I am just old enough to remember Walt Disney. He remains one of my personal heroes and I think one of the genuine geniuses of the 20th century. My earliest childhood memories are of watching him host his Sunday night TV show on NBC. I loved all the episodes but I particularly loved the episodes set in Disneyland. Walt's park seemed like a dreamland made real. When he announced plans to build a new park in Florida, I could not wait.
People wondered if Walt had finally gone off the deep end. Model cities were always great on paper, not so much in execution. Their failures littered the 19th and 20th century landscape. And yet, when you heard Disney talk about it, it sound really exciting – and very possible. Especially in an era when we were regularly blasting off into space and aiming for the moon. When Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) seemed a realistic prediction of where we would be in 35 years time. When we were living in an era when anything seemed possible – and our leaders encouraged us to believe. I only saw snippets of the complete EPCOT film as a child. You can watch the whole thing HERE. Walt hoped to break ground in 1967 and open the doors in 1969.
But then right before Christmas 1966, only a few weeks after he shared his dream, Walt Disney unexpectedly succumbed to lung cancer. The world went into mourning. His passing is one of the earliest bad memories that I have. I can still remember the shock. But I have never forgotten about EPCOT.
And it has always seemed to me that that moment when Walt died and we all collectively turned away from EPCOT was a turning point in our expectations for the future. Over the next few years, we went to the moon then succumbed to the naysayers who wondered why we were wasting our money on space (as if the money has been better spent since here on earth).
Most of my adult life I have been listening to people telling me that the future will be worse than the past. And yet I have also lived long enough to know that you will have the future you dream. If you think it is going to suck, it will suck. If you think that anything is possible, it will be. That is true about both people and societies.
Which is why I choose to still believe in the possible. I cannot live in the real EPCOT but I try to live there every day in my mind. I prefer to believe in a “great big beautiful tomorrow.” Which is why I continue to say with great pride:
Ich bin ein EPCOTer -- I am an EPCOTer.
You can read more about EPCOT in these fabulous books:
Walt and the Promise of Progress City
By Sam Gennawey
Ayefour Publishing, 2011
Walt Disney and the Quest for Community
By Steve Mannheim
Ashgate Publishing, 2002