Just a few days old and I've made some major revisions, so even if you've read it, breeze through it again. And again, further revisions (Sep 9). Once you spotlight a long-forgotten topic, new info is frequently brought to your attention in the days that follow.
I've vacillated a long time about doing this post, because it's not really Mansion-related. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that the topic will be of special interest to Forgottenistas. Also, it's a topic no one else seems to have covered, which appeals to my twisted sense of pity. By rights it should be given a mini-blog of its own, but I've decided to put it here where it's more likely to be found by an appreciative audience. If you put "Excursus" on something, you're pretty much bullet-proof anyway.
I'm talking about the Tom Sawyer Island graveyards, of which there have been three. One of them just recently disappeared, another disappeared decades ago, and the third was barely there, lasting only from 1956 to 1957. Most of you probably know about the first one, a lot of you probably know about the second. But the third? Not so much. So stick around and maybe learn something.
These burial grounds were the immediate precursors to the Haunted Mansion's outdoor graveyards, and remember too, that the Mansion was at one time considered part of Frontierland, so I suppose those considerations give us further flimsy pretext for taking up the topic here at LF.
The Late, Great, Fort Wilderness Graveyard
For those of you reading this at some point far into the future of this writing, know that Tom Sawyer Island was closed while the Rivers of America were drained as part of the initial Star Wars Land construction. It re-opened in July 2017. Not surprisingly, some changes were made on the island while it was closed. Tom's Treehouse is now only a prop, and the graveyard behind Fort Wilderness is gone, presumably to make room for the new wing which was added to the Fort:
Since it's possible that the little cemetery may yet return in some form, I'm not going to go nuclear over this. It's a wait-and-see situation.
My Loafing Place
Seasoned Disneylanders know that there are some quiet spots in the park where you can get away from the crowds on busy days and relax for a bit in relative peace and quiet. In my opinion, the very best of these was the graveyard behind Fort Wilderness. A few years ago I was at DL in mid-summer on a couple of extremely crowded days and was nevertheless able to sit around back there entirely alone. I'm sure many LF readers were already aware of this tranquil hollow. (And if anybody thinks I'm going to reveal where others are, they're crazy.)
at least by 1957. You can see it on the 1957 souvenir map and in 1957 photos.
There were sometimes as few as ten but usually eleven or twelve graves. However, there were at least seventeen different headstone varieties over the course of its existence. Although a few of them did shift around a bit (kinda like the HM berm graveyard that way), the majority remained in their original locations. The one exception to this took place during a rehab sometime in the 80s or early 90s, when they were put back all higgledy-piggledy, and they stayed that way until the late 90s, when an authority with more respect for tradition evidently took notice of this outrage and restored them to their original positions. The most radical permanent change took place in 2009, when the whole graveyard was spun around 180 degrees. The layout of the graves was mostly preserved in the front row but mostly scrambled in the back.
It's tempting to call them the other, other "Nine Old Men," but some of them were women.
and it stayed to the bitter end. It started in the front row towards the left but moved to the back and took Lloyd's place when it was removed.
left: Loren Javier; right: webmikey flickr
Reader Craig Conley points out that "HM" is the standard Latin abbreviation for hoc monumentum ("this monument"). His further suggestion that "ID" may mean idibus ("on the ides") is less convincing. I suspect it's simply idem (also abbreviated "ID"), a term commonly used in bibliographical notation with the meaning "the same [author as previously cited]," in order to avoid tedious repetition in multiple consecutive citations from the same author. But that's a technical usage. The word idem by itself simply means "same" or "identification." Thus, "HM..ID" could be an abbreviation for hoc monumentum ... idem, in this context meaning "this monument serves as (sole) identification," which makes admirable sense.
The second "unknown" variety was an open grave obviously there as a comic photo op: It was marked "Unknown Tourist" (later "Unknown Guest") followed by the current year, so it had to be updated annually. By the 90s it was just "Unknown Guest" without any date, and finally it was just left blank. It was probably there from the beginning and always found at the far right of the back row. It disappeared with the "higgledy-piggledy" rehab and returned with the traditional reordering.
History Within the History
Two of the headstones reflect real history in some form, while the rest are simply made up names, without any significance. At least I haven't been able to find any correspondents in history or among Disney employees. Sorry to disappoint. Don't you know I wish I had quaint background stories to tell about Amos Wilson and Thaddeus Walker, et al, but it seems to be the case that these dead men really do tell no tales. Nor the women—with one exception.
