Welcome to My Pirate Blog!

Thanks for joining me! My name Alexandra Henry, and I am a Public History Major at Stevenson University. For my final project in my History 211 course, I have conducted research into the history of pirate Jean Lafitte, and how his story is intertwined in the attractions at Disneyland. Enjoy.

Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”  -Walter Elias Disney


Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Dead Attractions Do

When most people think of Disney, they think of Walt Disney, the creator behind the famous Mickey Mouse and the multiple classic titles of film produced over the years. When people think of Disneyland, California, they think of the popular, timeless attractions there. Rides like Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean draw fans of young and old. These classic rides are the foundations of the amusement park and hundreds of people pass through the rides each day. Disney, being a creative storyteller, added intricate details to the rides to immerse guests and to create real-world connections.

This blog set will examine the real-world connections created within the ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as explore an idea for a new attraction, and exhibit how entertainment at amusement parks can also teach history to the public.

The purpose of this blog is to give insight into research of the famous real-life pirate, Jean Lafitte, who lived in New Orleans in the early 1800s and his role in American history as a Pirate turn Privateer. The blog will also examine the creation and inspiration of a new land at Disneyland in Anaheim, California in the 1960s along with the now famous attraction Pirates of the Caribbean. To conclude the blog series, it will discuss the discovery of the layout of an unrealized attraction that never came to fruition as well as how history can be taught in the most unlikely of places.

Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Dead Attractions Do

Jean Lafitte – Real Life Pirate to Privateer.

Pirates are a staple of Pop-Culture in today’s world. Kids dress up as them for Halloween (including my little brother), birthday parties are themed after pirates and any beach destination along the Eastern Coast of the United States features pirate-themed knickknacks. Movies and television show have capitalized on the theme of Pirates and their adventures. However, most of these versions are very watered down in comparison to real life pirates that pillaged and murdered to survive in a world of lawlessness.

Jean Lafitte is a name that is often unknown in comparison to Blackbeard or Captain Morgan. This could be because by the time Jean Laffite was a pirate, the Golden Age of Piracy was over, the golden age was outlined to be from 1650-1730.

In 1808 after The United States had made the Louisiana Purchase, laws were made to prohibit the outfitting of privateers and the Embargo Act was put in place to make the U.S. neutral during the times of the Napoleonic Wars[1]. Jean Lafitte, however, was a smuggler and made his money dealing slaves into Louisiana. Seeing himself as a privateer, Laffite was a criminal to the United States. When the war of 1812 happened, Laffite saw it as an opportunity to clear his name of his crimes by helping the Americans fight the British invaders. During the battle of New Orleans, Laffite and his men aided Andrew Jackson and helped secure victory over the British[2]. Because of Laffite’s heroism in the war, he became a pop icon in the southern state. A town is named for him and even a historical park and preserve. He became known as the “gentleman pirate” of New Orleans[3].


[1] Joan M. Exnicios, “On the Trail of Jean Lafitte,” in X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, ed. Russel K. Skowronek and Charles R. Erwin (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2007), 33.

[2] Exnicios, “On the Trail,” 34-39.

[3] Exnicios, “On the Trail,” 31.

Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Dead Attractions Do

NOLA in Cali

“That’s from Disneyland!” A Pop-Up Exhibit and Auction, Van Eaton Galleries, 1966.

In the fall of 1966[1], Disneyland added a new themed area to their map to increase the parkland as well as make room for new attractions. This new land was referred to as New Orleans square where the area is themed to look like the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. Within the land, there would be two new attractions; The Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Two dark rides with fun themes and impressive animatronics to tell the tales of 999 happy haunts and a pirate’s life, respectively. The rest of the land would feature small shops and other set pieces to create the immersive atmosphere of The French Quarter. Disney wanted to capture the essence of the 1850s in New Orleans Square by giving a fun and joyful feeling to the land[2].


