The World According to Walt

Photos by Jack GouldCHAPTER 1: MAIN STREET USA

Walt Disney created Abraham Lincoln for the 1964 World's Fair, and not a minute too soon, as Lincoln was badly needed more than 100 years earlier. America was on a collision course with a bloody civil war, not in the good way, and many of Lincoln's top advisers were pleading for him to make one of his Gettysburg Addresses. And so he did, though few people listened, preferring to stay in the lobby and look at early photographs of Walt Disney's office or go next door to shop for novelty hats (Mickey Mouse ears, $5.25). Those who did listen were taken with Lincoln's words, most of which they could not understand because of the swelling music and because they were distracted by the obvious fact that Lincoln's lips didn't move in sync with his voice. "Ya think Lincoln's wearing underwear?" they asked among themselves. Nonetheless, they agreed Lincoln's speech was inspiring up until the time he started crying like a woman and sat down. "What the hell?" they exclaimed and went out and won the Civil War and then defeated the Industrial Revolution. That introduced a Golden Age in American history that many people called the Turn of the Century. It was marked by amazing inventions (Mickey Mouse telephone, $99; joy buzzer, $3.95), as well as innovations in art (handblown crystal elephant, $35) and agriculture (Mickey Roni & Cheese, $2.95; Pooh Tri-Color Pasta, $3.95). It was around this time that Walt Disney invented animation with the production of Steamboat Willie, a raucous cartoon starring a very funny, sometimes violent character named Mickey Mouse who was sly and nutty and was never seen again. There were also many important discoveries at this time, paramount among them the discovery that people will pay $5 for a silhouette that looks like every person who has ever lived and that people will stop for just about anything billed as "entertainment" as long as the performers wear colored vests and bowlers and talk like Robert Preston in The Music Man. When this so-called "Turn of the Century" was over, many people looked toward the future, which looked a lot like a medieval castle redecorated by Jayne Mansfield. This frightened some people, who said, "Let's have another 'Turn of the Century.'" And so they did.

—Steve Lowery


To understand how America got itself into such a fix, it is important to understand where it was coming from. There was a time long before the Americans discovered America that they lived in a far-off land of snowy mountains and flying elephants (Dumbo-ears barrette, $6). You couldn't walk down the street without being swallowed by a whale or having someone come up and tell you to go kiss this princess who's had a spell cast on her (Sorcerer's hat with ears, $22). And you say, "Really? What's she look like?" And they say, "Oh, she's pretty cute." But later they let it slip that she's been asleep for 100 years, and you say, "Gross!" and they say, "C'mon, I'll give you 5 bucks." But you refuse because not only is she older than your grandma but that's also got to be the world's worst case of morning breath ever, am I right? And that's not the worst of it, family-wise. Back then, if you had a stepmom, you were totally screwed. And if your stepmom was the queen, you were just fucked. No, really. These people were completely deranged. Fratricide, cannibalism, necrophilia—these were the kind of people who'd hunt down their own kids after talking it over with the furniture. Europeans were really fucked in the head—big news flash there—and even if you didn't get murdered or eaten or swallowed up, some big-ass elephant would fly by and drop a load, and then where were you? Finally, a bunch of people got together and declared, "We are sick and tired of being eaten by shit." While others added, "Peter Pan—he's gay, right?" And so they left for the New World—or, as they called it, Frontierland, though others called it Adventureland because there was much confusion about where one started and the other ended. Upon seeing their new home, they exclaimed, "You complete me." And so it did.

—Steve Lowery


When the new settlers arrived in this new land, they were greeted by Native Americans who didn't know they were Native Americans because, frankly, they didn't know where they were. There was some trepidation on the settlers' part that the Native Americans might not welcome them. Their fears were eased when they found that the Indian women, dressed in traditional garb (Indian beaded suede miniskirt and vest, $50), looked and sang like Vanessa Williams. The men were all buff and had that Edward James Olmos cool thing going on. All of them seemed too interested in holding conversations with trees and ground squirrels to be concerned with real estate. At first, the Indians didn't like the looks of these new people (coonskin cap, $10). But soon they were convinced that this so-called "white" man knew best (flintlock pistol, $10; long pistol, $12; double-barrel pistol, $16; Mickey six-shooter, $4.95). The Native Americans soon disappeared, taking with them good memories (cowboy hat with ears, $34). Now the settlers could get down to the serious business of starting a country. But just as soon as they started doing this, disturbing rumors surfaced about slavery. "It's not so much the heat as the humidity," they resolved, and they took off to find out if any of these rumors were true. They searched their Peaceful Land, from the runaway train to the killer cruise boat. "No slavery here," they reported. The people rejoiced because not only weren't there any slaves, but there also didn't appear to be many black people. In fact, they seemed to be greatly outnumbered by the Japanese tourists. The settlers knew that to be a Great Country, they needed to build their commercial enterprises. Critical to this was the Mighty Mississippi, the nation's longest—and roundest—river. The Mighty Mississippi—or "The Circle of Life," as the Native Americans called it—had great possibilities, but there was a problem. The Mississippi was a dangerous river. If one tried to swim across, there was the possibility of being swept under by the current and/or tracks on the river bottom. Fortunately, Mark Twain invented the paddleboat, and soon Americans were free to trade important goods (Mickey cowboy magnet, $4).

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