Morleigh Steinberg is in the midst of producing the first public showing of her husband’s series of desert photographs. “I just said to him, ‘You really gotta do something with this. People should see this. I think it’s important. And with the closure of the tour, now is the time to do it.’”
Perhaps I should mention that Morleigh’s husband is The Edge, U2’s revered lead guitarist and atmospheric sound architect.
Back in 1986, when the Irish rock band visited California’s Death Valley and Mojave Desert to shoot images for the cover of their upcoming album, The Joshua Tree, U2 photographer, Anton Corbjin, wasn’t the only one taking pictures. The Edge took up his own camera to capture the desert as he saw it.
“I think he’s got a really good eye.”
With a quiet enthusiasm that projects genuine confidence in her family’s artistic competence, Morleigh also can’t help but sound like her husband’s biggest fan.
“I think he’s got a really good eye. And it’s photography, so I said, ‘Let’s just do this.’”
Morleigh is co-owner of Arcane Space (along with singer & artist Frally Hynes), a bodega studio a couple blocks from Venice Beach in Venice, California. When we first met, I asked her about her “gallery” and she politely corrected me.
“It’s not so much a gallery as it is a space,” she mused.
That caught my attention. As a spatial storyteller with Storyland Studios, I’m fascinated by the ways people use space to express something of meaning or significance. Whether in cathedrals, office cubicles, or amusement parks, creative people are able to transform space to express something about themselves and the way they see the world. So I had to go see Arcane Space for myself.
“I think a gallery is very defined,” Morleigh later explained. “There’s a certain structure that a gallery has to set up to present artists. But we’re still trying to find out what this is and how it’s gonna work. And it feels so free. Space can be so many things.”
The entire gallery… er, space is surprisingly small and painted stark white, from the floor to the ceiling. It gives one the impression of a blank page or canvas to be used freely for artistic expression.
“We want it to be a place where we can share,” Morleigh said, “that we can express what’s going on in our lives and what’s going on in other artists’ lives. And give them an opportunity to present work, or make work, or explore work, or push work, but not in a defined gallery. But just in the space.”
Like a brand new journal or drawing pad, starting with a blank space fills a creative heart like Morleigh’s with a churning sense of potential and curiosity.
“How do you occupy space? How do you change space? And how does that make you feel? And how does it make other people feel? That’s more my curiosity. So that’s where Arcane Space came from.”
Lines In The Sky
Arcane Space’s first installation was a collection of Morleigh’s own photographs entitled “LA Sky Lines.”
Each piece featured the blue, California sky criss-crossed with telephone wires and poles, double-exposed for a disorienting kaleidoscopic effect. In most shots, the illusion confuses the eye with lines that converge in reflective patterns and unnatural vanishing points.
Some look like reflections on water, and others recall the arches and gables of a transparent greenhouse roof.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads. We live in this very detached society. There’s something so tangible and so real about these wires going from pole to pole to pole to pole.”
And person to person.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads.”
As I viewed the pieces myself, I recalled a childhood memory. Riding in the backseat of my parents’ car as we travelled through the San Joaquin Valley, I watched the wires and poles pass by in rhythmic waves. I remember being enchanted by the idea that there are people on either end of these wires, with miles of space between them, and they’re talking to one another.
“It’s really about the infrastructure between the sky and all these lines and wires that are connected above our heads,” she said. “I find it really delightful and very reassuring.”
True to her intention to allow the space to guide the work created there, the photographs weren’t hung on the walls. They were on the floor, leaned against the wall to create a sort of blue baseboard that follows the walls’ hard angles wherever they may lead.
“I was really looking at the whole space, and my images, and how I would use them, and that was the way they ended up. On the floor.”
This unusual arrangement allowed visitors to view the images, not as individual pieces, but as part of a larger complete work. The space itself had become the work of art.
“There’s purity in putting a picture on the wall. But you never just put a picture on a wall, do you? You always put a picture up in the relationship it has to the rest of the space.”
The Space Between Places
Morleigh’s perspective on space and our relationship with it springs from a lifetime of movement. As a lifelong dancer and choreographer, movement within space is what defines the artform she loves most.
She also grew up in Los Angeles, which, due to its never-ending sprawl connected like power lines through its notorious freeway system, forces its inhabitants to leave one defined space and move to another if they want to experience everything the city has to offer.
“There are several places in LA that are so unique, but you’re going to have to drive to them. You’re going to have to get in the car to go to them.”
Morleigh’s parents were people on the move with a passion for exposing their kids to experiences througout the city. Morleigh developed a keen interest in both the destination and the space between places.
“And I got it. I didn’t mind going from place to place to discover.”
“I lived in New York for a time and there you don’t have to drive to experience a lot of different things. Here there’s always somewhere to go. That comforts me more than having the same places within reach all the time.”
“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”
One Southern California place she rediscovered for herself recently was Disneyland. Walt Disney’s cartoon kingdom in Anaheim might not be the first place an artist thinks of when seeking authenticity and genuine inspiration, but Morleigh went into the experience with eyes wide open.
“I was so impressed by it. I was really impressed by the landscaping, all California drought tolerant. But then in Tomorrowland, the landscaping was all vegetables, like kale, and chard, and herbs and it was quite remarkable and I was like, ‘Right on!’”
“Then, going into the haunted house, all the things that held the chains they were all these beautiful kind of patinaed bats. And they were real! They weren’t like plastic fake stuff. They were real materials.”
While Morleigh seemed genuinely surprised at the authenticity achieved in Disneyland’s fantasy worlds, she agreed wholeheartedly with the premise that creating space for people to respond to produces genuine emotional results.
“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”
Outside, It’s America
At the time of this writing, Morleigh is putting the finishing touches on Arcane Space’s newest installation; The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge.
To music fans around the world, the photography for U2’s fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, is widely considered the most iconic and beautifully integrated album art of all time. In many ways the photographs on the record sleeve created a unique space for the music to inhabit.
“The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record,” U2 bassist, Adam Clayton, told Hot Press magazine at the time of the album’s release. “Most people would take the desert on face value and think it’s some kind of barren place, which of course is true. But, in the right frame of mind it’s also a very positive image, because you can actually do something with a blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is.”
“So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”
Morleigh recognized that an opportunity to display never-before-seen images of the same brilliant landscapes captured by of one of the band members would be unique and intriguing for many people. And the timing isn’t bad either. The band just finished a worldwide tour celebrating the album’s 30th anniversary.
“It doesn’t make sense to do it 6 months from now,” said Morleigh. “That would feel like going back, you know? So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”
With the confidence of a woman at the vanguard of creative exploration for her family, Morleigh convinced her husband to do the unexpected, to use the space to explore and share his own story. ”Let’s not make this about the band. Let’s make it about the landscape. And the landscape that you saw at that time.”
In honor of the 26th anniversary of U2’s brand-bending album, Achtung Baby, let’s review the record’s most gut-wrenching song. This line-by-line deconstruction of Acrobat explores the spiritual wirewalk many Christians experience as they attempt to be who they claim to be.
When I was a kid, my Dad had the odd responsibility (either self or externally imposed) to be happy and hopeful all the time. I think he believed that part of his job as a pastor was to match up his demeanor with others’ expectations. It didn’t matter if he was facing financial trouble, marital disunity, illness, or a crummy day, he needed to arrive at church with a smile on his face and a kind word on his lips. In other words, he needed to wear a mask.
The unfortunate side effect of my father’s pretense was the occasional avalanche of pent-up anger, which would fall squarely onto his unsuspecting little family. I remember riding in the car on some Sunday mornings. My brother and sister and I could sense his mounting anger rising up in the front seat. Then some straw would break his camel’s back and for the next few miles we would receive the brunt of his frustration. Then, we arrived at church.
When he climbed out of the car, a miracle happened. He instantly became a different man. Gone were the scowls and furious words. All smiles and handshakes now, his mask was back in place.
Looking back today I feel sorry for the man. I know he didn’t want to act that way. He loved us. I have no doubt. He hated himself for talking love and peace to his flock while giving rage and turmoil to the sheep he loved the most, his wife and kids. When he reads this, I’m sure the old sting of this will prick him again (not my intention Dad). The sad irony of this story is that the mask he wore was a burden even Jesus did not have to bear.
In the song Acrobat, from U2’s 1991 album Achtung Baby, Bono laments the same balancing act that my father was forced to perform: “I must be an acrobat to talk like this and act like that.” Niall Stokes, the legendary Irish rock champion and Hot Press editor, wrote of the song, “Not for the first time on the record, Bono acknowledges his own weakness and inadequacy. He is more conscious now than ever before of the contradictions in his own position.”
If you are being honest, Bono’s words are your words as well. You have your beliefs and convictions. Your beliefs define you. You are red or blue, anti or pro, Jacob or Edward. In today’s wacky world of pundits and provokers, with comment boxes under everything you read or watch, you have the opportunity to shout your privately held beliefs loudly and viciously at whomever you want. But does what you say you believe match up with what you do?
I doubt it. If you happen to be a human being, duplicity is your nature.
New years resolutions fail because of this. We know we should stop smoking or drinking. We should eat better and exercise. We should be more committed in our job or school or marriage. We should make things right with our parents or siblings. We should stop abusing our spouse or our kids and making them feel small. We should stop stealing, having emotional affairs, and sneaking copious bytes of porn into our homes via fiber pipelines. We say we believe one thing, but when it comes to living what we believe, we most often do something quite different.
