BACKSTORY (1956–PRESENT): The Settler’s Burning Cabin has changed its “story” over the years. In the 1970’s, the settler lost his arrow and became the victim of evil river pirates. The cabin burned with the same artificial fire effect as used in Pirates of the Caribbean during the energy crisis of the 70’s. In the mid-1980s, the real fire returned and the settler became a moonshiner whose still had exploded, igniting the cabin. The moonshiner was sprawled out in front of the cabin, and was just passed out drunk, not dead. In the early 1990s, an eagle nest appeared atop a dead tree trunk right next to the cabin. The new story was that the careless settler had accidentally set his own cabin on fire, endangering the nearby nest. Eventually the fire was extinguished. One story is that the gas line needs replacement, but it would be too costly. Another story is that the flames are a victim of California’s strict emissions standards. As part of the Pirate’s Lair makeover of Tom Sawyer Island, the cabin was fixed up and looks cozy enough to live in; it doesn’t look good for the return of any burning shenanigans on TSI in the near future.
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Thanks to fellow blogger Jason at Disneyland Nomenclature, we now have the behind-the-scenes story of The Dead Settler in front of the Burning Cabin. From The Disneyland Line comes this article titled Discovery in Detail:
If Ed Winger, Manager of Building, Grounds and Contstruction in the Maintenance Division, tells you he gave his all to Disneyland, you'd better believe him.
In 1957 the "Settler" (a scarecrow-like dummy in front of the burning cabin on Tom Sawyer Island) was torn apart and destroyed. At the time, Ed was a Plaster Tender in the Staff Shop and happened to be in the Shop office when a request for another "dummy" was made. Thus, he was volunteered to be the model for the new prototype.
The mold was made in two parts: the body from the neck down; and the face and ears. As he laid on a table, he was greased and covered with plaster on both sides. The plaster took 30 minutes to harden before it was lifted off. Not only did Ed learn to take short breaths as the plaster set, but had to contend with the heat that comes with hardening plaster.
During this period, Ed laid face-down with his head resting on a sponge. At that time, the Staff Shop was where the Administration Building is today. Cast Members used to drop by frequently on their way to work to see the latest creations.
A few stopped to talk to Staff Shop Cast Members standing next to Ed, completely unaware of him. He could only see their feet, and when he made a request to readjust his sponge, there were some startled reactions. "They took off like a shot," Ed recalls. "They didn't realize a live body was underneath all that plaster."
For the face and ears mold, straws were inserted in his nose to allow for breathing, and tissue dipped in cold cream was placed on his eyelids and eyebrows.
After the mold was made, a fiberglass figure was cast, then dressed and positioned on the island.