Walt Disney World has left quite a mark on history since opening its gates in 1971. Widely considered “the city built by the mouse,” Walt Disney World’s home, Orlando, wasn’t much more than a small collection of orange groves until Walt announced his plans to build a theme park in 1965. That sprawling kingdom is now the number one tourist destination in the world, with over 55 million guests visiting annually. Walt Disney World’s success is certainly one for the history books. History, however, can occur anywhere, and there are a few occasions when monumental moments in history occurred right on Disney’s grounds.
Richard Nixon’s infamous words
You’ve probably heard Richard Nixon’s famous utterance “I am not a crook.” Well, it may surprise you to know that he said those words at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, right beside the Magic Kingdom. It may also shock you to know the 37th President of the United States was actually good friends with Walt Disney. He visited Disneyland in 1955, during its first summer of operation. He was invited to dedicate the opening of a new monorail in 1959, an event that ended with Walt Disney closing the doors and taking Nixon for a spin in his new ride, effectively kidnapping the future president for a short period of time. Nixon even awarded Walt’s wife, Lillian, a Congressional Gold Medal to honor her late husband shortly after Walt’s passing. It was a bizarre twist of fate, then, that on November 17, 1973, Richard Nixon sulked into The Ballroom of the Americas, located on the second floor of the Contemporary Resort, and took part in an hour-long Q&A for 400 journalists. At one point he proclaimed: “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.” Only several months later, Richard M. Nixon resigned from office.
The Beatles break up
Rumor and mystery surrounded The Beatles leading up to Paul McCartney’s earth-rattling announcement in 1970 that the band was breaking up. What could have led the most successful rock act in history to call it quits? Was it greed? Creative liberty? Yoko Ono? While certain aspects of the break-up will forever be foggy, what we do know is after extensive legal battles, a document entitled “The Beatles Agreement” was written to formally dissolve the band upon its signing. In late 1974, George and Paul (with Ringo on telephone) convened in New York City to sign the document. John Lennon, however, was nowhere to be found. Herein lies the Disney connection: Lennon was on holiday in Disney World. It wasn’t until December 29, 1974, in the Tonga suites of the Polynesian Resort, looking out at Cinderella’s Castle, that John Lennon finally received and signed the contract to break up The Beatles.
White Rhinos repatriated
In 2006, two southern white rhinos that were born on the Harambe Wildlife Reserve at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, became the first white rhinos to ever be successfully repatriated from the United States to Africa. Nande, born in 1999, and Hasani, born in 2001, spent several years roaming around the savannahs at Kilimanjaro Safaris before being relocated to Uganda. The importance of this cannot be understated. There are only about 20,000 southern white rhinos left in the wild today. With Disney’s focus on wildlife conservation, they are helping to preserve this and other species from extinction. The good news doesn’t end there. In 2009, Nande gave birth to a baby boy named Obama, the first white rhino born in Uganda in 28 years. No word yet on if the former president will visit his eponymous rhinoceros.