as David Koenig’s Mouse Tales is still a book that I recommend new readers start with, mostly because it’s fun and rich in story. It’s this genre that started my Between Books obsession.

Hidden History of Walt Disney World by Foxx Nolte is the latest in secrets books. Topically the book is broken into five main sections that can be labeled as Orlando before Disney, building Walt Disney World, The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and expanding Walt Disney World. The chapters in these sections are generally short and full of images with topics that can range from citrus in Central Florida, tickets, drinking at EPCOT (as promised), McDonalds on Walt Disney World property, and many more. Each chapter is engaging with the reader and well-researched. I do find the images are well-used in supporting the text, especially when some readers may pick this book up to prepare for a first-time vacation and some topics are not those that are generally known to even experienced amateur Disney historians.

Doctor Phillips was not a doctor! My family is tired of hearing me say this and they may secretly be shaking their hands at Nolte. I think this is a win as I love beating a piece of fact into the ground. What really stands out to me about this book is the connection of Walt Disney World to the city of Orlando. Nolte notes the complicated relationship between the city and the theme park. But he also urges readers to understand that the identity of each was partially guided by the other. Walt Disney World is a place grounded in the city's history, and Orlando as it exists today was guided by the growth of the Disney property. In making this connection, Nolte introduces us to Orlando's history before the arrival of Disney and helps us see how these precursors impact the park today. For me, Dr. Phillips is a spot on a map! I sometimes questioned if there was a Dr. Phillips but was too lazy to Google it. Nolte pulls readers into the story of Doctor Phillips, not MD, citrus magnet, and then draws connections to how his business empire was used by Disney and then back to the city with how Disney has helped shape the area of Orlando known by that name today. For me, this connection between the parks and the city is one of the most interesting themes found in the book.

Alright, back to the drinking! I read the sentence about showing EPCOT’s legacy through getting drunk, and I read it again, and again…and then said huh. As a reader, I dared Nolte to do it! Now, while I do enjoy a good pint, I have never and likely will never get drunk on Disney property. I read a lot of Disney books, and I have seen discussions of legacy and evolution based in business terms, cultural terms, and entertainment terms. But drinking? Nolte meets the challenge well, by providing a history of events on Disney property along with the changing views of drinking in public while at the parks. This chapter is a good example of what most chapters will provide; history you may not have seen fully before, images that visually bring you closer to the topic, and a thematic line that educates and maybe even tells you about more than a theme park.

Hidden History of Walt Disney World
by Foxx Nolte is not your typical secrets book by just highlighting events within Walt Disney World. Notle does an excellent job of connecting the park’s history to the geographical region it resides in strengthening the mental image of the parks to the city. If anything, there were times when I wanted a little bit more so I had more facts to share with those around me. Though often, like the story of the Walt Disney World Preview Center, Nolte finds ways to bring the story back around full circle.

But I do wonder what Citrus Salad Gel tastes like!

Review Copy Provided by History Press

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