H is for the Walt Disney Hometown Museum


{Blogging Through the Alphabet}

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about Walt Disney history. I’ve written about his birthplace in Chicago, his dream of building Disneyland, and the making of The Great Locomotive Chase.

This week I decided to write about what Walt considered to be his hometown, Marceline, MO. Elias Disney decided to move his family out of Chicago in 1906 due to concern about increasing crime in the neighborhood according to an interview with Roy Disney in 1976.

Marceline

If Elias was looking to get his family back to the land and into a quiet community he made the right choice when he purchased a 45-acre farm just a little north of the town of Marceline. As you drive from M0-36 down M0-5 the original Disney farm will be on your right as you get closer to town. This is a private residence but the folks who own it have kept the barn and dreaming tree area out back open for Disney fans like us on a pilgrimage to find the place where Walt began his drawing and dreaming of stories for the future.

Head south on Mo-5 to find Marceline and the Hometown Museum

Car Trouble

I have to say this has been my summer of car troubles. First, it was flat trailer tires in Wisconsin and then battery and alternator issues on this leg of our trip. For a person who prides herself on being on time, this has not worked well. After arranging to meet with Kaye Malins, Director of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum I thought I had calculated the distance and allowed enough time to drive there. As I said, I thought and that didn’t work well. We had trouble with our battery connection (thankfully it was nothing worse) and between the heat and spending time to fix things we didn’t arrive in Marceline until Kaye was due for her next meeting.

I felt awful about arriving so late but she was wonderful and still took the time to come and say hello. She is a lovely lady and I hope to get back to Marceline one day to speak with her again.

An early picture of Marceline from when the Disney family arrived

A Canadian in Marceline

Did you know Elias Disney was born in Canada? He was. In a small place not too far from Lake Huron; Bluevale, Ontario. In fact, because he was of age before his father Kepple applied for Naturalization, he remained Canadian until his 70s when he and Flora were finally granted U.S. citizenship after finding out about their status.

I hadn’t remembered ever hearing this but was reminded by Peter Whitehead, Creative Director of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. We were fortunate enough to be introduced to Peter by his wife who took pity on us after we arrived so late. Peter is also a Canadian and huge Disney fan who has been brought on to revitalize the museum and basically spread the word that it exists!

We had a wonderful time learning about the town and museum and looking at the exhibits. I cannot say enough about the hospitality of everyone at the museum. It was a special day.

Walt Disney Hometown Museum

While Walt and his family only lived in Marceline for a few years (they moved to Kansas City in 1911) it was this place that really made an impression on the young man. Living as they did on a small farm with barnyard animals and lots of space to run around and play, this must have been idyllic for a boy with a great imagination. I can just imagine him spending the afternoons outback under his dreaming tree, sketching and allowing his mind to go off in all directions, the beginnings of his creative career of the future.

Reading about the family’s time in Marceline I am not surprised that Walt organized a little circus where he charged his friends to come to see his barnyard animals dressed in toddler clothes. His mother was not impressed and made him take all the tents down plus return all the children’s admissions but it showed his vision of building something from nothing and understanding what would sell to his audience at hand.

The museum itself is housed in the old Santa Fe Railway station. It is filled with photographs and artifacts from the family. A treasure trove really of Walt’s early years. Most of this was generously donated to the museum by Walt’s sister Ruth. In fact, her donation was the beginning of the creation of the museum by Kaye Malins.

Main Street Marceline welcoming the brothers home

Walt and Roy Return to Marceline

In 1956 the town of Marceline was making plans to dedicate the Walt Disney Swimming Pool and Park. Walt and Roy had been invited to attend the festivities but there was not really a hotel in town that could provide suitable accommodations. After some discussion, it was decided that the brothers and their wives would be hosted by Rush and Inez Johnson since they had just built a new home that was equipped with airconditioning. The only concern Inez had was their furniture. While they had a lovely modern home her furniture was “junk” (her words).

The town came to the rescue with other families bringing their nicest pieces to replace that of the Johnsons. What a production that must have been. Once the Disney’s arrived, the Johnson’s young daughter asked Walt what room they would be sleeping in. He asked her which one she thought and she said the pink one so you’ll be sleeping in my room. That daughter grew up to be Kaye Malins, the Director of the museum today.

And remember the private family that owns and lives in the old Disney farmhouse? Well, that is Kaye as well. Her parents became close friends with Walt and Lillian and purchased 40-acres of the original farm that included the barn and home after Walt’s death. This had been part of a project Walt had been considering to build in his hometown that sadly did not come to fruition.

A Great Movie Opening

As I wrote about last week, Walt and Roy sponsored the opening of their movie “The Great Locomotive Chase” at the Uptown Theatre in Marceline. This only seemed fitting since it was where Walt says he originally discovered the book it was based on. It was also in Marceline where he would listen to his uncle’s stories of the railway. His uncle was a locomotive engineer.

In one interview I saw, Kaye said they ran the movie for almost 24 hours straight to ensure everyone had a chance to see it. What an adventure that would have been.

Peter was a terrific host and even took a picture for us before we left for the day

Today

What can I say? Yes, it is a bit out of the way to get to Marceline but is absolutely worth the drive. Our eldest daughter and 12-year-old grandson visited with me a couple of months ago and we have plans to return and bring my husband next time. There is a special feeling in the town. I can imagine Walt allowing his creativity to flow in this small midwestern location, helping to develop his talents for the future.

More things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened since or are likely to in the future.

Walt Disney

He was the greatest advocate for Marceline and never missed pointing out the town on train trips through the area to his fellow passengers or even stopping for a quick visit with the Johnsons on his way through.

And of course, most of us have heard that Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland is based on Main Street in Marceline. But did you know that Casey’s Corner was inspired by the Coca Cola mural and corner Zurcher Building?

Childhood Memories

One of the Midget Autopia cars
Sadly the ride closed many years ago due to lack of parts for repairs

I was recently at Epcot when a fellow approached me. He had noticed my Hometown Museum T-shirt and to let me know he and his brother used to visit their grandfather in Marceline during the summers. He worked for the railway and lived close to where the museum is now so the boys were free to run over to the park and visit the Midget Autopia before it closed down. He shared his memories of those times and was happy to hear the museum has rededicated the Midget Autopia Walking Trail.

Walt Disney Elementary

He asked me if we had been able to visit the Walt Disney Elementary School where Walt had artists from his company decorate the inside with Disney characters that are still there to this day. We did see the outside and peeked through the windows, what a beautiful atmosphere for the children to work in. I encouraged him to go back for a visit after all of these years and see what a great job Kaye, Peter, and the rest of the folks there have done with the museum.

More About Walt Disney and the Museum

If you would like to do some additional reading this article in Missouri Life Magazine shares some of the things I might have missed here today including the story of how Peter came to work at the museum.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little history and news of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. I know we are looking forward to visiting again.

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2 thoughts on “H is for the Walt Disney Hometown Museum”

  1. Kristen says:

    Wow…this was really interesting. What a shame you had car trouble but how awesome you got to see so much. Very cool to see all the photos.

    1. It was amazing. I’m so looking forward to our next visit.

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