By Kelly Wise Valdes
My grandfather, Chet Wise, was a master craftsman/woodworker that handcrafted many of the architectural details during the construction of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. He was a patient perfectionist and meticulous in his craftsmanship. Apparently, Walt Disney had been very particular in the details of everything in the original Disneyland Park in California, and although he had already passed away prior to the Magic Kingdom opening, the legacy continued.
My grandfather passed away several years ago, and my grandmother passed away three years ago. I ended up with a small box of her miscellaneous personal items, which I glanced through, but I just put them in my spare hall closet when I got home and proceeded about my regularly scheduled life.
Fast-forward three years. When packing to move, I came across the small, unremarkable box. I opened it up and took note of some vintage Disney memorabilia, which wasn’t particularly unusual because both my grandparents worked and retired from Disney. I noticed in the bottom of the box a small, brown leather photo album. I opened it up and from first glance I saw some faded photos of what looked like a construction site. I realized that these were my grandfather’s photos of the Magic Kingdom, circa 1969, while under construction. Many of the pictures were taken high atop scaffolding.
I posted a single picture to my Facebook page, and surprised at the response from my friends, I picked out 13 more pictures and scanned them to post. Next thing I know, my grandfather’s pictures were being shared over and over, by people I didn’t know, literally across the entire globe. I started receiving hundreds and hundreds of emails. I was asked to be on podcast, and called by many media outlets. CNN asked to do a feature profile on the pictures. People were fascinated. I was fascinated on why all the fascination. Apparently I found out what “going viral” actually meant.
I called my father to discuss his dad’s pictures, but he didn’t know about them. I asked my sister and she had never seen them. I’m not certain anyone had ever seen these pictures except for my grandparents who put them in the album, never to be seen again. Until now.
I believe that many of these pictures were specific to the architectural things he personally worked on. I remember him telling us that he crafted the detailed and intricate woodwork around the windows in the train station at the front of the park. He also did all the elaborate woodworking for windows on Main Street, Cinderella’s Castle and Pinocchio’s Village. My cousin remembers him saying he crafted the amazing door at the Liberty Tavern.
I’ve started researching and formulating what was happening and why these particular photos went viral. I believe I’ve come to a reasonable explanation why so many people have been fascinated by them.
Apparently there are many stock photos that were staged and released by Disney that depict the construction during that time period. But, seemingly there may not be a great deal of amateur, candid photographs during this stage.
My father and I speculated that we weren’t even sure that the construction crews were allowed to take pictures. But, my grandfather was a little mischievous. If you think of the logistics, it wouldn’t be easy. In 1971, people didn’t have small cell phone cameras. My grandfather had a large, heavy 35 millimeter camera and he was working high on scaffolding. Some of his pictures from up high show the vastness of the whole construction site. One of the random pictures looks like it was taken from an airplane.
My grandfather worked for Disney until he retired. Although thousands of construction workers were there during the Magic Kingdom construction, when the park was completed, the jobs were done. However, Disney kept a small handful of these master craftsmen and made them full-time Disney employees, and my grandfather was one of the chosen few. My grandmother, Betty Wise, also worked at the Magic Kingdom since before it opened and was one of the executive administrative assistants who helped set up the executive offices. My grandparents worked there until their retirement in the mid 80s. They were active Disney retirees, belonging to the “Golden Ears Club.”
As a side note, my grandparents were one of 10 families that actually lived on Disney property, as Disney needed a handful of residents in order to incorporate Lake Buena Vista as an actual city back in the early 70s. There were literally 10 homes on a small site located close to the Magic Kingdom. In order to be part of this small group, these employees were handpicked, and my grandparents lived on Disney property until my grandfather passed away. It was so close to the Magic Kingdom that I could see fireworks from their front yard when I was a kid.
Today, many visitors may not truly notice the amazing craftsmanship that went into the smallest of touches in each building. The details of the exterior of just the windows and doors throughout the park are actually intricate pieces of art. My grandfather would want them to slow down. Look. It’s part of what makes the Magic Kingdom so magical.