Out of America: Theme park offers a Mickey Mouse history of the US

HAYMARKET, Virginia - Drive down Washington Street and the only hint you will see that something is up is an 'I love Mickey' sign adorning the warehouse of the Century Stairs Co - about the nearest thing to big business this community of 500 souls presently boasts. To understand the upheaval that will shortly overtake Haymarket, you must travel a couple of miles further north along Route 15, before turning left along an unpaved private road until it reaches a rise offering a magnificent panorama of the northern Virginia countryside.

Stop and contemplate it while you may. Unless a rearguard action of historians, environmentalists and local landowners can prevent it, by 1998 this vista of woods and fields in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains will have become 'Disney's America'.

This is a country where the real and the unreal tend to be indistinguishable. But the spot Disney has chosen for its third park in the US, its theme the history of America, will stretch confusion to the limit. The world's most successful pedlar of escapist fantasy plans to sell ersatz history on land where real history was made.

Haymarket itself may not be a household name; it is little more than a hamlet. But five miles from where Disney's America wants to stage daily re-enactments of Civil War battles is Manassas national park, where in August 1862 thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers died in the struggle that forged the real America. Less than an hour's drive from where Disney wants to create a 'Hall of Presidents' from George Washington to Bill Clinton, is the capital of the real America where 42 occupants of the White House have lived over two centuries.

The company promises to avoid a Pollyanna America, and honestly to depict the sufferings of the country's less fortunate inhabitants. As Bob Weis, a senior Disney executive, puts it, 'We want to make you feel what it was like to be a slave. We are going to be authentic and a little controversial.' Disney's chairman, Michael Eisner, struck the same note in an interview with the Washington Post: 'We are going to be sensitive, we will not be showing absolute propaganda.' Well, maybe not. But the provisional titles of the park's nine main attractions are hardly reassuring.

There will be an area dealing with America's military history, to be called 'Victory Field'. The itinerary also includes a 'State Fair', featuring a Ferris Wheel, a roller-coaster and a paean to the glories of baseball, and a 'Family Farm', where up to 30,000 people a day will have the opportunity to take part in barn dances or learn to milk a cow. Tourists would be transported around Disney's America in antique steam trains. As yet, all this exists only on paper. But already the society of northern Virginia has been torn asunder.

As the poster on the Century Stairs Co suggests, ordinary inhabitants of Haymarket and the towns around could not be more delighted at the prospect of a dollars 750m ( pounds 500m) investment and 3,000 permanent new jobs in a region hard hit by the collapse of the 1980s construction boom. But environmentalists warn that Disney's America will extend the sprawl around Washington, creating a new suburban horror show of strip malls, fast-food outlets and clogged highways.

Then there are the landed gentry of these parts, old rich like the Mellons, and newcomers like Jack Kent Cooke, the Canadian-born tycoon who owns the Washington Redskins football team; all fearful that 6 million visitors a year will doom their chosen pursuits of horse-breeding and fox-hunting. But the waitress in Matthew's restaurant, currently Haymarket's closest approximation to fine dining, was sneering: 'Those people? They don't want anything to change. They just want this place to stay a cemetery, where nothing moves.'

As for purist historians, they look to Euro Disney and secretly pray the company will get it wrong again: otherwise, might not the real historical sites in Virginia fade into terminal neglect?

Mr Weis and his colleagues naturally dismiss such fears. Americans are not so crass: sanitised 'virtual reality' history will merely increase interest in real history, and Disney's America will be a boon for all, including the crime-ridden and half-bankrupt city of Washington DC. Who knows, they may be right. In the meantime, Virginia's government seems set to give the scheme speedy approval. Disney's foes may hate it, but within 12 months the first bulldozers could be moving into those pristine fields near Haymarket.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Voices
A Siberian Tiger
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried