Once upon a time, way back in the 1990s, there was actually a “Sword in the Stone Ceremony”, where Merlin chose a child from the crowd to pull the sword out of the stone (usually after having several larger, more beefed up adults try and fail) and that child was given a medallion and a certificate and named Ruler of the Realm for the day.
While the show started at Disneyland in 1983, the version at the Magic Kingdom officially opened ten years later, and ended with a final performance August 15, 2006.
According to Wade Sampson, staff writer at MousePlanet.com, and author of Confessions of a Walt Disney World Merlin, “officially – the fact that Merlin’s show negatively impacted the flow into the new Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction was the reason for the decade long show being canceled. Unofficially, it saved a lot of operating cost, not only for the character, but the support technician and equipment and the attention to the wig and costume of a character who only appeared at the Magic Kingdom.”
If you want to know how the show worked and the sword was “removed”, read on. If you want to save the magic, don’t!
In Confessions of a Walt Disney World Merlin, Sampson interviews Disney historian Jim Korkis. In addition to being a facilitator and animation instructor for the Disney Institute, a co-ordinator for College and International Programs, and a writer and researcher for special Disney Design Group projects, Jim was a “friend” of Merlin at the Magic Kingdom in 1995. He shares the following info on how the show ran:
"The tech guy was stationed up above Sir Mickey’s shop with a small electronic box to play the sound cues and hit the release for the sword to go up and down. He also had a folding chair and a small umbrella like one from a patio table. As part of my training, I climbed the ladder up to the location to see that he could not see me very well, so it was important to stick to the script. When I responded to the mysterious Voice In the Sky [which was provided by the tech guy], I purposely looked the opposite way so that guests had no hint exactly where he was. The sword only came up halfway because you didn’t want a guest pulling out a full heavy sword and wielding it around and then having the challenge of trying to reset it."
If you’d like to read the script for the ceremony, check out the article.