The rides would be open to the public a year after New Orleans square would debut but sadly, Walt Disney would never see those rides’ grand openings. Mr. Disney passed away in December of 1966, due to a heart failure, he was only 65 years old[3]. He left behind a legacy that still lives on to this day. Though this tragedy hit the company hard, the show went on and the rides opened in 1967 to the public’s delight. In typical Disney fashion, the ride Pirates of the Caribbean opened to much fanfare as cast members and actors dressed as pirates raided the square. They came across the Rivers of America and commandeered the Columbia, where reporters were sailing in to capture the opening day of Pirates of the Caribbean. Once on board the pirates raised their pirate flag and held the reporter’s captive as they raided the rum barrels located under the deck. Then they held a jubilant party onboard where they danced and drank along with the reporters and media. After docking the ship and started their assault on the guards outside the Pirates’ ride. A fearsome battle broke out between the pirates and the guards of the attraction, where the pirates were ultimately victorious. The pirates then broke down the door of the ride and enjoyed the maiden voyage of the dark ride[4].

[1] “There’ll Be New Things in Disneyland This Fall,” Redlands Daily Facts (Redlands, CA), October 4, 1966, https://www.newspapers.com/image/688395/?terms=New%2BOrleans%2BSquare%2Bopening.

[2] Walt Disney Opens New Orleans Square, 1966, accessed December 9, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIZqjbtOWQ0&t=211s.

[3] “Disney Aids Take up the Torch He Lighted,” Daily News (New York, NY), December 17, 1966, https://www.newspapers.com/image/463562932/?terms=walt%2Bdisney%2Bobituary.

[4] Disneyland: From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow, Disney, 1968.

Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Dead Attractions Do

A Pirate’s Life for We

No fear have ye of evil curses, says you? Arrrgh… Properly warned ye be, says I. Who knows when that evil curse will strike the greedy beholders of this bewitched treasure?

Audio from ride (pre-2006 revamp) 

Most fans of Disney know the differences between the Disneyland park in Anaheim, California, and the Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando, Florida. While there are a lot of similarities between the parks, the differences are what makes each one unique. One notable difference between the parks is that each park has a land that the other doesn’t; in Florida there is Liberty Square, which is themed with the atmosphere and architecture of a colonial town in America during the Revolutionary era, California has New Orleans Square which as mentioned in the previous posts, is themed to be like New Orleans French Quarter in the 1850s.

“That’s from Disneyland!” A Pop-Up Exhibit and Auction, Van Eaton Galleries, 1967.

One of the reasons behind the idea of New Orleans Square wasDisney’s fascination with history, the Louisiana Purchase, and the culture ofNew Orleans. A story about Walt’s visit to the Crescent City gives evidence to how Walt decided to add New Orleans Square to the list of Lands inside Disneyland; he discovered a crude animatronic parrot there and decided to bring it home to his Imagineers for them to modify the technology for use in the parks. He also developed a love of the culture and the food of New Orleans which inspired the Blue Bayou restaurant which is one of the most popular in the parks[1].

The main event of New Orleans Square was its new attractions; The Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean, which would become two of the most popular rides in the parks. Both feature impressive animatronic technology and superb storytelling. The theming of the rides is intricate, and detail oriented to give guests a total and encapsulating feeling when inside the attractions. The reason these rides were featured in New Orleans Square is that Walt Disney wanted an antebellum mansion for The Haunted Mansion (though it’s based on a house located in Baltimore, Maryland. ). Disney also wanted a pirate story that would be a perfect fit for the port town of New Orleans where a real-life pirate, Jean Laffite once lived[2].The ride thrilled guests with stories of cursed treasure and a gaggle of rambunctious pirates who were taking anything they wanted in 1967, while in modern time, the ride reflects the stories adapted from the Pirates of the Caribbean Movie franchise, where the pirates are now sacking the port city in search of Captain Jack Sparrow.


[1] CJ Lotz, “How New Orleans Inspired Walt Disney,” gardenandgun.com, last modified October 26, 2017, accessed December 10, 2018, https://gardenandgun.com/articles/new-orleans-inspired-walt-disney/.

[2] Disneyland: From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow, Disney, 1968.

Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Dead Attractions Do

The Legendary Laffite’s Legacy

Over the years, fans of Pirates of the Caribbean have marveled at the technology and theming of the ride, and like any fan, they look to see past the superficial story to uncover the tiniest of details to gratify their thirst for a more complete story. Being a fan of that nature, I have stumbled across certain ideas that create an interconnected story that runs all throughout New Orleans square and the attractions within its land. The discovery of just how invested the Imagineers were into creating a historical narrative for the area was fascinating.