The exception is "Sacajawea, Indian Scout," the famous guide for Lewis and Clark during their 1804-1806 "Corps of Discovery" expedition into the American west. Her profile got a significant boost in 2000 when she showed up on new $1 coins (that no one wanted; our wise and benevolent government keeps trying to force the public to use dollar coins, and the public keeps saying No).
The second stone with a story behind it is "W Pierre Feignoux, J'y Suis J'y Reste, 1809." The date is wrong, and the name is meaningless, but the slogan is historical. If we want to properly catch the resolute and defiant tone, we should perhaps translate J'y suis, j'y reste along these lines: "That's where I am, dammit, and that's where I'm staying." It originated during the Crimean War, during the siege of Sevastopol in 1854-55. A French general of Irish descent named Marie Edme Patrice MacMahon had successfully captured a Russian fortification on a strategic hill but was told by another general to abandon it, since they suspected the Russians had undermined it and were planning to blow it up. MacMahon haughtily replied "J'y suis, j'y reste" and refused to budge. There was indeed an explosion, but it caused little damage to the French forces, and the siege ended soon afterwards when the Russians withdrew. Thus was born a French catch-phrase for heroic stubbornness.
Until recent days, the slogan spoke well enough for the headstone itself, since it did indeed stay right where it was planted for a very long time. That's where it was, and that's what it said.
Knott's Bury Farm
I'm not sure there is any need to look for an immediate inspiration for the Fort Wilderness cemetery, but if there was one, I'd say the "Boot Hill" graveyard at Knott's Berry Farm is as good a candidate as any. What's funny is that those are funny, whereas the Fort Wilderness graves are utterly grave.
I suppose one could argue that the serious tone is due to the fact that 1956 Disneyland tended to present the Frontier experience with a straight face ("hard facts" and all that), but then there's that gag grave, breaking the fourth wall by referring to Disneyland's "tourists" and "guests" and put there strictly for yuks. At any rate, the quintessentially Mansionistic joke about you the visitor joining the resident revenants was already foreshadowed on Tom Sawyer Island in the fifties.
Before we move on, there's one more quirky and irresistible detail about the FW graveyard that I cannot pass by in silence. Before the 2009 flip, there were four fiberglass tree stumps in there. They were so realistic and so exquisitely done that they were . . . oddly beautiful things.
Someone in the model shop went to a lot of bother for those. Why? Well, if you look closely, you'll see that they are in circumference about the size of the logs that make up the Fort itself. You're supposed to think of this graveyard as something the settlers put into a clearing in the forest created by the cutting of timbers to build the Fort. I don't suppose that's too terribly important, but you hadn't thought of it, had you? And now that you have, it inspires your imagination to tell you a tale of how this thing came to be, does it not? And Disney does this sort of silent storytelling better than just about anyone, do they not? And pompous rhetorical questioning gets wearisome after awhile, does it not?
Let's move on to gravesite number two, shall we?
The Indian Burial Grounds
Plenty of you remember this one as well, since it only disappeared in the 1990s after being a fixture on TSI since it opened in 1956. It was conspicuous enough to warrant inclusion on the park's McKim-inspired souvenir maps, beginning in 1966.
tableau in the old Indian Village, over on the mainland where Critter Country is now:
Indian Burial Sacred Ground
After death, a brave's body is wrapped, placed on high poles, and faced to the East...
The tall pole in front reveals his life story...The scalps prove his courage in war...
The buffalo skull shows he was a hunter...On the ground below are his weapons and tools
Okay, it's time now to look at the third and most obscure of the lost TSI cemeteries.
Since the graveyard behind the Fort was not original to the 1956 opening but was definitely there by the second half of 1957, I suspect that the riverfront stones came out when the Fort graveyard went in. In support of this theory is the fact that one of the original riverfront stones had a similar epitaph to one of the Fort stones, and it's unlikely that both would have been on display at the same time.
Photos of the first pair exist, but the headstones are so easily overlooked in the relevant pictures that they are practically invisible. The two best photos I've seen are both from the Major.
I've collected a few other photos in which one or both markers can be seen. They're hopelessly blurry, but the photos themselves are
interesting enough in their own right to justify putting them up. Now you have all the photos of the original set that I have.
Gorillas Don't Blog
This one I just discovered today (Sep 9, 2017):
Jon on flickr
[I've incorporated a good suggestion from reader Melissa on the third one]