Hello and Happy (Merry?) Harambe Week. I was honored when Andrew asked me to pen something to commemorate this glorious celebration. Then I totally forgot about it. Then, just last weekend, he was like, “Are you writing something or not?” and I was all “yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s almost done.”, but that was clearly a lie and I am only now starting it.
When Walt first drew up the plans for Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the late 1980’s, he figured out pretty early on that The Bicycle would end up playing an important role in the park– what surprised even him was that it ended up as THE breakout star after being officially unveiled as part of New Harambe in 2014.
“The Bicycle popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a monorail ride from Magic Kingdom to EPCOT Centre at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster [editor’s note : He is referring to MGM Studios] seemed right around the corner.”
-Walter Disney, 2006
An early portrait of The Bicycle by an unknown artist.
It wasn’t long after the first phase of New Harambe opened that The Bicycle had its initial brush with fame. In fact, it was opening day. During a local broadcast, longtime Channel 8 reporter Bernadette McMurmuring began to experience lightheadedness (later blamed on the fake heat that is pumped in to Animal Kingdom in order to ensure it always always always remains the hottest park in Orlando) and felt as though she were about to faint. Luckily, the busty 88 year old legend had the presence of mind to stabilize herself by grabbing on to The Bicycle’s sturdy frame, thus preventing her from slamming to the ground and the certain and unavoidable death that would have quickly followed. The crowd roared.
“The bicycle saved her!” cried a man.
“That bicycle is a hero!” howled a woman.
“[Undecipherable]” bellowed a guy with a Tervis tumbler in front of his face, making it impossible to know what he was saying.
“Thank God for that bicycle otherwise that old lady would have died!” yelled a child.
“No, not God, thank Joe Rohde you disrespectful bastard!” screamed a…oh, hey it’s Safari Mike.
"The Bicycle drunkie" became the photography fad of 2008.
The news clip quickly went viral and it wasn’t long before visitors began arriving to pay their respects to The Bicycle (or, as the countless Brazilian tour group members called it, via a seemingly never ending chant, “a famosa bicicleta heróica”). There were tons of pictures with The Bicycle, vines of people reenacting the incident, periscoping of people reenacting the occurrence, snapchatting of people reenacting what happened, and one lone person instagramming it (#FestivalOfTheBicycle #FestivalOfOldLadyFalling #AskMeAboutTheBicycle #BicycleAttendant). It got to the point where Walt realized something needed to be done.
“Saturday was always "Disney’s daughter’s Animal Kingdom Day" and I would take them to Harambe and sit on a bench, eating poo snacks, while they tried to get served at The Dawa. And sitting there alone, grooving to Burudika, I felt that something should be built, some kind of area where parents and children didn’t have to wait like 2 friggin’ hours to take selfies with The Bicycle together.”
-Walter Disney, 2016
The crowds of people gathering around The Bicycle soon became unwieldy, so in an effort to restore some semblance of order, the restroom where The Bicycle once proudly rested near was retrofitted to an elaborately themed meet and greet area (which in no time became the most popular FastPass+ in the park). Not long after that, park management had no choice but to move The Bicycle into the new theatre, swapping places with Festival of the Lion King.
Wait times to meet The Bicyle often reached 120 minutes during peak season,
though visits were limited to a short 23 seconds per guest.
And then, just like that, it was over.
The death knell occurred when an overexcited park guest stumbled as he hastily approached The Bicycle. Unfamiliar with its new surroundings, this time The Bicycle could not remain stable and it tumbled to the ground when the guest crashed into it, eliciting a hush that spread threw the crowd like wildfire. Intermittent sobs permeated the air. In the blink of an eye, The Bicycle became…just a bicycle.
“I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all finished by that clumsy oaf barreling into that bicycle”
-Walter Disney’s dying words