For Christians, this self-imposed dualism is particularly painful to live with. We desire to be like Christ, but we are drawn to sin like moths to flame. As the hymn-writer said, we are prone to wander, and wander far. And we hate it.
In Acrobat, Bono paints his own picture of this hated wandering. The singer sings something of a rotating monologue to three distinct characters: to his younger self when he was an enthusiastic Christ following idealist, to his disenchanted present self, “the acrobat” who feels distant from his faith, and finally to Jesus circa Revelation 3.
When I first met you girl*
You had fire in your soul
What happened your face
Of melting in snow
Now it looks like this
His young self, was once transformed by his faith, happily drawn into a burning light that thawed a frozen heart. The singer sees in him the strength of character needed to resist temptation and to do only good. He begs the boy he was to hold fast to the faith that sustained him, to stand firm in his convictions.
I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
’cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
The singer’s present self stands in disbelief that what was once so clear and motivating now seems so distant. He mourns his loss of passion for the things of God and shouts his need to be welcomed at the table of communion. But he cannot drink the cup or eat the bread. Like so many Christians before him, he stands at the table wanting to receive, but knows painfully well that his actions do not match up with his beliefs. Because of his duplicity, he believes his place at the table is forfeit.
The acrobat… er, Apostle Paul wrote about his own struggle with this wire-walk in his letter to the first-century church in Rome. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In a particularly transparent moment, Paul shares his exasperation with himself for believing one thing and doing another. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Isn’t that the truth? Of course Paul points the finger at the root of this duplicity, his own sinful nature. “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” And it is this sinful nature that the singer, the acrobat, can’t seem to abandon.
And you can swallow
Or you can spit
You can throw it up
Or choke on it
Most frightening to the singer, and any Christian who has faced his double, are Jesus’ words to the church of Laodicea found in Revelation 3. Here, Jesus rebukes this particular church (considered to be the prophetic embodiment of the modern church) for their lack of passion for Himself. Because they have lost their original heat, their passion for the things that once drew them close to Christ, He threatens to abandon them to their own self absorption. Jesus says, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” My paraphrase goes like this; Jesus cursed them saying, “You make me puke!” I can’t imagine any more frightful words for a Christian who thought he had his religion wired.
And the singer takes this curse on himself. He realizes that what was once a fire in his soul, is now a cold ember hidden beneath an empty façade of contentment and false spirituality. The acrobat walks on a wire of compromise, balancing his talk of doing good to others while his heart is far from the faith that would cause him to do so. He says he loves his neighbor as himself, but the truth is, he loves himself and desires only that which will bring him happiness.
The song ends with the singer emboldening himself to claw his way out of his duplicity and sin, and grasp onto the love for God and people he once held so tightly.
And you can dream
So dream out loud
And you can find
Your own way out
You can build
And I can will
And you can call
I can’t wait until
You can stash
And you can seize
In dreams begin
And I can love
And I can love
And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So here he stands looking into the mirror. The singer is unsatisfied with what he sees. He doesn’t want to be an acrobat any longer. He’s getting back onto the path he desires to walk, and cheering himself for the journey ahead.
It won’t be easy. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan said, “we have to believe it (the Gospel) enough that it changes how we live.” It’s one thing to say that. It’s another more excruciating thing to do it. But we have to do it. Christians have to believe the Gospel enough that, through the Spirit, our actions match up with our beliefs. Then, and only then, will the wire-walking end.
*I believe “girl” is used here as a way to make the characters distinct. It’s also common throughout Achtung Baby for Bono to sexy-up the songs with words like ‘baby’, ‘girl’, ‘honey child’ despite the deeply spiritual and personal nature of the content.
This post originally appeared in 2011 on my now defunct blog “isbonoachristian.blogspot.com,” an exploration of the faith and spiritual truth sometimes found in U2 lyrics.
Can you keep secret? I can’t. I’ve been keeping this on the down-low for a quite some time and I’m finally able to tell.
Most of you know I’m a theme park weirdo. I love to explore the stories, details, and dreams that make up these architectural marvels. It’s an art form unique to our modern world, but anchored in centuries of creative space-making from city squares & parks to coliseums & cathedrals.
Beginning in October, I began work as a Spatial Storyteller℠ for Storyland Studios, a themed entertainment design and fabrication firm. What’s Spatial Storytelling? Think of it as the non-Disney equivalent of Imagineering. We create immersive environments that bring stories to life in theme parks, museums, sacred spaces and other realms where people gather for enrichment.
What’s super cool is that the business structure is modeled directly after Walt Disney’s original Imagineering team (originally WED, then MAPO, and finally WDI) which means the entire creative team is under one roof. Everything from concept designers, artists, story writers, special effects artists, architects and fabricators all work together to create unbelievable spaces for you to enjoy!
My role is to create content and consult on marketing and community-building for the brand and the projects we undertake. Go to StorylandStudios.com right now to see some of the insane projects we’ve done (Hogwarts Express at Universal, are you kidding me?!?!?!).
This week, our team is heading to the IAAPA Attractions Expo, the themed-entertainment industry’s Comic-Con. If you know anybody in the industry, please connect me.
What does this mean to you, dear reader? Well, much of this is thanks to you. Your reading and sharing of my stories partially helped me land this gig (thank you very much!), and now I’ve got a lot more stories to tell.
So keep an eye here for some incredible announcements, stories, and secrets from inside the theme park and spatial storytelling industry.
Now then, hang onto your hats and glasses, ’cause this here is gonna be one wild ride!
Kungaloosh to all ye, Skippers and jungle-dwellers alike! Welcome aboard the World Famous Skipper Freddy Review. Keep your hands and arms inside the boat. The crocodiles are always looking for a hand out.
So this begins the first of many, I hope (I’m talking to you Tesla) Skipper Freddy’s product review!
The Set-Up: I love drinking coffee in the morning. At the height of the Sudoku craze around the turn of the century, I realized that my ultimate happy place is to be on my couch, my family sleeping safely and soundly, the sun coming up outside, and a hot cup of joe in my hand. While the Sudoku thing left with my sanity, my coffee love stuck.
Now that doesn’t mean I turned into a coffee connoisseur or anything. I like the flavor of coffee and feeling it gives me, but am not good at determining anything special about one cup over another. I can usually tell if the coffee is too dark or too light, but other than that, I’m winging it.
So to make sure I could provide a review worth the beans it’s printed on, I brought in an expert.
My friend, Steve Ross, is an amazing bunch of guys. He’s a concert promoter, a photographer, an activist, and a pastor. He works at Children’s Hunger Fund, an international charity that provides food to hungry kids (in case you couldn’t guess by the name). He’s got 7 kids with another on the way (Go Jamie!). But his secret super power is turning a cup of coffee into an experience to remember.
We got together one morning last week, and with the help of Steve’s mad scientist pour over equipment plus two bags of Expedition Roasters coffee, we brewed up our happy place!
Unboxing: If Apple has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate good packaging. My Expedition Roasters shipment arrived quickly and labeled for fun! Inside there were fun promo pieces to browse like a window sticker and collectible trading cards for the coffees in the box. I work with a bunch of designers, so we can all get pretty critical. It’s nice when the only comment they can give is to offer a suggestion to make the trading cards pop with some spot UV on some of the design elements.
Beneath the promo our two coffees were packed side by side with the packages showing art side up. This was a simple but nice touch because the art is all part of drawing you into the Expedition Roasters experience. Both packages are expertly designed to call back memories of visits to the Disneyland attractions they represent. Honestly, these packages are so well done, you would believe that they were done by the Disney folks themselves. “Immersive” is the only word I can think to use.
Jungle Banana Pie: Our first taste was the Jungle Cruise themed coffee – Skipper’s Brew: Jungle Banana Pie. As a former Jungle Cruise Skipper myself, I was a bit cautious. You see, every Skipper knows that when you first start up the Congo Queen and get her prop spinning on a warm Anaheim morning, you churn up a murky aroma of all the river detritus that settles over night. [Magic Spoiler Ahead] This includes rotting leaves, rat carcasses, dead baby ducks (circle of life, y’all), and spilled Dole Whips. If Expedition Roasters wants to summon up memories of mornings on a Jungle Cruise boat, they’re gonna have to break my own sense memories of that true-life adventure.
When we zipped open the package (unintentionally, but appropriately shaped like Mickey ears) we could immediately tell that this was going to be a pleasant jungle excursion. The aroma definitely smelled like banana, but not banana flavoring. I don’t want a coffee that tastes like banana Laffy Taffy. That would be bad.
Steve Ross ‘the Coffee Boss’ set to work calculating the proper brewing temperature, water and coffee mix we would need for this tasting. We went with 36 grams of coffee, 550 ml of hot water, for 3 minutes 45 seconds. Professor Steve first wet the filter to get rid of any paper taste. Then he poured an initial draught of hot water on the coffee just to wake up the flavors. After a few moments of bloom the real pouring began.
A couple minutes into the pour, Steve realized that Expedition Roasters’ medium grind was going to be too fine for all 550 ml to pass through in the time we’d set. For the amateur coffee brewer like me, that means that the water went through the coffee slower and therefore brews darker than desired. Regardless, the smell in the room told us that we were going to be in for a good tasting coffee.
Although I prefer a little milk in my coffee, we drank it black to take in all the flavors as the roaster intended. And it was good. Real good. Because of the slower brew the coffee was dark and creamy. While Steve prefers a lighter brew to enable him to catch all the high notes of the coffee bean, I liked the way the dark balanced with the banana flavors. Steve recommends using a French press to brew this coffee instead of a pour over. Rather than tasting like banana candy (probably what you’re afraid of, dear reader) it actually reminded me of a good, toasted banana bread with butter. Shoot. Now I’m getting hungry.
Jungle Banana Pie
Brew Method: Recommend French Press
Enchanted Tiki Coconut: When we opened the second bag of coffee, the smell burst out like birds singing words! Trader Sam’s Coffee’s Enchanted Tiki Coconut takes you straight to the island paradise of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room where José, Fritz, Michael, and Pierre conduct a chorus of feathered friends in a musical luau of tropical storm proportions. The coffee’s aroma when we opened the bag was soothing and sweet with a hint of coconut bliss.
To correct for our brew calculations with Jungle Banana Pie, Steve decided to add more water, this time to 580 ml. During the initial pour, Enchanted Tiki Coconut surprised us by blooming up much more than Jungle Banana Pie. Steve believes that was possibly due to the recency of the roasting. And it bloomed up like a muffin while the island coconut smells filled the air.
The flavor of the coffee was definitely more on display with this brew. The lighter brew allowed us to taste the citrus notes and coconut blend much better, which made Steve a happy Honolulu camper. Again, the coconut flavor wasn’t overpowering at all. I thought it might taste like sun tan lotion (Steve said he doesn’t know what I’m talking about). Instead it tasted like a coconut tree breeze on a veranda in an island paradise. Poetry.
Enchanted Tiki Coconut
Brew Method: Recommend Pour Over, 580 ml, 36 grams
The Wrap-Up: Expedition Roasters wants to provide a coffee drinking experience that hearkens back to memories of visits to Disney Parks. With their beautiful artwork and packaging, thoughtful flavors, and branding that’s inspired by classic Disney attractions, their coffees are a loving tribute to the Walt’s legacy. Grab a bag or two today, and brew up your happy place!
Many thanks to the amazing Steve Ross. Follow his adventures on Instagram @UrbanSpurgeon. While you’re there, follow me too @SkipperFreddy for fun photos of travel, blog updates, and now reviews.
DISCLOSURE: I’m not being paid for this review – unless you call sipping on a luxuriously creamy mug of Jungle Banana Pie at the moment “being paid.”
Wanna learn how to do a pour over with Steve Ross “The Coffee Boss?” We went live on Instagram during our tasting of Enchanted Tiki Coconut. It’s just like being there… without the smells and tastes. Click the cat below to watch the video. Enjoy!
To passionate Disney enthusiasts like myself (you know who you are), one of the great tragedies of Walt Disney’s life story is that he never had the opportunity to see his dream of a Florida vacation wonderland come true. As hard and fast as that fact is, our wishful thinking often leads us to believe that Walt Disney World was somehow built by the hand of Walt Disney himself.
The story I’m about to tell you and the amazing untold secret I’m going to reveal is 100% preposterous. It’s wishful thinking on a delusional scale. I’m confessing this to you up front because I know without a shadow of a doubt that what I’m suggesting is absolutely impossible. At the very least it’s a hoax or even a mistake. It could even be just a trick of the light.
But when you visit a place like Walt Disney World, you tend to believe in the unbelievable – the “plausible impossible” as the Imagineers used to say. In a place where dreams apparently come true, we’re encouraged to shove aside the rational and cling to the fantastical.
So when my daughter called to me from inside a cave on Tom Sawyer Island in Florida to tell me that, “Walt Disney was here,” I didn’t doubt it for second.
A Hidden Walt
Most of us know about Hidden Mickeys. In fact arranging and discovering three distinct circles has grown into its own cottage industry. They’re everywhere.
Far more rare, and therefore more precious, are the “Hidden Walts” dusted around the films, parks, and resorts. One of the more famous of these is the Sorcerer from Fantasia nicknamed “Yen Sid” (read it backwards) whose arched eyebrows were the animator’s caricature of Walt’s “dirty look.” Or there’s the lamp in the window of Walt’s apartment above the fire station on Main Street in Disneyland, kept lit forever as though he never left us.
Others are more explicit nods like the train named after him that travels daily around the Magic Kingdom. He can even be found in the numeric street addresses of certain buildings throughout the parks. Any time you see a 23, a 28, or a 55, you’re probably looking at a Hidden Walt. My favorite numerical reference is the brass “1901” (Walt’s birth year) emblazoned near the door of the Carthay Circle Theater at Disney California Adventure. This also happens to be the name of the secret lounge inside accessible only by Club 33 members.
Incidentally, one of the coolest Hidden Walts is within the lounge itself. From time to time you can see Walt’s shadow as he walks by the entry hall. I have to say it’s a little bit creepy, but it’s an incredible effect all the same.
Now, the Hidden Walt I’m about to reveal is truly remarkable because it is so well hidden and largely unknown. But the most remarkable thing about it is the depth of Disney history, world-building, and legends it apparently pulls together in one simple mark.
So to make sure its significance is not lost, permit me a bit of time-travelling and build-up as I set the stage.
Stick with me. It’s worth it.
When you spend time digging into Walt Disney’s personal history and exploring the events that made him who he became, it’s easy to see that he loved being a boy in Missouri. In the early 20th century, small towns like Marceline with their bustling main streets, expansive farmland, and rolling, creek-crossed hills were perfect kindling to a young boy’s spark of adventure.
Young Walt Disney, though poor by today’s standards, lived as if the entire world was his domain to explore and conquer. In overalls and bare feet, he tracked all over the countryside seeking wild-eyed adventure, and not a little bit of trouble.
For many boys of Walt’s generation, and especially for those growing up along the same waterways and woodlands about which Mark Twain wrote, Tom Sawyer was a hero they could become simply by walking down their front porch steps.
There were fishing pools and swimming holes, dark caves and darker forests. In the whistle stop towns like Twain’s Hannibal and Walt’s Marceline, great steam locomotives would pass through bringing with them visitors from afar and daydreams of what may lie down the tracks. And of course there was the mighty Mississippi, a powerful siren of adventure for every Missouri boy or girl.
Aunt Polly, Tom Sawyer’s lovingly strict guardian, described Tom’s outdoor exploits as “owdacious mischief.” As much as she would have liked to tame young Tom, owdacious mischief is exactly what a boy’s heart craves.
Like Tom Sawyer, Walt Disney discovered incredible freedom when exploring the wilds of Missouri. Given a chance to escape his father’s watchful glare, Walt would bound down the lane toward unknown adventure. His carefree days cultivating a heart for owdacious mischief that would impact generations.
And like Tom, young Walt was no stranger to breaking a rule or two.
Making His Mark in Marceline
In Walt’s childhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri, we’re still able to visit a couple landmarks of his rule-breaking prowess. First, there’s the Disney family farmhouse where young Walt encouraged his sister Ruth to join him in painting pictures of animals in black tar on the back wall. His artistic urges got him in big trouble when his father, Elias, discovered the mess and came down hard on the boy.
It’s lucky for us Walt’s artistic ambitions weren’t crushed by the strict punishment he received that day. Rather, it appears that his brief foray as a graffiti artist may have even spurred him on.
Perhaps the most exciting piece of Walt’s criminal history in Marceline is currently on display at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. There, visitors are able to see the very desk that Walt sat in when he was in grade school. How do they know it was his desk? Carved into the wood for all to see are Walt’s initials, “W.D.”
In 1960, Walt was invited back to Marceline to dedicate Walt Disney Elementary School. It was there that he was reunited with his desk. In photos from that day, Walt traces the initials in the wood with his finger, a sheepish grin on his guilty face.
Imagine that! An act of childish destruction has now become an artifact of American pop-culture. And apparently once was not good enough for the mini media magnate. As if he knew his signature might become an important brand some day, he carved his initials twice! How very “Tom Sawyer” of him.
Back out at the farmhouse, visitors can take a winding path to find a replica of the family barn (lovingly rebuilt by fans and friends of the family in a three-day barn raising in 2001). Hundreds of Disney pilgrims have followed Walt’s vandalizing lead and leave their own signatures, carvings, and drawings all over the timbers. Rebels.
Building a Paradise for Play
Now let’s travel west to Disneyland in 1955. The island created by the path of the Rivers of America was at first a barren wasteland, a mound of dirt with a few scraggly trees. But to Walt and his Imagineers, it was a blank canvas for creating another world of fun and adventure for Disneyland’s young visitors. Original ideas for the island included a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and a pirate theme to capitalize on the popularity of the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. Take that Pirate’s Lair haters.
When legendary Disney artist Marc Davis presented a new map of the island featuring replicas of colonial America’s historic sites, Walt still wasn’t satisfied. Frustrated, he took the plans home, and began sketching his own ideas over the top of Marc’s. Walt added a fort, cave mazes, balancing rocks, swaying bridges, and a towering treehouse. Suddenly, Walt had become the young boy in Missouri churning up his Tom Sawyer fantasies once again.
When the island finally opened for visitors in 1956, Walt had created a place of freedom where kids of all ages could run, play, hide, seek, and imagine just like Tom did… just like Walt did.
Tony Baxter, the Disney Legend responsible for many of your favorite attractions built after Walt’s death, spoke recently about the inestimable value of a child’s imagination. He called it “the importance of being twelve.” Creative folks like Tony have managed to hold onto the same spark that excited them at that magical age and use that excitement as adults to create an even more incredible future for the twelve-year-olds of today.
Of all the incredible dream worlds and fantasy lands within Disneyland, Tom Sawyer Island has the distinction of being the only attraction Walt Disney personally designed himself. To this day it remains the one place in the parks that explicitly reflects Walt’s twelve-year-old dreams come true.
Before we leave Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disneyland in California and head back to Florida, let’s take a moment to follow the paths to the east end of the island. Climb Indian Hill alongside one of the splashing creeks to the highest point on the island. You’ll soon come to a large tree with a spring bubbling up from beneath its roots. Up in that tree, “Tom and Huck” have built their own treehouse to serve as a hideout and headquarters for their adventures. This is the pinnacle of boyhood fantasy – a place loaded with wild fun and miles from responsibility – a place where their imagination can run wild.
Now look closely at the tree. You’ll see that twelve year-olds Tom and Huck have carved their names in the trunk. They’ve marked their territory and memorialized this location as the place where they let their imaginations run wild and where they felt most free. How very “Walt Disney” of them. (Keep reading below.)
Walt’s Signature Move
Before we cross the continent back to the other Tom Sawyer Island in Florida, it’s important to underscore one more thing about Walt Disney. He put his name on everything. Ever since Charles Mintz and Universal taught him a valuable lesson by wresting the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from him in 1928, Walt signed everything that came out of his studio.
When Ub Iwerks drew Mickey, Walt signed his name.
Soon every film, TV show, and merchandise product bore the possessive words “Walt Disney’s” above the title. This is the single most important reason why his name became synonymous with family entertainment for the entire world.
His signature became so sought after that when he was visiting Disneyland, crowds would clog up Main Street USA trying for a chance to get him to put his autograph on a slip of paper or an A or B ticket (E tickets were too valuable). Soon, this became such a traffic headache that Walt had his autograph preprinted on little business cards which he’d hand out to fans to speed up the process.
Today, his autograph is a popular item on eBay. People are so drawn to Walt’s personality and vision, that they are willing to pay thousands of dollars to own a piece of his history, to hold something he held.
Whenever Walt Disney put his mark on something, it soon became a revered monument to the man.
This brings us (at last) to perhaps the most mysterious and unknown Disney secret ever discovered – Walt Disney’s childhood signature hidden in plain sight within a dark tunnel.
In 2015, I had the privilege of taking my family to Walt Disney World for the very first time (read about our vacation of a lifetime at TouringPlans.com HERE). As Californians who grew up making memories at Disneyland, we placed high priority on visiting attractions and shows that no longer exist there. So Tom Sawyer Island with it’s fort still filled with politically problematic guns was definitely a must-do.
With my son, Daniel, and daughter, Penny, by my side, nostalgia washed over me as we passed through the gates of Fort Langhorn. Up the winding steps we bounded toward a higher view and mounted muskets. As I watched my kids pick off imaginary bears and passing mine trains, I was transported back to a time when my Dad stood by my side watching as I did the same.
In that moment, I felt myself recapturing my own childhood just as Walt had when he was designing this playful paradise.
Riding a wave of reminiscence, I followed my kids closely as they ran down the stairs and into a door marked “Escape Tunnel.” Down the tight and rickety stairs we lunged into a tighter maze of sculpted gunnite and cement painted to look like dug out rock. The winding tunnel led us into dead ends and blind turns, the perfect places to hide and jump out at one another for a cheap scare and a burst of laughter. I was a twelve year old boy once again. (Keep reading below.)
The end of the tunnel announced itself with a gradually increasing glow until we finally rounded the last corner where the full light of the bright Florida sun poured in. One by one we exited the tunnel finding ourselves on the shore facing the broad bend of the river.
Penny was the last in line. Just before she came out into the sun, she stopped. “Daddy, Walt Disney was here,” her echoing voice called from the darkness.
I ducked back into the cave to see what she had found, my eyes adjusting from the brief burst of sunlight. Penny was pointing at something on the cave wall.
There, carved into the sculpted walls, in the imperfect and simple handwriting of a Missouri farm boy were the initials “WD.”
The Hand of Walt
We stood there for a moment in reverent silence. It seemed like the most appropriate thing to do.
In the quiet I began to picture a young Walt Disney in overalls and bare feet playing river pirates and Indians along the banks of this quiet creek. I could see him running away from his pals and ducking inside this undiscovered cave, his chest heaving as he tried to keep from laughing and giving away his hiding spot.
The staccato footfalls and shouts of, “He went this way!” grew louder and then quieter as his pursuers passed him by. Walt caught his breath and began to look around. He could see that this cave was much deeper than it seemed. Taking a few brave steps into the cool darkness, he stopped himself short. “It shore is dark in here,” he whispered.
Vowing to come back and explore the tunnel with some paraffin candles and a couple brave compatriots, Walt turned to leave.
Again he stopped. “Don’t all great explorers lay claim to their discoveries?” he thought. Bending down, little Walt Disney picked up a hand-sized rock with a pointed edge. For the next few minutes, he etched one crooked line after another into the cave’s sandstone wall. He took one step back to admire his work and smiled. Satisfied that anyone who finds this cave in the future would know that it and all the adventure it contains belongs to him, Walt raced again shouting into the warm Missouri sun.
Under the Influence
My daughter broke the silence asking, “Do you think Walt did this?” Back in reality, I had to think about that for a second. At Disneyland, many of the items and places in the park remain exactly as they were when Walt was around. If this were in California, it would be quite plausible that the grown up Walt had made this mark himself. He designed the island after all.
But this is Florida. Walt Disney died long before ground was broken for the construction of the Magic Kingdom. Of course he couldn’t have done it. Could he?
Perhaps he did. But not with his own hands. Hundreds of artists, sculptors, builders, and engineers brought their incredible skills together to build these immersive environments, each one inspired by Walt’s enduring vision.
Somewhere in the WDI archives there is a set of construction plans, drawings, and elevations showing the precise measurements and fabrication specs for this tunnel. If Walt’s initials were planned to be included from the beginning, they will appear there exactly as they do in the finished attraction.
However, I like to think that something far more magical happened. Back in 1973, the mustachioed worker assigned to putting the finishing touches on the tunnel stepped back to admire his handiwork. With the cool, dark cave behind him and the brightness of the Florida afternoon just ahead, he felt something wild come over him.
Memories of childhood explorations in the swamps near his home flooded back to him. He recalled the freedom of boyhood and the magnetic pull of mischief once again.
He listened down the tunnel for sounds of approaching co-workers. “Nobody will ever see this anyway,” he reasoned. Then he pulled a pencil from his coveralls and snapped off the tip leaving a sharp, rough edge. With a wide grin on his face and the spirit of another boy by his side, he began to carve.
Your WD Moment
Have you ever seen Walt’s initials in the escape tunnel on Tom Sawyer Island at Walt Disney World? I’ve scoured the internet and cannot find a single reference to it. It’s like nobody knows it exists. If you have seen it, tell me in the comments below.
Even better, send me a photo of you with this elusive “Hidden Walt,” to prove you’ve gone the distance. Email it to me at TheFredMartin@gmail.com.
If you’re one of the first 10 people who send proof that you’ve visited the WD on TSI, I’ll send the very first in my new series of Skipper Freddy explorer badges. Follow me on Instagram @SkipperFreddy for the latest photos and updates.
How to Find It
You can find the initials just inside the exit of the escape tunnel from Fort Langhorn on the north side of the island. They are at adult eye-level on your right if you’re exiting the tunnel, and on your left if you’re going in the exit (shame on you, rule breaker).
Let’s do our best to keep this treasure awesome for everybody. Be respectful. Don’t block the tunnel. Don’t ruin it for others.
But let’s make it famous. Let’s turn this humble and hidden tribute into one of the great, must-visit sites on Walt Disney World property. Perhaps generations of mischievous kids will see it and believe that “Walt was here,” no matter how preposterous.
Many thanks to all the incredible people who made this epic story possible:
To my family and especially my daughter Penny for the great adventure and for finding the WD in the first place.
To the great Dennis Emslie, my friend on the inside who made it possible to visit the tunnel again this last month.
To Raechel Andrews, a stranger who agreed to a random mission to get photos of TSI at Disneyland for me at the last minute.
To Peter and Sarah Brookhart for letting me pick their brains about their experience visiting Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline.
To Adam the Woo for his insights on Walt’s barn in Marceline.
To Tom Nabbe for taking on the role of Tom Sawyer for life and remaining a boy at heart throughout his career at Disney Parks.
To learn more about Walt Disney’s Tom Sawyer Island check out these groovy links to some of the source material for this post:
In honor of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, I thought I’d take you on a brief voyage to a time when sea-faring thieves and blood-thirsty brigands reigned terror upon unsuspecting sailors – to a time when I was a member of a band of pirates.
This band of ne’er do well cads were masters of their fearsome weapons. There was a bass player, a guitar man or two, a drummer, and a “xylobones” player. And there was a ferocious Captain whose gravelly, rum-soaked voice commanded the crew and any sorry souls who came to hear the cannon-thundered sound of their pirate rock ‘n roll.
Captain Bogg & Salty was a Portland-based buccaneer rock band renowned for marauding the nightclubs, pirate festivals, and a public library or two around the turn of the last century. And every so often, the bosun’s pipe would call me to join the crew.
Okay, I wasn’t actually in the band. I was a hired to bring the story of the band to life by illustrating their album sleeves.
Drawing inspiration from none other than Disney Legend Marc Davis who drew much of the concept art for the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions, I drew in pen and ink and shaded them with black water color. I tried to infuse the characters with a little bit of menace, a whole lot of humor, and that true treasure every pirate seeks, freedom.
To get a look at what I mean, check out this one I drew for their Dick Dale inspired surf rock song I’m A Pirate.
