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Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Spirits of America

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

The American Adventure pavilion at Epcot was officially dedicated on October 11, 1982, by Disney President Card Walker and top representatives from the original sponsors, American Express and Coca-Cola. Among other reasons for those sponsorships was that Coca-Cola’s primary colors were red and white and American Express was blue.

Many historical experts and sources were consulted to try to be as historically accurate in the pavilion as possible. These sources included Dr. Alan Yarnell (Assistant Vice Chancellor at UCLA), the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the photo libraries of the Associated Press and United Press International, as well as many others, to make the presentation as authentic as possible.

In addition to obtaining copies of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural speech, the Imagineers contacted the Library of Congress for a copy of FDR’s unusual Presidential seal to duplicate for his podium. Other information needed for that Great Depression scene was what type of radio and microphones were used at that time, and the price of gasoline among many other details.

To duplicate the advertisements of that era, vintage architectural magazines were searched to include old-time ads for Coca-Cola (a company that began in 1886) and American Express (a company that began in 1891).

Image (c) Disney

In the theater are twelve Spirits of America statues, six on each side of the room. They were not intended to exactly represent specific people but be suggestive of the attitudes and characteristics of people who helped build this nation.

These statues range in height from five feet five inches to more than six feet. Each sits atop a three foot square base. However, obviously physical references were needed as well as implying a specific person.

Imagineers and PICO (Project Installation Coordinating Office at Epcot that coordinated the design, development and shipping of all the sets and ride vehicles before the park opened) employees posed in full costume and with props for the statues and photographs of them posing still exist in the Imagineering files. The Walt Disney Company has never released the following information.

Spirit of Adventure – Seaman

  • PICO Coordinator Alan Bourgeois
  • This statue was inspired by the famous Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial in Gloucester, Maine which honors all of the sailors from the town that had been lost at sea.

Spirit of Compassion – Doctor

  • Imagineering Project Manager Jane Jackson

Spirit of Discovery – Mountain Man

  • Show Designer Frank Armitage

Spirit of Freedom – Pilgrim

  • Production Coordinator John Novak

Spirit of Heritage – Native American

  • Senior Research Analyst Melissa Rhone
  • This statue is similar to Native American guide Sacagawea who was pregnant when she helped Lewis and Clark, and the statue has her carrying a child in a cradle board on her back

Spirit of Independence – Colonial Soldier

  • Conceptual Artist Gene Johnson

Spirit of Individualism – Cowboy

  • Production Coordinator Rich Apodoca

Spirit of Innovation – Scientist

  • PICO Coordinator Richard Ford
  • This statue looks similar to a statue of George Washington Carver.

Spirit of Knowledge – Teacher

  • Unknown Imagineer

Spirit of Pioneering – Aviator

  • PICO Coordinator David Todd
  • This statue suggests a pose taken by aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Spirit of Self-Reliance – Farmer

  • PICO John Payne
  • This statue was based on sculptor Blaine Gibson’s father who had been a farmer. Originally the face looked too worn and downtrodden, so Imagineer Marty Sklar asked Gibson to brighten up the figure which he did.

Spirit of Tomorrow – Woman and Child

  • PICO Coordinator Carol Mitchell

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Final Secret Stories of Walt Disney World and Disneyland Historical Highlights!

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