Thursday, April 11, 2013

Snow White's Grotto - The Wishing Well

The John Hench Design

In one of the pre-1961 concept illustrations for Snow White's Grotto, John Hench gives us a unified look at the area-- Echo Falls with the Italian marble sculptures, the Wishing Pool with its circling fish, and the Wishing Well. In 1988, the Disney Gallery at Disneyland offered a limited edition lithograph of this work, hand-signed by the Imagineer and Disney Legend himself. Only 300 were produced. Here we see the same art as it appears on pages 76-77 in his 2003 book, Designing Disney.


The construction of the tiered waterfall landscape around the Snow White statues was pretty much completed just as Hench had originally drawn it. Not so much in regards to the Wishing Well. With its metal armature framework, John's design, at least as it's shown in this particular concept piece, looks more like Cinderella's than Snow White's.

Designing Disney images copyright Disney Editions.

Snow White's Grotto was unveiled at Disneyland in 1961. It would be another decade before we'd see the opening of Walt Disney World and the arrival of Cinderella's Wishing Well. Here it is in a shot from 2010.

Image courtesy of disneylori.

Clearly, Snow's version would need to more closely resemble what was depicted in the motion picture.

Screen capture image copyright Disney.

And it does.

Rabbit and Owl details, shot in 2009 by Loren Javier...

Children's Charities

When Walt Disney first saw the sketch designs for the grotto, he said to John Hench...
You know people are going to see the water, and they'll want to throw money into the pool--then we'll have kids getting into the water. Why don't you make a wishing well, put a catch tray in for coins and a protective grate, so that kids won't be tempted to jump into it. Designing Disney, pg.77.

The idea, of course, was implemented with the money being collected and donated to various children's charities. According to Kevin Yee at MousePlanet...
Originally, [the money] was put into a trust established between Disneyland and the Variety Club International, to go to such places as orphanages, schools and children's homes. The trust was terminated in 1972 when federal regulations restricted contributions to foreign charities, and now it goes to domestic children's charities.
Walt is pictured here during the Grotto dedication ceremony on April 9, 1961. With him are children dressed in traditional outfits from around the world. The gentleman in the white suit is John Harris, the first president of Variety Club International.

Info courtesy of Steven at The Walt Disney Archives. Image via D23.

The Singing Wishing Well

Peering down into the well, we not only see the money grate but also two square patches that sit opposite each other on the inner wall.

Hench's idea was to incorporate a couple of audio speakers in the well and use Snow White's voice as an echo while she sings. Although John states in his 2003 book that the featured song was Some Day My Prince Will Come, I believe he actually meant to say it was I'm Wishing, similar to how it's used in the film.

The Grotto audio track begins with the sound effects of various frogs croaking, followed by seven bell tolls--the first seven notes to I'm Wishing. These chimes emanate from the vicinity of this castle steeple.

The song then starts with the voice of the Princess coming from somewhere behind her statue at the top of the waterfall. Certainly no speakers are visible, but a faux rock can be seen at this location, possibly housing a sound system.

Close-up of the mysterious "rock".

Akin to the scene in the movie, Snow White's echo answers her from inside the well.

Photo by Sunny Chanel via Strollerderby.

Adriana's Return

Edited together from the movie's original soundtrack, the 1961 Grotto audio clip ran for over 20 years. It's well known that Adriana Caselotti, the 1937 voice of Snow White, was then invited by Disney to re-record a fresh version of the song. Disney historian and artist Stacia Martin directed the recording session.

A few years later, Disney historian Brian Sibley interviewed Adriana for his 1987 book (co-authored with Richard Holiss), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Making of the Classic Film.
"It was quite a challenge," Adriana remembers. "I was already 67 years old, and didn't know if I could sound exactly the same as I did in 1937. They had already recorded the orchestra, so I had to sing in the same key as I had in the film." Despite her anxiety the recording went perfectly, although Adriana admitted to quietly asking for Walt's assistance with the humming. "Walt," she whispered, "If you're anywhere along here, I need your help." (p.73)

Brian with Adriana at her home, July 1988.

Image courtesy of Brian Sibley.

Variations of the story have emerged over the years where it's told that Adriana was unable to hit her high notes. It wasn't until the final try that she asked Walt to help her find her voice. She then sang it perfectly, and all the people with her in the studio teared up. A slight embellishment? Maybe, maybe not.

There does seem to be some confusion, however, as to when this recording session actually took place. If you were to do a quick search online, the range of dates given run from 1983 all the way up through the early 1990s. Several sites, including some run by the Disney Company itself, state that it happened in 1987 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the motion picture. Yet, the Sibley and Holiss interview obviously occurred prior to the release of their 1987 book. Plus Adriana was born in 1916 and says herself that she was 67 at the time. Without a doubt, the new audio recording was installed with the 1983 Fantasyland refurbishment.


Thirty years after it was recorded, the 1983 clip still plays everyday at Disneyland. It runs for approximately two minutes and twelve seconds, with intervals of about a minute or so in between songs.


Happy Fish

Every time the music begins, three faux marble fish rise up out of the pond to the sound of Snow White's voice. The figures revolve in a circle while streaming water into the air.

When the song ends, they drop back down and disappear under the water. It's a fun little feature.

The On/Off Switch

Don't tell anyone, but if you stand at the Wishing Well and look toward the castle, you'll see a wooden cast-member door to the right of the path.

To the right of the door is a little box on the wall. There's a chain across the stairs so you won't be able to walk up too close.

Use your telephoto lens and you'll clearly see that the box is actually a key switch for the "Grotto Sound". During weddings or other special events, the audio can be muted.

Snow White Greets

The music is not shut off when Snow White herself is present.

Over the years, many cast member characters have utilized the Grotto as a location for meet 'n greets with park guests. It's likely, though, that fewer princesses will now invade this area with the recent opening of the new Fantasy Faire. Snow White, however, will continue to be here; she was spotted just the other day.

Home sweet home.

Special thanks to Brian Sibley and Jim Korkis for providing additional info for this post. And to TokyoMagic of Meet the World for his invaluable help and for shooting most of the photos seen above.

Previous Archive entry: Snow White's Grotto Sculptures.


  1. I accidentally came across Adriana Caselotti's home in Larchmont Village over a year ago - I had no idea it was there but the wishing well with a picture of Snow White is what got my attention. It was for sale at the time so I don't know if the Wishing Well is still there or not.

    1. I haven't been there in person but have seen several photos of her home and yard. Hope the well is still there; seems like it would be one of the selling points for the property.

  2. Thanks for a fascinating, fact-ladden post! An ON/OFF switch who'd have thought it? :)

  3. As to Adriana's personal Wishing Well, what was (and, I hope, still is) slightly incongruous was the fact that the Well's timbers were painted red to match a Japanese bridge that was another feature of Adriana's Asiatic-style front yard to her Hawaiian-style house! Some might say it was eccentric, but personally, I loved the individuality of the place.

    Here's the news story (with lots of photos) when the house was up for sale in 2011.

    For myself and Adriana's other friends and fans who visited her there, these images bring back a great many happy memories...

    1. Thanks Brian. Adriana's home sure seemed to reflect her joyful spirit. I'm so glad you had the opportunity to spend quality time with her.

  4. Another great post, right up there with the one about the grotto. Thanks!