I hoped to create a piece, like the picture books I remember as a kid, that viewers would want to take time to look deeply at the details and hidden jokes while listening to the song. Go ahead, look deeply. Can you spy the the pirates tube-riding companion? The not-quite empty flagon of rum? Or can you figure out the true reason this part of the ocean has such killer waves?
This piece didn’t make the cut but it remains one of my favorites to this day.
Still, the pieces from that period that still give me the most joy are the back covers. Each drawing seemed to serve as an expression of the spirit of each particular album. On the back of Bedtime Stories for Pirates, you’ll find a crows’ nest full of buccaneers singing their scurvy lungs out to nobody but the gulls. The backside of Pegleg Tango features a wooden-legged privateer swinging, nay, flying through the riggings without a care in the big blue world.
But the back cover piece that delivers the most yarrr for your buck in my opinion is the marooned pirate on the back of Emphatical Piratical. I’ll give you a look at it in just a second, but first I want to give you a step-by-step view of its creation, from concept to final piece.
First, Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson, the creative forces behind Captain Bogg & Salty came up with a concept for me – a marooned pirate who isn’t too upset about it. The music they’d been writing for the album had a laid back, island paradise feel and they thought their stranded castaway might whiling away his years on a white sandy beach.
So I plopped him in a hammock, looking out to see with a tasty coconut rum in his good hand. We loved the concept and could truly feel his relaxation coming to fruition. But with his face away from the camera, we didn’t quite have the same character driven fun we did with the other back covers. It could also look like he’s waiting for someone to come, hoping to be rescued.
Not our pirate. We wanted him to appear like he has found heaven on earth, so we turned him around.
Now we were getting somewhere. The look on this pirate’s face communicates pure joy. He doesn’t care if anybody ever finds him. You can almost smell the hibiscus. The site gag of the satisfied marauder marking an X where he’s found his treasure makes the point perfectly. This is the spot!
Before we could go further, we needed to take time to flesh out what our pirate would look like. The pirates in each of the illustrations represented a vast crew of pirates from across the seven seas, so we wanted to be careful not to repeat a face, or identify any particular character from the songs.
So I took some time and drew a line up of likely lads for the pirates in Portland to peruse and pick.
Now here was a rogues’ gallery of villains sure to give the mommies nightmares and the kiddies dreams of going to sea. With a little deliberation, and much talk about their possible crimes and back stories, we settled on the Spanish gentleman in the bottom right.
Huzzah! I was finally able to start work on the final piece. I played the rough cuts of the new songs over and over. Frogg Island, The Purple Tiki, The Plank Walker, and Waltz of the Waves kept me company as I drew fresh inspiration for the illustration from the lyrics.
Take off your shoes and pore over this illustration on island time. See if you can find all the hidden clues about this freebooting fellow and his new life here in paradise.
Also, get ye to iTunes quick to download each and every one of Captain Bogg & Salty’s amazingly piratey albums. Privateering music fans of all ages will be able to get funky with the crew of the good ship Pollywogg. And if your younger pirates tell you they recognize the voices, you’ll be pleased to find out that these same buccaneers went on to create the songs and music for Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates. That’s right. Captain Bogg & Salty once set sail under the names Sharky and Bones under the notorious Captain Hook!
If you enjoyed diving into my illustrations, let me know in the comments below and I’ll make sure to open the junk drawer more often. And if you’d prefer to read more about other types of adventures, I’d like to know that too. You’re the reason I write, and I can’t thank you enough for allowing me the opportunity to share my take on the world with you.
All content, and especially the artwork, enjoy the protection afforded all intellectual property. Some of it belongs to Fred Martin and some of it belongs to Hendrickson Hoskins, LLC. Please do not use it without first gaining permission.
Danger lurks around every gray-green curve of Disney’s World Famous Jungle Cruise. Trouble lurks there too, in the form of pun-lobbing, pistol-wielding jungle Skippers.
But Skippers don’t leave their particular form of trouble behind when they tie up the Congo Queen to the dock for the last time. Nay. When these sly-tongued sailors move on to other shores, they bring jungle trouble to the real-world in their own creative ways.
You see, jungle water runs thick as blood and never quite leaves the system. Over the years, former Jungle Cruise Skippers (is there really such a thing as a former Skipper?) have found ways to keep the spirit of the jungle alive through off-center humor, clever art, and great storytelling.
You may have heard of the famous ones like Costner and Lasseter. Skipper Kevin has a new book that’s super junglie. And Skipper John, well, he’s responsible for Up, The Incredibles, and Hawaiian shirts.
Then there are some of the lesser knowns who have taken jungle love to the masses in new ways. Skipper Brandon Kleyla birthed the amazingly detailed Trader Sam’s tiki bars at Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Polynesian Resort as a tribute to Skippers everywhere. Skipper Loren Hoskins took the jungle out to sea as part of the musical scallywagging duo Sharky and Bones on Disney Jr.’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
Skipper Rick Wetzel twisted his mic cord around his fingers for so long that it gave him the idea for Wetzel’s Pretzels. And Skipper Grant Baciocco dried off his boots and picked up a puppet to join the casts of Mystery Science Theater 3K and the Muppets!
But I’m more interested in the scrappy Skips who, like me, take what they learned criss-crossing Schweitzer Falls and turn it into real-life jungle adventure for everyone to enjoy.
Here are the tip of the top, the cream of the crop of ex-Skipper creatives who keep the law of the jungle alive.
Dr. Skipper David Marley
This pun-tificating professor earned his doctorate at night while stirring up the green water during the day. Today he teaches history at a local University and is part of a secret Disney history society. He founded “Skipper Standup,” a regular comedy night featuring, you guessed it, Disneyland Jungle Cruise Skippers. He makes some pretty cool jungle themed crafts too. Ever the historian, Dr. Skipper released a book in 2016 of tales told by Skippers about life on the rivers of adventure. Skipper Trevor Kelly designed the art for the cover and it’s chock full of funny tales from Skips throughout Disneyland’s history. I’m proud to be included in the book among the Skipper storytellers.
The river-thick wit of Skipper Kyle carries his podcast, Tales From The Jungle Crews, through all the watery twists and bends of jungle Skipper lore. He set forth from the dock in 2013 to collect an oral history of the attraction by interviewing wise-cracking hippo shooters (sounds like a drink from Trader Sam’s) from the early years of the park right up to today. I was honored to be interviewed for the podcast, along with Skipper Jeff Bailes, back in 2016 (listen to part 1 & part 2 below). Kyle has made a boatload of cool jungle swag including sweet card games and t-shirts. Kyle’s also a professional product photographer who can make broccoli look delicious.
Since the mid-nineties (do I really need to use this word?) “pioneering” women have taken the helm and cracked wise side by side with the boys, making the jungle a little less dense and whole lot funnier. Skipper Jen took the mic in the 2000s and hasn’t put it down, even after she left the park. A regular comic at Skipper Stand Up, as well as comedy clubs throughout Southern California, she deftly mixes jungle khaki jokes with bottle blond bluster that will keep you laughing for more. She’s also the curator of Tales of the Jungle Cruise social media presence showing off an impressive collection of historic Disney jungle content you won’t see anywhere else.
Back in the 80s, Skipper Andrew slipped punch lines past guests so slyly they didn’t know what hit ’em. He took what he learned in the jungle, and with a wave of his hand, turned that experience into a new character, “The DIY Magician.” Besides being a prestidigitator for hire, he helps other magicians build their own props and set pieces via his funny and family-friendly YouTube channel. Like many a Skipper before and after him, Andrew credits the thousands of trips around the river for his ease in front of an audience. “To paraphrase the late Joan Rivers,” he says, “It gave me a place to be bad!” Now watch him pull that Bengal tiger out of his leopard skin hat.
Ever wonder what happens when you strand a river Skipper in the mountains of Colorado? In the case of Skipper Alex, you get a weird and wild podcast that longs for the lazy daze of Adventureland. Side by side with his childhood homeboy Harrison Ownbey, he researches Disneyland’s most amazing secrets and myths to share with listeners of “The Back Side of Water” podcast. Start from the beginning of their land-by-land park tour or pick your favorite attraction to explore. You’ll soon find yourself coming back for more.
With 60+ years of cracking jokes and popping caps in hippos, there are surely many more former Jungle Cruise Skippers who haven’t totally forsaken the wearing of the khaki.
Leave a message in the comments below if you are or you know an ex-Skip who still regurgitates dad-jokes like a pro. I’ll add them to this post as they come in to make sure they get the credit they deserve.
Keep in mind I’ll need a picture of them from their Disneyland days and a link to their current projects.
The Setup (skip down to the title to dig into the official post) – With the pending release of U2’s newest album, Songs of Experience, this memory of Bono’s rock-n-roll redemption came back to me. Upon hearing their bright and dancey new song The Blackout, a friend told me it reminded him of something from Pop, U2’s ninth studio album. That thought took me back to twenty years ago when I was a young father, just figuring out the balance between innocence and experience myself. I was also learning more about my own spiritual life and what it means to conduct myself as a Christian man in a post-Christian era.
I was also a big U2 fan. I went to three of their shows on The Pop Mart Tour; Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle. After the Seattle show (where this story takes place), I was so moved by the experience that I told the story to anyone who would listen. I even sat down and wrote it all out to send to the U2 fan magazines. It was never published.
