“Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…” – Walt Disney
Since its creation in 1955, Disneyland has become renowned as a particularly American institution. All over the world, for better or worse, people associate the idea of the park’s streets, names, and magical atmosphere as a representation of the basic American dream. Walt Disney believed in that dream himself and you can see the results of his patriotism painted in the themes that create his beloved park.
A perfect example of Walt’s enthusiasm for his country is the many flags in the park. Disneyland has American flags all over the place. Upon entering the park, Old Glory waves to you from high atop the Main Street Train Station and follows you from different locations from Town Square, down the entirety of Main Street, USA, and all the way to the castle hub.
And that’s just the front door to Disneyland! By the time you to got to New Orleans Square, you’ve probably stood under at least fifty flags and few people would take the time to notice another American flag, flying high atop the pergola above Pirates of the Caribbean. You’d probably figure that this is just another flag and move along, but you’d be wrong. This single flag is actually a subtle piece of Disney Imagineering magic and the subject of today’s 4th of July post.
Thirty Star American Flag Over New Orleans Square
New Orleans Square (NOS), home to both Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) and the Haunted Mansion, is the last major creative effort at Disneyland to come to fruition while Walt Disney was still alive. Carved out of Frontierland, NOS opened on July 24, 1966, just five months before Walt passed.
Passing through Mr. Disney’s creation on a recent visit to Disneyland, I noticed that the American flag flying above POTC was not like the one we know today. As you can see from the picture above, this one only has thirty stars, five rows with six stars to a row. The flag we all know today is the one pictured below, adopted after the admission of Hawaii to the Union in 1959. You might be asking yourself, “if the thirty star flag wasn’t used in 66′, when New Orleans Square was built, when is it from?”
Flag Fact: Did you know that stars are only added to the American flag on the 4th of July following the admission of a state to the Union?
The 30 star version of the American flag was first flown on July 4, 1848, when Wisconsin became a state. It was the symbol of our nation for three years, until July 3, 1851, when California became a state. The previous 29 star flag was for admission of Iowa in 1846 and lasted only 1 year. So, if the flag in question wasn’t in use when New Orleans Square was built, it’s from around 1848, and it sits directly over Pirates of the Caribbean, you’d probably think the flag must connect to the time period of POTC. And you’d be wrong.
Pirates Of The Caribbean Time Period
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland was in development for a long time. Many different versions of its story and layout were imagined over the years, and in fact at one point it was going to be a walk-through attraction. However, in all of those many versions, the essence of POTC was heavily influenced by the classic pirate story, Treasure Island.
Written in 1881 by Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island tells the tale of a young man who unknowingly falls-in with a bunch of pirates, has adventures, gets away, and ends up with a bunch of loot at the end. Sound familiar? How about the fictional land of Isla de Tesoro where Pirates of the Caribbean takes place- Spanish for Treasure Island.
Just looking at the book jacket pictured above, gives you a sense of how heavily the design of the POTC characters was influenced by Stevenson’s classic tale. The menacing pirate with cross pistols looks like one of the ‘enforcer’ pirates from the ‘bride auction’ scene. And the fellow brandishing a sword could easily stand in for one of the pirates in the ‘mayor drowning’ section of the ride.
As for time period, both the book and ‘Pirates’ are set in the golden age of piracy, from the 1650’s to the 1730’s, though POTC better reflects the latter part of this time period. That’s before there was an American country, much less a flag, which was approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. That rules out our 30 star flag from 1848 having much to do with the ride, or vice versa, so now we have to ask ourselves…
What Was Happening In America When We Had A 30 Star Flag?
Disneyland is dedicated to the hard facts that created America and New Orleans Square, where our flag resides, occupies one corner of it. That lead me to wonder what was going on in America, and in the city of New Orleans in particular, during our target time period of 1848-1851. Below is a short list of events.
- James K. Polk was president.
- Gold was found at Sutter’s Mill, California starting the California gold rush.
- Construction began on the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
- The Mexican-American War ended.
- Wisconsin was admitted to the Union.
- In November, Zachary Taylor was elected president in the first presidential election held in every state on the same day.
- The Associated Press was founded.
- John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the United States, died.
- Elizabeth Blackwell became America’s first female doctor.
- James K. Polk became the first president to have his photograph taken. He died later that year.
- On May 3rd, 1849, New Orleans had the worst flood in it’s history until the Katrina flood of 2005.
- Edgar Allen Poe died
- The Department of the Interior was established.
- The Compromise of 1850 was passed.
- The Scarlet Letter was published.
- American Express was founded.
- Los Angeles and San Francisco were incorporated and Kansas City, MO was founded.
- The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, precursor to the FBI, was founded.
- Harriet Tubman conducted runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.
- President Zachary Taylor died.
- Millard Fillmore was president.
- The first America’s Cup sailing race was won by yacht ‘America.’
- The New York Times, Northwestern University, and Western Union were founded.
The City of New Orleans was a wealthy, thriving metropolis around 1850. It was the 6th largest city in America, the largest city in the South, and the only Southern city with a population over 100,000.
Due to its strategic location at the convergence of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans’ bustling ports made it the commercial heart of the Deep South. The war with Mexico was over, opportunity was everywhere, and the strife and horror of the civil war were still over a decade away. This is where I think we find the ideals and dreams that have created America.
In New Orleans Square, we find a country frozen in an early 1850’s bubble, poised in a state of optimism, creativity, freedom, and discovery. It’s beautifully themed back alleys are filled with hopeful people browsing shops with endless treasures from far off lands. Along the clean and well maintained waterfront, you can watch ships pass by, filled with travelers and goods headed to distant adventures and opportunities.
The 30 star American flag is a subtle part of the great puzzle that is New Orleans Square. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, you probably wouldn’t directly notice any difference between this flag from around 1850 and our modern version.
However, you actually do perceive that the flag is different and that subliminal perception unconsciously sinks you deeper into the overall impression that you are in the antebellum South. This subliminal perception is one the greatest tricks Imagineers have up their sleeves to bring us into their stories and make guests truly part of a magical experience.
Have you noticed our flag before? What other Imagineering tricks do you know about? Let me know in the comments below and sign up for our weekly newsletter to keep up-to-date with all our great content. See ya’ real soon!