Before we begin the history of Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Tree lets go over some American history first.
The Original Liberty Tree
In the summer of 1765 the Sons of Liberty started gathering under an elm tree in Boston to protest the Stamp Act that was imposed on the colonies. This protest became the first of many leading up to the American Revolution. This elm tree became a gathering place for the revolutionaries and became known as the “Liberty Tree.” With victories like the repeal of the Stamp Act, the dissenters would hang a lantern in the tree in a sign of solidarity.
After news of this first “Liberty Tree” spread,other patriots across the colonies adopted these same practices
The Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Tree
The Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Tree got its start in Disneyland in the 1950s but, if you have ever been to Disneyland you will tell me that there is no Liberty Tree or Liberty Square for that matter and you are absolutely right! Walt Disney had announced plans of expansion for Disneyland in 1956 in the way of a Liberty Street on the east side of Main Street. It would have been a side street, so to speak, with a col de sac at the end where Liberty Square and the Liberty Tree would reside.
Unfortunately, the 1950s was a very busy time for Walt Disney and many ideas never came to be, even when they were in the planning stages and even been announced. But as they say in Disney, no good idea is ever forgotten! Even the Hall of Presidents was in the original plans for Disneyland’s Liberty Square and brought over to Disney World.
Back to the tree, using the designs from the original Liberty Square the Imagineers had to find a tree worthy of being a “Liberty Tree.” The tree we see today was found on Disney property during construction and had to be moved about 6 miles from its original location to where it currently resides. The tree is a Southern Live Oak and was about 60 feet tall and weighed over 35 tons! To move the tree Disney used a technique invented by Bill Evans, Walt Disney’s hand picked landscaper, when moving trees for Dinseyland. In an interview with Paul Anderson, Bill Evans explained the process this way:
So rather than seizing it around the throat, so to speak, we bored a couple of holes through the trunk—one north-south and one east-west—and put some inch and a half steel through the trunk and thus provided a convenient handle. We then picked the tree up by these steel pins and transported it. And now you see it weighed about one-fifth of what it would have weighed.
So, this is the process the team used when moving the “Liberty Tree” to its current home. Bill Evans talked about this experience also:
Due to its success we carried the method down to Florida, where the local nurserymen and landscape people were absolutely horrified, including the professional pathologist from the University of Florida I might add. He predicted our trees would die in two years if we bored a hole through them. And we must have moved a thousand trees that way in Florida, all kinds of trees including the Liberty Tree. [Laughing] And hardly any of them died.
As you can tell, those “tree experts” ended up being wrong as the Liberty Tree stands some 50 or so years later. It has had its troubles, though, a younger tree has been grafted to it to help it thrive and some rot had to be removed and replaced with cement.
The oak tree is now over 145 years old and stands as a powerful symbol in Liberty Square. Staying true to the history of the original “Liberty Tree,” thirteen lanterns are hung from the tree marking the victory of the original thirteen colonies. Unfortunately the original trees that started the whole thing have since died. The last being cut down in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd came through Maryland and destroyed it. Now you could say the last standing “Liberty Tree” is standing in the Magic Kingdom and will hopefully be preserved for a long time as a symbol of our American patriotism!
The next time you are in Liberty Square, be sure to pay special attention to the tree and take time to look at the details that surround it. Disney is trying to tell us a story everywhere we go, so try to listen.