Thursday, February 10, 2011

Totem Pole Parkeology

Editors note:  There must have been some totem pole karma floating around recently.  I had been working on this post for the past two weeks, only to discover that Meet the World addressed Walt Disney World totem poles in this excellent article from January 30.  In addition, our very good friend Jim Korkis discusses totem poles in his most recent article at Mouse Planet.  Hopefully I'll be able to add a little bit to the discussion.

In Walt Disney World's very early years, there was a vast expanse of open land at the edge of Frontierland.  It was the intended location of the never-realized Western River Expedition and its Thunder Mesa landscape; instead it became the home of both Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  Prior to those expansions, the area was essentially grassy fields interrupted only by small clusters of totem poles and an adjacent walkway that took guests to the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes.  The above photo showcases a group of totem poles that were located near the original Frontierland train station.

This second photograph confirms an additional cluster of totem poles further up the walkway and parallel to the shoreline.  Taking into consideration the foreground location of Tom's Landing on Tom Sawyer Island, the placement of these poles would approximately match the area just to the right of the entrance to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  There is a sign that is consistent in both photographs.  Here is an aerial view to better relate how it all fits together:

So what happened to the totem poles once Big Thunder moved into the neighborhood?  The following aerial photograph from early 1979 shows where the land has been cleared for the attraction, with barricades extending all the way down to the area of the first cluster.  The photograph also shows that the rear cluster of poles has been removed and relocated closer to the shore just beyond the Explorer Canoe dock.  The front cluster remains in place, but in a decidedly odd manner.  One pole remains outside of the construction barricade while three others remain within the work zone.

A second, ground level photo confirms that observation:

The specifics of when and where all the various poles were relocated will have to be left to sharper eyes than my own.  Jump ahead another year or so and you have two poles now in close proximity to the raft launch to Tom Sawyer Island:

Yet those would ultimately vanish, leaving the remaining ones at the far corner of the shore, where they would over the years slowly vanish into the growing trees and shrubbery. It appears that a few have survived to this day, and remain tucked away in that remote corner of Frontierland, remaining a hidden discovery for the always curious theme parkeologist.

Photo credits: Florida State Archives, Bill Cotter, Bing Maps and flickr user blm07.


TokyoMagic! said...

Excellent "parkeology"! So some of the totem poles do still exist! I wish I had known that on my last visit to WDW. Oh well....something to look for on my next visit!

Thank you for the link to my totem pole post!