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He struck him with an axe that he'd found in a cupboard. The events were so starkly at odds with the town's seal of that little girl on the bicycle that you might think they would inspire a degree of soul-searching in Celebration's residents. Far from it. The murder merely appears to have reinforced their commitment to Disney's original ideals. Where can you go in this entire planet and find this type of statistic? Tell me," says Jodi Meyers, who lives on the same street as Giovanditto's apartment. She's an estate agent selling Celebration homes and thinks the murder and the suicide shoot-out that followed so soon after it will have done nothing to dent the town's reputation.

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He said: 'That's a great little town. One murder in 14 years, that's a good record. I want to buy a condo down there. Walt Disney always had a dream to build a model town.

It was part of his master plan to create a new magic kingdom in Florida. How he came to put the plan together is the stuff of Disney legend — the numerous trips he took in private jets disguised so that no one would spot him, the front companies he set up to buy the land also incognito, the 30, acres he acquired before anyone noticed. Less well known is that it was all part of his messianic desire for total control. Disney managed to persuade the local authorities to grant him absolute power within the confines of his new empire, including the ability to raise taxes and run the roads and public amenities.

In effect, he had created a private Disney government. Rick Foglesong , a Disney watcher of long standing at Rollins College in Florida, calls it "the Vatican with mouse ears". Yes he was an artist, but he was also a control freak. People tend to see the Disney creativity, they often miss the centralised control that lies behind it. But when Celebration finally came into being it bore many of his hallmarks.

At its core was nostalgia. While inner cities across America were in the grip of the crack cocaine epidemic, and middle-class Americans were fleeing to increasingly isolated and alienating suburbs, Celebration was conceived as a return to the glory days of America's pre-war small towns.

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As the authors of Celebration, USA, have put it: "The heirs to Disney's empire were designing the place where Walt had wished he'd grown up. The planners did a trawl of the most picturesque southern towns — Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans — and borrowed the best from them: town squares, verandahs, gables and front porches. Then they boiled all the ideas down into a pattern book that dictated every detail right down to the plants that could be grown in the yards.

There were only six house styles permitted, and only a limited range of colours — white, blue, yellow, pink and buff, all in pastel shades. Though Disney sold most of its stake in Celebration to a property management company in , the Disney spirit very much lives on. The extent to which the Disney corporation went to control the warp and weft of Celebration speaks to one of the central paradoxes of modern American life.

For a country that prides itself so fiercely on its untrammelled individualism and freedom, it has a strong streak of conformism.

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But in its own terms it worked. People came to live in Celebration, and stayed.

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First-generation Disney obsessives have given way to their second-generation offspring. Crime, until this month, was rare. Last year there were only three robberies reported. Yet Celebration has not been immune from the devastating economic collapse in America. As a symbol of its economic ailments, a couple of days after Thanks- giving, its cinema, a striking mock art deco building by the lake, shut down. Florida has one of the highest rates of foreclosures on its homes, and though Celebration has been less pummelled than many of the state's towns, it is still hurting.

In the last six months, properties have been sold in the town.

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One of those foreclosed houses is a townhouse in Yew Court, a tiny cul-de-sac about half a mile from downtown. It has a colonnaded porch and neatly trimmed topiary, but several aspects of the house are definitely in breach of the Celebration pattern book. Its windows are pockmarked with bullet holes, and its wooden shutters are askew and also riddled with gunfire. Earlier this month, its occupier Craig Foushee barricaded himself in. When a Swat team arrived he opened fire. Fourteen hours after the drama began, the officers used tear gas to gain entry to the property only to find Foushee already dead by his own hand.

Foushee, a transatlantic jet pilot, had been having a bad year. His wife was divorcing him, the security business he ran as a side interest had fallen into bankruptcy, and he had lost his home. For estate agent Meyers, his death merely confirms that Celebration is not as detached from real life as people make out. The people that live here, we're not immune. We have foreclosures, we have divorces. This is still America, even if we do live in a town built by Disney.

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  • How the Disney dream died in Celebration.
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