Different nods and winks to the historical figure, Jean Laffite can be found all over the Square and inside the attractions. One of the first acknowledgments of the pirate’s ties to the Square was mentioned in an opening day video that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was perfectly at home in New Orleans Square because New Orleans was the home of real-life pirate Jean Laffite[1]. This homage to Laffite can be seen in the center of the square where there is an anchor with a plaque stating that it had come from his pirate ship. There is also a nod to the pirate in the loading platform of the ride, where a sign can be seen overhead naming the loading platform as “Laffite’s Landing”[2]. From these references came theories about what they could mean.

Over the past few decades, Disney has run refurbishments on their rides and attractions to keep guest populations from going stagnate. These refurbishments could be as simple as updating audio, ride scenes, or putting a new shop in the themed land to draw new crowds. An example of this refurbishment was mentioned by a former Imagineer: Eddie Sotto. In an interview conducted earlier this year, Mr. Sotto talks about how he wanted to add a “History Driven”[3]area to New Orleans square. He noticed the different dedications to Laffite in the land already and wanted to build off that. Mr. Sotto’s plans for a new attraction was a mega-theme-crossover that would link The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Tom Sawyer’s Island (which is in the Rivers of America next to New Orleans square). The idea was to revamp Tom Sawyer’s island into the pirate lair ofJean Laffite where guests would enter the Laffite Family Mausoleum (in TheHaunted Mansion’s graveyard). Once inside the tomb guests would discover a passage into an underground catacomb that would lead them under the Rivers of America to the island where the Pirate Lair would be located[4].

Above images are from Eddie Sotto’s studio blog outlining his concept for the Pirate Lair attraction. 

[1] Disneyland: From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow, Disney, 1968.

[2] “Jean Lafitte and the ‘Mega-Theme’ Temptation,” blogspot.com, entry posted September 14, 2010, accessed November 29, 2018, https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2010/09/jean-lafitte-and-mega-theme-temptation.html?m=1.

[3] Eddie Sotto, “Imagineer Eddie Sotto Interview – Part One: Lafitte’s Island,” by Jim Korkis, Mouse Planet, last modified August 1, 2018, accessed November 29, 2018, https://www.mouseplanet.com/12159/Imagineer_Eddie_Sotto_Interview__Part_One_Lafittes_Island.

[4] Eddie Sotto, “Lafitte’s Island (and Catacombs)- 1998 Disneyland,” Sotto Studios Archive (blog), entry posted October 2, 2017, accessed November 29, 2018, http://www.sottostudios.com/archive/2017/10/2/welcome-to-the-sottostudios-archive.

Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Dead Attractions Do

Amusement Parks and Public History

“You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.”

– Walt Disney

The Disney corporation is one that prides itself to stand tall among the rest of the amusement parks and franchises. They are known worldwide and have millions of fans who make pilgrimages to their parks. This is because Disney knew how to appease all audiences. Disney has created a space that not only entertains and excites young children but also does the same for adults.  That’s the true magic of Disney.

The story of Jean Laffite intertwined with the entertainment of the attractions in Disneyland is an interesting way to provide history to the public. Disney has always loved to put some sort of historical element into some of their attractions to give connections to the real world and to spark interest in history. Walt Disney was a man who loved to educate, entertain and to have attractions linked to history, leading the public to ask new questions and learn more about the world around them.

Public historians have a similar mindset as Disney. We want to make history interesting, we don’t want people to be bored or feel that its just a burdensome school subject that holds no meaning to the world around us. History is alive, and it helps us move forward. By entertaining and making people ask questions and discover stories for themselves, we spread knowledge and understanding across generations and cultures. So next time you visit a museum, or an amusement park look around you, take in all the sights and sounds, you may just find a hidden story waiting to be discovered.

Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Dead Attractions Do


Primary Sources:

Daily News (New York, NY). “Disney Aids Take up the Torch He Lighted.” December 17, 1966.https://www.newspapers.com/image/463562932/?terms=walt%2Bdisney%2Bobituary.
     This Newspaper article outlines the life of Walt Disney and how his team continued to make magic after the news of his passing. His death was not an ending note for the Disney Company, but rather a transitional period where those who surrounded him, went on to do the work he wanted to be done.

Disneyland: From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow. Disney, 1968.
     This episode follows the opening day of the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. Throughout the episode the process of the storyboard, the animatronics and opening day festivities are documented. The host, Marcia Minor, talks about why New Orleans Square is home to the pirate ride. She explains that a real-life pirate named Jean Laffite lived in New Orleans and the new area in the park made the perfect place to host the story of the pirates.

Exnicios, Joan M. “On the Trail of Jean Lafitte.”In X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, 31-42. Edited by Russel K. Skowronek and Charles R. Erwin. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2007.
     This chapter explores the legacy of Jean Laffite in New Orleans and how he impacted the culture of the city. The chapter explores his history as a pirate and privateer in the War of 1812 and howNew Orleans regards him today.

Redlands Daily Facts (Redlands, CA). “There’llBe New Things in Disneyland This Fall.” October 4, 1966, 6.https://www.newspapers.com/image/688395/?terms=New%2BOrleans%2BSquare%2Bopening.
  This is a newspaper article describing new attractions and lands that Disneyland would be unveiling that year. The article gives the time that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride would be opening; in the Fall of 1966.

Sotto, Eddie. “Imagineer Eddie Sotto Interview – PartOne: Lafitte’s Island.” By Jim Korkis. Mouse Planet. Last modified August 1,2018. Accessed November 29, 2018. https://www.mouseplanet.com/12159/Imagineer_Eddie_Sotto_Interview__Part_One_Lafittes_Island.
     This is an interview with Eddie Sotto, the Imagineer behind the idea of incorporating Laffite’s Island into the NewOrleans Square waterfront attraction. In the interview, Sotto answers questions about the theming of New Orleans Square and the attractions within it, as well as talking about how he had the idea for the Island attraction and how fans had given birth to a theory that connected multiple attractions in the park.

Walt Disney Opens New Orleans Square. 1966. accessed December 9, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIZqjbtOWQ0&t=211s.
     This is a short clip featuring Walt Disney talking about New Orleans Square in Disneyland. He gives some history about how the Louisiana Purchase led to the acquisition of the port city along the Gulf of Mexico. The clips also show the big bands that paraded through the streets of the new land while guests enjoyed the new sights from the Rivers of America boat ride, or from the ground itself.

Secondary / Tertiary sources:

“Jean Lafitte and the ‘Mega-Theme’ Temptation.” blogspot.com.Entry posted September 14, 2010. Accessed November 29, 2018. https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2010/09/jean-lafitte-and-mega-theme-temptation.html?m=1.
     This blog is a look into how the attractions ofPirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion and Tom Sawyer Island are connected in storytelling in the Disneyland park. The blog explores the use and reuse of props between the three attractions, the name references to Jean Laffite, and how an Imagineer had planned an attraction that never was made to make Jean Laffite a primary character between the three other attractions. 

Lotz, CJ. “How New Orleans Inspired Walt Disney.”gardenandgun.com. Last modified October 26, 2017. Accessed December 10,2018.
     This brief article outlines the inspiration for Walt Disney’s New Orleans Square in Disneyland. It gives background on how Walt came to love to the culture of New Orleans and how he discovered a way to engineer animatronics.

Sotto, Eddie. “Lafitte’s Island (and Catacombs)- 1998Disneyland.”
     Sotto Studios Archive (blog). Entry postedOctober 2, 2017. Accessed
     November 29, 2018.http://www.sottostudios.com/archive/2017/10/2/
     This post is by Imagineer, Eddie Sotto, who had the idea to replace Tom Sawyer island with a Pirate crypt and Catacomb walk-through attraction. This attraction would be based on the idea that Jean Laffite had allegedly faked his death and built a catacomb under his tomb to hide his treasures. The crypt would tie in aspects of the Haunted Mansion by being placed on the property and the Pirates of the Caribbean by tying in the pirate theme.