The words echoed in the Disney theme park and meant so much more than one could ever imagine ” … Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Magic Kingdom is now closed. Please follow the direction of the nearest Cast Member.”
The date was September 11, 2001…the day terrorists attacked America. In Orlando, at the Walt Disney World Resort, terrorism was the last thing on people’s minds. It was a beautiful day, a usual day, filled with laughter, smiles, and the anticipation of all the endless possibilities the day would hold.
Then came the tragic moments in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania…and then the announcement… ” … Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Magic Kingdom is now closed. Please follow the direction of the nearest Cast Member.”
Attractions were closed, people were ushered out of gift shops and restaurants. The cast members, who didn’t all know what was really going on, were instructed to answer questions as they were asked. If the question was not specific about the reason then the answer was more generic.
Once the guests were forced to the streets of the park because all the rides and shops were closed the human wall began to move to keep people safe. This is when all the cast members are instructed to hold hands and basically form a human wall and gently (without touching anyone) walk towards the hub of the park and then make the turn up Main Street. Effectively the park was being swept and every person in it would be caught up, moved through, and sent out the front gate. Disney Security followed each human wall and made sure no one got past it.
The “human wall procedure” was used in each of the WDW theme parks. As guests got to the main gate, they were given complimentary tickets at the turnstiles as they left.
Almost instantly the government moved to secure the airspace over this potential terrorism target. Gunships flew above the park armed with military personnel, ready to defend if necessary. The resorts did everything they could to accommodate their resident guests. Pools stayed open until midnight and characters roamed various resort areas. Cast Members were doing the best they could to help and try to keep a calm atmosphere in the midst of frightening circumstances.
Michael Eisner released a statement to Cast Members explaining the Disney closings. He concluded his note with these words: “Finally let me say our company around the world will continue to operate in this sometimes violent world in which we live, offering products that reach to the higher and more positive side of the human equation.”
It was a dark day across the globe on September 11, 2001. The announcement made in the Magic Kingdom still echoes as a reminder of lessons learned that day… imagine “ … Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Magic Kingdom is now closed. Please follow the direction of the nearest Cast Member.”
Our lives are often changed by circumstances beyond our control. In that moment, when the unexpected happens, we find our plans change, our direction changes, and we have to find someone to follow and someplace to go where we can be safe, catch our breath, and figure out what to do next. With that announcement people were reminded that sometimes even Magic Kingdoms are forced to respond and react when circumstances of life start pressing in from all sides. Yet, at Disney, just like at many other places around the globe that day…people did what they had to do, people responded, and often the simple things…cast members staying calm, smiling, keeping people safe….allowed us to catch a glimpse of the best of humanity in the shadow of the worst expressions of evil.
On the anniversary of September 11th it is important as always to remember that this day is a precious gift. A day to love, live, and make the lives of those around you better. You are never sure what the next tick of the clock might hold, circumstances that are beyond your control can and will happen, and how you react to those moments are important. Make sure this day that you remember the blessings you have, celebrate them, and embrace this day and don’ waste it! Live forward, serve others, and change the world.