Vicky and I have had a number of very memorable visits to Disneyland during the Halloween season. I confess that I sometimes long to see the park in its “natural” state without any holiday or special event decorations, but I can’t deny that I just love the “HalloweenTime” vibe. We usually dress for the occasion as vampires, in honor of Mickey’s preferred costume (though I’m sad to see that he’s lost some of his bite this season). We prefer the “classic” vampire look that we grew up with rather than the “moody teenager” style that’s in vogue these days.
One of the most compelling and beautiful sights in the park at this time of year is the Halloween Tree in Frontierland. The glowing, orange light of this very special tree, laden with tiny Jack-O-Lanterns never fails to stop us in our tracks, and we’ll often stand for minutes just soaking up the beauty. The Halloween Tree is much more than just a decoration though, and it stands now as a monument to the memory of a great writer, a great force in culture, and a great friend of Walt Disney; Ray Bradbury.
It’s difficult for any young person today to imagine the importance of Bradbury’s writing to people in the ’60’s and ’70’s. His collections of short stories like “The Illustrated Man” and “The Martian Chronicles” as well as his powerful novel “Fahrenheit 451” were must reading for everyone I knew. Bradbury’s 1972 fantasy novel “The Halloween Tree” was his way of bringing the long history of this Fall celebration to young readers in an engaging fashion by following the adventures of a group of boys as they are swept through space and time. It was subsequently adapted into an Emmy Award winning animated film in 1993 featuring the voices of Ray Bradbury himself and Leonard Nimoy.
As a boy, I idolized Ray Bradbury just as I idolized “Uncle Walt” without ever knowing of the connection between these two great men. It wasn’t until decades later that I learned of their friendship through my study of the history of Disneyland. Walt met Ray on the street by chance in 1960. That they would become friends is no real surprise. Bradbury always saw himself as primarily a writer of fantasy rather than science fiction, and both men could rightly be called giants in the world of fantasy entertainment. As reported throughout Sam Gennawey’s excellent book “The Disneyland Story”, Bradbury was a staunch supporter of Disneyland and he spoke often and publicly about the park’s laudable effects on culture, urban design, and the human spirit. The effect that his vocal support for Walt’s new concept in entertainment had on the park’s credibility cannot be underestimated.
So it was with great satisfaction that I heard of the dedication of the Halloween Tree on October 31st, 2007 as an acknowledgement of Bradbury’s influence on Disneyland, and a fulfillment of his dream to see his literary symbol of Halloween grace the park. I was pleased to learn that Ray Bradbury himself was present at the dedication ceremony, and that he lived to see four more seasons of his beautiful tree glowing in the Fall nights at the park before his passing in June of 2012.
It was during Bradbury’s last opportunity to enjoy the Halloween Tree in 2011 that Vicky and I first made a serious effort to do it justice in photographs. While we were shooting the tree in all its nighttime glory, we noticed a maintenance CM working near the tree. He was sweeping up the leaves that had fallen to the ground. It suddenly struck us as somehow wrong that leaves from such an important link to the past of not just the park, but also to Walt and Ray Bradbury were going to end up in the garbage. Thus we set out to rescue a couple of these fallen leaves from their sad end in a trash bin. We quickly collected two nice ones before they were swept up and then placed them carefully between the unfurled pages of two park maps. They rode in our backpack until they made it to our hotel room, where they rested comfortably until we eventually got them safely home at the end of our trip.
Now…what to do with them? They clearly deserved honorable treatment given their nearly “royal” lineage. So we set out to raise them to the level of Disneyana. They would, by vestige of their inherent natural uniqueness become the cornerstone of a genuinely one-of-a-kind piece of Disney art to decorate the wall of my office.
Photographs are at their very best when they are present to remind us of something important, beautiful, or both. All too often they reside unseen in dusty photo albums, or shoe boxes, and these days, on hard drives. This picture at least, with its leafy embellishment, serves to remind me every day of Walt, Ray, and a bunch of wonderful HalloweenTime visits to my favorite place on Earth.
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