So today, on the eve of new music from U2 (You’re The Best Thing About Me, the first single from Songs of Experience comes out September 6th), I dug up my original typed pages and copied them word for word here. Actually, that’s a lie. I spent some time editing it to make it ready for prime time. But after I did, I’m still quite convinced that, despite my penchant for hyperbole, this description is very accurate to what actually happened.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy the view from the front row.
God Went Shopping At Popmart
(or Here’s a Song U2 Stole from The Almighty. He’s Stealing It Back.)
For U2 fans, there’s nothing quite like that perfect “U2 moment.” That’s the moment when With Or Without You broke your heart and when One put you together again. When Bono danced with a girl from the audience and it felt somehow like he was holding you. That moment singing Pride (In the Name of Love) at the top of your lungs from the back of a stadium and you swear Dr. King can hear you. That’s the spiritual feeling that keeps U2 fans coming back; the defining moment that turned us into fans.
I’ve been a U2 fan for a long time, and I’ve actually experienced many “U2 moments.” But none will ever compare with the spiritual rediscovery and transformation that I experienced at the U2 Pop Mart show at the King Dome in Seattle on December 12, 1997.
I’m still not sure how it happened, but dreams became reality and I found myself, along with thirteen friends, lined up along the stage barricade between Bono’s mikestand and Adam’s bass rig. Each one of us, U2 fans since Jr. High or before, had built this moment up in our minds as the pinnacle of youthful glory. We had convened from locations all across America, reunited for the chance to stand in the front row at a U2 concert.
And yes, it was all that we had ever imagined; the closeness, the eye contact, the favorite songs, and the deafening roar. Being as close as we were, the very front row, we could see every expression, technical glitch, nuance, and emotion that others couldn’t see from the stands or on the screen. At this range, we allowed ourselves to be enveloped and united under the sights and sounds of U2’s Pop Mart.
Everything about it was incredible, until…
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, a single released with the Batman Forever soundtrack, opened the final set. It’s a cool, hard rock song that wears like gold lamé – baudy and bold. I know the song by heart, but in seeing the images on the screen and hearing Bono’s intense delivery opened up the meaning of the words to me for the first time.
Flashing across the screen, they showed Warholesque images of Marilyn and Jimi, Janis and Kurt, Morrison and Mercury, Elvis and Tupac – all pop icons who died young. Then, mixed in among those tragic souls were quick cuts of Bono himself, dressed as his devlish alter-ego, Macphisto.
In that moment I realized that I had completely missed the meaning in the lyrics?
“They want you to be Jesus They’ll go down on one knee But they’ll want their money back If you’re alive at 33”
He’s right. Pop stars like Bono live to hear people calling their names. But they’re never truly revered or loved unconditionally until after they die like sparkling messiahs. As the song reached its crescendo, I heard Bono’s cry for help. He was no longer begging “hold me, thrill me, kiss me.” Rather, he kept calling out to us, his worshippers, “kill me, kill me, kill me, kill me!”
This song is not about Batman! It’s a suicide note.
Does he mean it? Is this an act? Has Bono reached his pinnacle? Is there nowhere left to go but Popmartyrdom? Does he want it all to end?
I couldn’t help believing that Bono was signaling his anguish – revealing to us that, like the fractured stars that went before him, he is indeed broken. Behind the flash and celebration of good new-fashioned rock-n-roll, I saw despair in his expression and on the screen. What more does a worldwide audience want from its celebrities than to live fast and die young so that they can idolize them all the more?
Shaken, I realized in my heart that I was responsible for this. With all my worship and fanaticism toward this ragtag group of photogenic Irish men, I put Bono on that stage – a man made god, to die, not for my sins, but for my entertainment.
I was shocked with the thought that I had brought him to this. I wanted to reach out to him and apologize. Bono, If I ever deified you, if I ever worshipped you as my god, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to raise you up so high that you could never come down without a crash.
I wondered if I was making something out of nothing. Was the excitement of the night leading me to believe a charade? To see something that wasn’t there? I looked around at my companions, my brother and our friends, to seek in their faces the confirmation or invalidation of my presumption.
They looked back at me with the same confused expressions I could feel on my own face. Like children walking in on a violent parental quarrel, we had all caught the same sensation that we were witnessing something extremely intimate and disturbing.
In that moment, we became united under a desire to do something to put Bono back together with “God’s Glue” – not back together as the rock star we’d idolized, but as a regular person who is loved for being human, not deity.
The band played Mysterious Ways next. It’s a crowd pleaser, but I didn’t hear much of it. Frankly, I was distracted by Bono’s apparent desire to die. I did however come to the realization that it has taken me three albums and two tours to listen closely enough to hear Bono’s previous cries for help – If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel.
Next, Bono dedicated their unifying hit One to Kurt Cobain, Seattle’s golden grunger who had joined the ranks of self-martyred rockers three and a half years previously. Ironically, Bono’s tribute came with him surrounded by corporate logos wearing a blue pixel suit in the land of flannel.
One, a glorious love song to U2’s fans and the human race, was supposed to be the final “feel good” moment of the night, and a triumphant wrap-up of the North American leg of the tour.
Then the technical problems began.
I was at the first show of the Pop Mart tour in Las Vegas. I watched as all of the band members struggled to keep in time and in tune while their cutting edge in-ear monitors malfunctioned and nearly wrecked the show. In a show this big and ambitious, with audio loops and video screens to stay in sync with, the speed of sound to stay ahead of, and to simply hear themselves play, the in-ear monitors must be functional.
Humiliated, U2 had to start Staring at the Sun over. This is something that should not happen to the biggest band in the world. It dogged them throughout the tour. Pop Mart technology couldn’t keep up with U2.
In Seattle, one verse into One, Bono began signaling to the techs that his ear monitor was not loud enough. He tried to be subtle by pointing to his ear and pointing up but the problem continued. He then started hitting his right ear with his hand and broadly motioning for volume, all the while still trying to play his guitar part and sing the song many in the audience had travelled many miles to hear.
Bono was frustrated and angry. He seemed to be thinking, “This is the last show of the tour. The last show! I just dedicated one of our most popular songs, the finale, to a hometown hero and I don’t even know if I’m singing in the right key! Why can’t you get this right?!”
Furious, Bono stripped off his guitar and dropped it on its back sounding a boom throughout the stadium. He finished singing, but in a tantrum. He couldn’t shake the anger. In a fury, he began smashing his microphone into the stage. Bashing and smashing, enraged and hateful, while the last lines of the love song ended around him.
He crouched there on the stage gripping the ruined microphone, huffing and puffing. The song ended and he stood. Bono shouted a furious staccato grunt into the hunk of metal in his hand. Only those of us close enough could hear it because no sound came from the speakers.
A roadie, reluctant and afraid, crept onto the stage with a fresh microphone and held it out to Bono who snatched it from him indignantly. The roadie turned quickly and made for a place in the shadows. He couldn’t, however, escape the hateful stare of the man on stage.
The Edge began playing the chords of Wake Up Dead Man and Bono sang the first half of the song still glaring with the eyes of a martyr on fire at the poor fool who gave him the mic. I stared in disbelief as Bono, known for his love and compassion, shot daggers of hate at his sorry employee.
Wake Up Dead Man is a song that has been tough for me to enjoy. I have spit, thrown up, and choked on it, but I still haven’t been able to swallow it. Mostly because it disturbs my Christian sensibilities. The “dead man” in the title is Jesus and the singer is frustrated that He’s nowhere to be found (Read the lyrics to here).
I’ve argued with myself over it since I bought the album. It’s it blasphemy? Is Bono actually saying that God is dead or, if He is alive, He doesn’t care anymore? Or is this a song like I Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which praises the greatness and mercy of God, yet still searches for more from Him?
Perhaps it’s a call for the Church to wake from its complacent slumber, a call for revival in the hearts of people who call themselves children of God. Maybe Bono is calling to the Christ he knows lives in him to wake up and show himself – a Christ who Bono has cherished but has been slowly burying beneath a rock star’s clothes and all the garbage that goes with being a hero to millions. Or surely Bono is crying out to himself, a dead man in need of waking from his own hypnosis of fame and fortune.
No matter what the song actually means, in that moment, all I could hear was Bono’s anger toward God, something I had never heard from him before.
And so I stood there listening as Bono, angry and tired, sang this frustrated and hopeless song. From that distance, just a security barrier away, I believed I could see into his heart.
I saw a man who has worked his whole life to change the world, to have a voice that the world will hear, to reach the masses with a message of hope and love. At the very least, I could see that he had wanted to make this last show on the U.S. tour a great experience for the thousands present, but instead it was a disaster.
I couldn’t help think of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, looking back over a life filled with accomplishments and worldly gain only to realize it was worth nothing. And he sang those words over all of us there in his “King Dome” asking, begging, “Is there one of you here who is awake? Are you all dead men? Am I dead? Has God left building? Is He anywhere?”
I heard his cry. And so did my friends.
As if to say, “Yes! God is still here! He is awake in us and we are awake in Him,” we began, in unison and at the top of our lungs, to sing.
“How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?”
These are the closing lines of U2’s concert favorite, 40. It’s a nearly word for word rewrite of Psalm 40 that U2 used as their closing benediction at nearly every concert since it’s release. That is until they reinvented themselves for the cynical 1990s and the song was shelved.
Now we no longer chanting for one more song. We were singing to Bono, reaching out to him, ministering to his heart like he had done for us so many times. We hoped he would hear the Christ in us, hear the Christ in himself, buried beneath his anger at the equipment, hidden by his fear of mediocrity and his demented longing for dead rock star status – to hear the Christ calling from inside one of his own songs – the Hallelujah of King David that he had sung so many times before.
