Vacation Special: National Geographic, August 196

by Derrick Bostrom


I enjoyed this 3-year-old piece of mine so much that I thought I'd dig it up and share it with the rest of you. Originally posted at LuxuriaMusic as part of their "Magnificent Seven" column, it serves as the perfect fanfare to usher in the most vacation-y time of the year.

Back in the 60s, my grandparents had a vast display of National Geographic magazines, probably about ten feet of them, creating a solid horizontal column of yellow along the bottom of their living room book shelf.  Sometimes when I was really bored, after I’d finished checking their “Guest Register For The John” for new entries, or sifted once again through their collection of matchbooks and menus from the fine dining establishments they’d visited, I’d try to browse this collection. I wasn’t much interested in travel or natural science, so I rarely got much farther than unfolding a couple of the maps. If there was cross-cultural nudity to be found in these magazines, it eluded me; I couldn’t be troubled to sift it out.

But one issue always fascinated me, the one dated August 1963, featuring a long cover story devoted to “Walt Disney: Genius Of Laughter and Learning.” As a kid growing up in Arizona, I’d never actually been to Disneyland. But I used to pour over the park map printed in the gatefold, fixing the locations of all the rides in my mind. I read along as Mickey explained the art of animation to Mr. G.O. Graphic. I boggled at a photograph of Walt with his own collection of National Geographics, a whole room’s worth of ‘em, dwarfing my grandparents’ puny handful.

Of all the modern miracles on display in the article, however, the Lincoln automaton gave me the greatest pause. To me, it seemed as if they'd brought our slain hero back to life in a grand effort of technological prowess. For a youngster of the 60s, living as we all did in the shadow of presidential assassination, the cathartic value of such a feat cannot be stressed enough. I thrilled at the photographs of the selfless engineers, laboring tirelessly to get each lip movement and arm gesture just right. Most eerie of all was a photo of the president without his flesh, a bug-eyed robot head sporting false teeth and a benevolent expression.

But the 60s ended, the 70s raced by, and I finally got to see Disneyland for myself. I forsook, however, the shabby Lincoln exhibit, preferring instead such heady delights as the Adventure Thru Inner Space and the Carousel Of Progress. Indeed, news that ALL the presidents were on display across the country at Florida’s Disney World aroused not even a yawn from me. I visited Disneyland another time, but only to take a quick furtive trip across the Skyway in prep for a psychoactive audience with Captain Eo.

My grandparents are long dead. Their National Geographics were scattered to the fates (the menu collection remains intact in my possession, I’m happy to report). Disneyland is a hollow shade of its former self. The Carousel Of Progress is gone, as is Monsanto's Mighty Microscope, replaced by rides designed to appeal to a whole new generation: the Interminable Line attraction, and the Bottleneck Of Strollers. But Lincoln remains. Oh, he’s been retooled all right, and, inexplicably, he’s called by the somewhat disrespectful moniker of “Mister” Lincoln, as if he weren’t our greatest president, merely some colorful character appearing alongside of Moochie and Annette in some piece of Disney period fluff.  But he’s there all the same; a reminder of days gone by in a park strangely uninterested in its own glorious history.

Whenever I’m out scrounging through thrift stores or antique shops, I always make it a point to look for that August 1963 issue. So far, it hasn’t turned up. (Sure; I've seen it on eBay, but what's the fun of paying more than a quarter?) It was available for download on the Web about five years ago, but that link has long since died. I finally bought the damn thing on as part of a 30-CD-ROM set, along with every other issue of National Geographic from the last 110 years. No, I'm not that obsessed, but my wife reads it from cover to cover every month. It made a great Christmas gift.But now even the electronic edition's out of print. So you'll have to grab it off the links below. You'll find it all: defunct rides, behind-the-scenes imagineers, even a little tasteful mermaid nudity (just enough to satisfy NatGeo’s editorial requirements). And Lincoln is there too.

You can read "Walt Disney: Genius Of Laugher And Learning" here.

You can also get it here.