We asked several Walt Disney Imagineering alumni to share their reactions to the tragedy at Notre-Dame. Tom Morris responded with the following which we wish to share with you in its entirety.
It was of course shocking to see as the news broke but somehow I felt that “our lady” was going to come out of it mostly okay—so much stone vs wood. I knew that the pitched zinc roof and spire were 19th century “modern renovations” and vaguely recalled seeing the presence of heavy timber beams up in the attic, and so estimated the fire would be confined to that area.
However, I always assumed the spire was made of bronze and to see it light up like a torch was horrifying and, of course, to watch it fall was eerily reminiscent of another iconic symbol that fell–and was not supposed to–18 years earlier.
For our fantasy fairytale castle with a French accent the spire was too serious, too real. “French accent” would come in the way of other tributes and inspirations found in our research.
As finishing touches were being drawn up for the castle, we did draw inspiration from Violet-le-duc, most notably from nearby Chateau Pierrefonds. Fanciful animal and botanical motifs could be found throughout its iconography, which was perfect for our Sleeping Beauty Castle: “Flora” and “Fauna.” A colorful fireplace with dozens of golden flying beetles on the mantle gave us an idea for two of the golden spires on the Disneyland Paris castle, it would now have rows of golden snails marching towards the top!
Back to the Notre Dame spire (there is, of course, a similar one “down the street” atop le Sainte Chapel…and on Mont St Michel, among many other monuments). Ray Bradbury told a tale that has now been repeated on the internet over the last week, about Walt placing the Notre Dame spire on his castle because he loved it.
Ray’s story is actually an important moment in one of my slide presentations. It may or may not be true that Walt specifically requested it (probably not true), but the larger truth about the spire is how difficult it can be to defend a thing of sheer beauty that doesn’t necessarily go along with everything else or have a definitive function. After all, Notre Dame lived without the spire for some 600 years.
Bradbury draws a parallel between Walt and the city of Paris: “The secret of Disney is doing things you don’t need, and doing them well… and then you realize you needed them all along.”
The header photo was taken by Charles Marville in 1865.