Then, just as he was waving goodbye to the audience for the last time and turning to leave with Edge, Adam, and Larry, he heard us.
“How long to sing this song?”
The Psalm was spreading from my group of friends throughout our section of the arena.
“How long to sing this song?”
Bono turned back to us, his face still shrouded in sadness. He looked like a boy on the last day of his greatest Summer crying for the loss of his youth.
“How long to sing this song?”
He looked at us with an expression saying, “You didn’t hear a thing I said these past seven years! You call yourselves U2 fans but you understand me less today than when I last sang that lost song. All you want is for me to come out and play the U2 jukebox. Well, I won’t be made a novelty.”
“How long to sing this song?”
“Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to change me?
“I’m comfortable in the pain.”
“Leave me alone!”
“It’s so hard to wake up.”
“How long… to sing this song?”
Just then a smile crept onto his face – a smile of relief, comfort, of peace – the smile of a man meeting a long lost friend.
He turned and stopped Mr. The Edge, asking him if he could mock up an impromptu 40. Edge protested a bit, probably because he hadn’t played the song in 7 years. But Bono, along with a mass of emotional fans, insisted.
We needed to sing this song.
The familiar chords rang out from the golden arch. Bono looked directly at our group and sang.
“I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit, out of the mire and clay. I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.”
He paused, struggling to remember the words that his heart knew.
“He set my feet upon the rock and made my footsteps firm. Many will see. Many will see and fear. I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.”
And the audience finished the song for him.
“How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long? How long? How long? How long… to sing this song?”
The Edge stopped playing, closed the chord and took off his guitar. As Bono waved goodbye, his eyes met mine and we both saw changed men, awakened men.
The stage cleared, my friends and I came together hugging and crying in the realization of what we had all just experienced. This had been a spiritual rediscovery unlike any we had ever experienced before – not in a church, not in nature, not in a lonely cell, but at a rock concert.
As I walked out of the arena I thought about Bono. I wondered what he was thinking just then. Was he thinking about going home to his wife and girls? Was he thinking about the technical problems? About dying? About living? Was he thinking about me and my friends? About God?
I know I can’t speak for him, but I felt in my soul that he was thinking about the song, the Psalm, the ascent that he’d lost but found again that night.
How long to sing this song? Forever.
Epilogue: A lot has happened with Bono and U2 in the last twenty years.
Anybody who has followed the band’s album releases would note that the music is more joyful and spiritually deep than ever before. Their very next album after Pop, a return of sorts to their exultant musical roots began with Beautiful Day and ended with Grace.
Bono’s activism took on an even greater power as he linked arms with political leaders to cease aggression in his home country of Ireland, spearheaded the Drop the Debt campaign and Jubilee 2000 to forgive the debts of the world’s poorest nations, and created the One Campaign to bring awareness to the problem of HIV/AIDS across Africa, and continues to be a bridging voice of unity and compassion in world politics and culture.
It’s probably silly to think that that moment in Seattle had any effect on Bono’s life over all. Although, 40 does still make its way into their concert playlist now and again.
Also, YouTube became a thing. Who would have ever imagined that we would ever see this drama unfold again before our eyes on a web page that rhymes with U2.
Thanks to whoever recorded the entire concert so we could relive it. Keep in mind, it’s shot from far away in the stands. You can’t see or hear some of the drama we did. But what you can see is pretty dramatic. Check out the “Kill Me!” section at 1:45, Bono’s ear monitor freak out at 2:03, smashing the mic at the end of One at 2:05, and the redemption at 2:09.
This post is dedicated to the rest of my compadres at the front row; Isaac Martin, Matt Keortge, Rich Sargent, Rich Fuller, Paul Trudeau, Greg Homdrom, Shawn Cardwell, Jon Fuller, Chuck Inman, Eric Fearing, Tadd Reaney, Michael Sorensen, Brian Thomas(?), and our nosebleed section buddy, Dennis Emslie, who saw it all from above. And of course Chris, the guy in the photo above. Stay Popped!
That day in 1981 when I first saw him deftly weighing the golden fertility statue against a bag of sand, Indiana Jones became my movie hero of choice. And Harrison Ford became my favorite actor.
Whenever he released a film I was first in line for tickets. I even tried to like Frantic. During those late night coffee shop doldrums, when young men expound upon their top tens, desert island discs, and last man on earth scenarios, my consistent choice of celebrity to meet was always Harrison Ford.
However, I imagined that if I ever really did meet the world’s greatest action hero, the only possible scenario I could imagine would include an awkward, “I’m yer biggest fan” and the moment would be not worth having.
But one hot January evening in 2006, Harrison Ford and I did cross paths – and it was just right.
I was working as a production assistant for the 63rd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. It was my job to stand at the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica and grant permission to the select few delivery trucks, VIPs and limos that needed access to the stage door of the world-famous awards show venue.
The best part of my position was the power I held. There were around a dozen LAPD, Beverly Hills PD, and Beverly Hills Traffic Patrol officers along with another six private security guards dressed in tuxes, and they were all at my command.
When a vehicle pulled up along Wilshire seeking access, the uniformed officers would look to me for clearance. If the driver or passenger was on my list or cleared via radio communication with the command center inside the hotel, I would give the signal for the officers to move barricades and let them turn right onto Santa Monica into the secure hotel perimeter. If clearance was not granted, my little army would flex their muscle and wave the vehicle on.
Here’s the rub. Most of the vehicles that approached did in fact have clearance. However, due to some some aggravating factors – limited dock and driveway space, extensive post-911 security, and a newly elected Governator in attendance – they were only allowed access during brief, preset windows of time. If someone arrived before their time slot to pick up camera equipment or deliver a cake for the after party, for instance, they couldn’t block traffic. They had to keep driving.
The previous year, I sent Leonard DiCaprio and Naomi Watts around even thought they insisted they needed to be on stage “in five minutes!”
This was really bad news for a denied driver because, as all Angelenos know, awards show traffic is horrendous. Being denied access meant up to forty more minutes of traffic for the driver. Even if their time slot is just two minutes away, they still gotta go around. Drivers got pretty angry at me for that, but with the boys and girls in blue backing me up, all they could do was drive away bitterly beaten.
It’s under these circumstances that my little story (finally) takes shape.
After the red carpet pre-show ended, the actual ceremony began. With all the star power safely inside the ballroom, hundreds of workers descended upon the hotel’s entrance to tear down all traces of the pre-event festivities. The process is designed to be a seamless progression so that unionized teams of bleacher builders, tent poppers, carpet rollers, cable wrappers and camera operators don’t make war. And I was there to grant them access.
Just then a convoy of carpet trucks began rolling up to my spot on the corner. Carpet gets pulled up last so they weren’t welcome for another hour. One by one I sent them around into traffic oblivion. Just as I was about to reject the fifth carpet truck, their boss came running to my post from inside the hotel, out of breath and begging me to let his trucks in.
The guy was angry with the system and persistent with me. My cop brigade watched me closely for a signal of which way I’d go. The traffic light changed from red to green and back to red as Mr. Carpet tried to wear me down. I radioed the command center once more to see if we could help him out. But the show had started, and they weren’t answering.
As I waited anxiously for word, traffic behind the truck backed up heavily. A few timid honks sounded from the crush of town cars and pizza delivery trucks. It’s not nice to honk at the LAPD, but the natives were getting restless.
Suddenly, the rear passenger door of the first town car flew open. A tuxedoed man with a grey goatee and an earring rushed at me. It took only a second to recognized him. Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard, Dr. Richard Kimball, Jack Ryan and Han Solo were all barreling toward me, an angry finger stabbing the air. I was terrified.
“WHY IS THIS TRUCK JUST SITTING HERE?!” he growled.
“IT’S MOVING NOW!!” I shouted to the driver, the cops, the carpet boss and every motorist within a quarter mile. My faithful coppers all stepped hard toward the truck and the driver got the picture. Against all hope, he released the clutch and began his long drive around.
Harrison Ford turned back to his car, muttering frustrated thanks to me or whoever he’d been praying to.
I put my hand in the open car window and jogged alongside, escorting it to the bomb squad check point. I gave the driver directions to the stage door, then looked into the back seat one more time. The scruffy-looking passenger nodded to me in thanks.
Whenever I imagined meeting a hero, I guess I thought it would be a little bit cool and a whole lot of awkward.
It couldn’t have been better.
This post was originally written and posted the day after the Golden Globes adventure on January 17, 2017 at thechindo.blogspot.com
To experience what I experienced and see more of Harrison Ford’s angry points check out this segment from Conan.
The newly opened Bengal BBQ dining area at Disneyland features a bevy of curious Easter eggs which appear to reveal a richly hewn backstory that ties Disneyland’s Adventureland to Disney parks around the world through a mysterious club known as “The S.E.A.”
Disney parks are known for their incredible spacial storytelling techniques. They weave together seemingly unrelated details and hidden nuggets within the architecture and decor to tell cohesive stories that the sharp-eyed visitor can see and enjoy. It’s what makes it possible to visit the parks again and again for a lifetime without the novelty wearing off.
One such storyline revolves, not around a famous Disney film property, but around a secret society of wealthy globetrotters and treasure seekers known as the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (The S.E.A.). It’s origins are mysterious even among Disney insiders. That’s because details revealed about these fez-wearing, secret handshake-shaking millionaires are few and far between. Only in recent years has some of the folklore been added through hidden details and, in a few cases, overt placement in attractions, stores, and dining locations.
