05 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Ready for Opening Day

I originally ran this piece more than a decade ago, about a thin paper publication that had brought joy to so many children over the years. In the issue highlighted, the publication had shared an early look at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, before it had even opened. This now 50 year old Weekly Reader article and map are perhaps even more spellbinding to me than they were a decade ago.

Back when I was a kid in elementary school, I always looked forward to Fridays. Sure, there were the dreaded spelling tests, and everyone looked forward to breaking free from school as there was a whole weekend to explore. One of my favorite parts of Friday, however, was when the teacher handed out a new edition of Weekly Reader. Yes, I understand that places me in a weird category, but I loved these little enrichment pamphlets.

The reading comprehension based educational materials from Weekly Reader have been produced for well over a hundred years now. When I was a kid I didn’t know I was learning, it was simply interesting articles about extreme sports, new movies, and some clever puzzles to solve. The publication merged with Scholastic News, and ceased printing. I wish it was still around, and found ways to be just as intriguing to students today as it had been to me back then.

Going back a little further than my own school days, the summer edition of Weekly Reader from 1971 gave children a peak at what was coming from a little Disney project in central Florida. The cover shows a child constructing his own castle and encouraging his dog to help out as opening day was only two months away. The interior article featured three construction images and a brief description to whet the appetite of vacation hungry students.

The real joy of this issue, however, comes from the perfectly gorgeous map of the park, monorails and Contemporary Resort. The attraction names weren’t released with the publication, listing instead Car Ride, Tree House, and Resort Hotel, but the spirit of what the Magic Kingdom was and would become is definitely captured in this artwork. Considering how much some of those early hand drawn and painted souvenir maps meant to many of us, and still mean to us, this is a simply stunning example of the embarrassment of riches Disney had in the art department.

Personally, they could sell a reproduction of this very map right now and I'd frame it on my office wall.

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