Do a quick web search for S.E.A. members and their back stories to get caught up (not to be confused with the Sea Org of Scientology fame). Here’s a couple posts from Disney Wikia and Attractions Magazine that were helpful for me. Then come back here to find out about the latest S.E.A. discovery, which is so full of story, I’m sure it will knock your jungle boots clean off! Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Great! You’re back. Now check this out.
The Bengal BBQ dining area is a set of rooms that used to be a retail location called Adventurers Outpost. The shop was emptied out to make space to get diners out of the way of a very congested section of Adventureland walkways. This change allowed Disney Imagineers and opportunity to do a little tweaking to the decor and hide a few fun secrets in plain sight.
When you first walk into the Bengal BBQ dining area, turn left and look up. There’s a line of shelves with various themed items on display. There’s a box full of correspondence from a bygone era – handwritten letters and postcards with stamps on them! Go figure. Hidden among the letters is a photograph of a quirky looking character wearing an old-timey pilot’s cap and goggles. This chap, it turns out, is Professor R. Blauerhimmel – a member of the S.E.A. We know this because his framed portrait hangs in a gallery within Mystic Manor, the Haunted Mansion related attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland. Incidentally, “Blauerhimmel” is German for Blue Sky, which not only hints as the good Professor’s chief domain as a pilot of some sort, but also a nod to the term Imagineers use for brainstorming new ideas.
(Please use the following information for good, not for evil.) I reached up to touch the letters in the box and unlike most Disney theming, they were loose. That’s how I got these close up photos of the letters inside. Cursory web searches did not reveal much about the names on these papers, although both Elizabeth Doer and Bessie Steele searches both uncovered some other fun adventure related sites I’m sure I’ll dig in to sometime in the future. Never fear, I put the cards back exactly as I found them.
Next to the box is a black case, presumably for binoculars, with a brass latch emblazoned with the letters E-I-T-C. Although the arrangement of the letters doesn’t match the various logos used by the East India Trading Company, those notorious letters will always bring to mind the empire-building villains of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Could this be the start of an eventual tie-in between Adventureland’s jungle and Captain Jack’s New Orleans bayou? We can only wait and see.
(Update: Awesome readers like you have cleared up this particular mystery for us. This is not in fact a version of the E.I.T.C. logo for pirates story purposes. The initials are actually EKC, which stands for Eastman Kodak Company, the longtime photographic sponsor of Disneyland since park opening in 1955. Don’t believe me? Watch.)
Keep moving around the room to the right until you reach another cluster of explorer bric-a-brac. Hanging on the wall is a famous portrait of the S.E.A.’s founding members dated 1899. This same portrait appears in various Disney park locations worldwide. The photo features several key characters involved in this ever evolving story line.
From left to right we see Harrison Hightower III (accused grave robber and owner of the Hightower Hotel, the Tower of Terror in Tokyo Disney Sea), Professor Blauerhimmel (back story unknown), Lord Henry Mystic (curiosity collector and master of Mystic Manor), Dr. J.L. Baterista (back story unknown – name means “drummer”), an unknown gentleman (possibly Barnabas T. Bullion, the gold-mad owner of the Big Thunder Mining Company), another unknown gentleman (his cold weather clothing may link him to the Matterhorn or Expedition Everest), Captain Mary Oceaneer (featured on Disney Cruise Line’s Oceaneer Labs and Miss Adventure Falls, the new rafting adventure at Typhoon Lagoon), and one last unknown gentleman (possibly linked to Frontierland based on his outfit).
Now glance back to the seated Lord Henry Mystic. If you didn’t notice before, nested on his shoulder is an innocent-looking monkey named Albert. This cute little fellow is Lord Mystic’s faithful pet who’s curiosity and mischief sets in motion the adventures that befall visitors to Mystic Manor. Albert’s naive troublemaking is akin to Abu’s from Aladdin or Mickey’s from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A little bit of his curiosity sets off a whole mess of trouble.
So why are all these S.E.A. references hidden here in the diner across from the World Famous Jungle Cruise?
To answer that, we need to bounce briefly across the continent to Walt Disney World in Florida to the newest restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. Opened in late 2015, the “Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen” expanded the S.E.A. lore to include an elaborate backstory focused around the World Famous Jungle Cruise and it’s world famous Skippers. The Skipper Canteen (for short) is an interactive, comedy restaurant experience where the infamous jungle boat Captains come ashore to serve your food with loads of laughs, a helping of humor, and a side of sarcasm. It is definitely the new must-do, immersive dining experience at the parks.
The restaurant is themed as the headquarters of the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd., the company that hires out boats to take tourists on dark water safari through the rain forest. According to story, the canteen is the mess hall where the Skippers might come for a little R & R between their long river journeys. The company was established by Dr. Albert Falls, the personification of one of the jungle attraction’s most famous jokes.
A portrait of Dr. Falls, skippering a boat in front of the waterfall that bears his name, hangs in the Canteen’s entryway. The company is now under the management of Dr. Falls’ granddaughter, Alberta Falls, who took over when the good doctor allegedly met an untimely and mysterious end.
But the Skipper Canteen is not just a cafeteria for hungry river guides. There are two other dining areas that help to fill out the story, each filled with details and references to the attraction that will keep you laughing throughout your meal. The first is the Falls family dining room. Decorated with all the comforts of home away from home, this elegant room is where Dr. Falls’ family would have dined separately from their wise-cracking employees.
The second room, however is more mysterious. Hidden behind a revolving bookcase (you’ll stand for an hour reading the hilarious, pun-filled book titles), is a secret S.E.A. dining and meeting room. Adorned with artifacts and collections culled from exotic locales by club members, this room is the most elegant (and enigmatic) of them all – and it confirms that Dr. Albert Falls was a card carrying member of Society of Explorers and Adventurers.
Now, let’s get back to Disneyland.
With the Jungle Cruise now established as being owned by the dead or missing Dr. Albert Falls and his confirmed membership in the S.E.A., it’s now obvious that the Bengal BBQ dining area has a similar story background as the Skipper Canteen. Clearly the S.E.A. references here are meant to communicate that this too is another of Dr. Falls’ outposts in the jungle. And it’s with this knowledge that we uncover what I believe to be one of the most amazing assemblies of Disney Easter eggs ever collected in one tiny place.
Further along the wall to the left of the S.E.A. portrait, almost hidden in a dark corner is a curious framed photo of some familiar faces. At first glance, you’ll recognize the famous faces of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The photo appears to be a still from the 1951 film, The African Queen, for which Bogart won an Oscar.
According to Disney lore, even though it was not a Disney picture, The African Queen was the inspiration for the Jungle Cruise attraction. Over the years, some have said that the ride was inspired by Disney’s true-life adventure series, and to some degree that’s probably true, but there’s plenty of evidence that Walt took most of the ride’s motif (the canopied boat, the “signs of danger,” the attacking natives, the rapids, and the wise cracking captain) from the United Artists film.
Now look a little closer at the photo. Above Hepburn’s and Bogart’s heads you’ll see part of a curved sign that states the name of the boat they’re in. The full name isn’t visible, but it’s obvious it reads “Zambezi Miss,” one of the dozen or so boat names used on Adventureland’s rivers. This photo, placed within yards of the attraction seems to be an official Disney nod to the true origin of the ride that should finally put the question of its inspiration to rest.
But wait. That’s not all that’s hiding in this story-filled photo. There is a stow-away on this romantic river excursion. Seated on the bench next to Kate is none other than Albert the monkey, Lord Mystic’s adored pet. That’s right. The trouble-making simian from Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor appears to have been rescued by the movie stars. He is clearly the reason they both appear so perplexed and worn out. I believe the monkey had been separated somehow from his master and Hepburn and Bogart – driven bananas by his hijinks (sorry) – are on a mission to rid themselves of his monkey business once and for all.
If that’s the case, then why did they bring the monkey so deep into the jungle? Why not drop him off at the nearest zoo? Or snapping ginger? The answer to this question lies in the photograph on the crate in front of them. You didn’t see that at first, did you? Stick with me. It gets even better.
Tilt your head 45 degrees to the right, and you’ll see that the photo is of the portrait of none other than… Dr. Albert Falls!
Are you ready for this? Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are searching for Dr. Albert Falls, a member of the S.E.A., because they believe he alone can locate another S.E.A. member, Lord Mystic, so that they may finally return to him his cursed monkey – and with any luck, be accepted as honored members of the S.E.A. themselves!
Unfortunately for the screen legends, there’s a problem they hadn’t considered. Sadly, Dr. Falls is no longer with us. If I read the hints at Skipper Canteen correctly, Dr. Falls, ever the adventurer, motored off into the jungle one green morning and never returned. Like many a cruise before him (and since), his doomed safari never checked in at the outposts. His granddaughter Alberta has presumed him dead ever since.
Hold up there, Skipper. There’s one more clue you might have missed. Don’t feel bad. Hepburn and Bogart missed it too.
Just over Bogie’s left shoulder we are given a glimpse into the untimely fate of Dr. Falls and his lost safari. Treed by an unhappy rhino, it appears that our pith-helmeted hero, the intrepid explorer, the consummate adventurer, the keeper of the keys to the S.E.A.’s secret lair, will finally get the point in…
Have you visited the Bengal Barbecue since the remodel? Send photographic proof that you’ve seen evidence of the S.E.A. at Disneyland to TheFredMartin@gmail.com. I’ll send one of my first Skipper Freddy adventure badges to the first 10 people to respond. Follow me on Instagram @SkipperFreddy for new Disney secrets and updates as they happen.