Missourians have had a major role to play in the history and culture of our country. We’ve had writers like Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder (who wrote all her books in the state). The President Truman, who dropped the A Bomb and ended World War II, was a Missourian (why do you think they signed the peace treaty on the U.S.S. Missouri?). In this ABC series, we’ve also discussed Dred Scott, George Washington Carver, Daniel Boone, and others. But perhaps the man who’s had more impact on the pop culture of the U.S. is the man who called Marceline, MO his hometown—Walter Elias Disney. After all, visiting Disneyworld has practically become a rite of passage for American youth. A previous generation all ran around with coon skin caps singing “Davy Crockett” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” songs.
Disney didn’t live in Marceline long—only four or five years, but the memories lasted a lifetime. When Walt made the movie So Dear To My Heart, the barn in the film was built to resemble the one on the Disney farm. Marceline is supposedly the inspiration for Main Street in the Disney parks. It was here on the side of the family home that Walt created his first cartoon—using tar to paint a pig on the whitewashed “blank canvas.” His father gave him a whippin’, but his aunt gave him paper and pencils. The rest, as they say, is history.
Walt didn’t forget Marceline and the town didn’t forget Walt judging by the municipal pool and elementary school that bear his name. He came for the dedication of both. When the pool was opened, Disney brought the premier of The Great Locomotive Chase for the town’s cinema. He and brother Roy stood outside to shake hands with everyone. When the school opened he bought the playground equipment and a flagpole that had been used in the 1960 winter olympics. He even brought a Disneyland flag, making the school the only site authorized to fly it outside the park itself.
If you travel to Marceline, you’ll want to visit The Dreaming Tree—where a young Walt and his sister Ruth would spend afternoons imagining. Only the trunk of the original tree is left but in 2004 a Disney grandson planted a sapling from its seeds now called Son of Dreaming Tree. Not far away is a replica of the family barn where Walt first delved into show business selling tickets to his barn circus for 10 cents each. Visitors today are encourage to leave a family friendly message on the walls and beams inside.
The original Disney home still stands. It’s a private residence so be respectful if you visit. The lady of the house is the curator of the Disney Hometown Museum (Disney stayed in her family’s home when he came for the pool dedication because it was the only one in town with air conditioning). Anyone who knows Walt Disney knows his love of trains, so it’s only fitting that the museum in his honor is located in the town’s former depot. There is a guided tour of the first floor, where you’ll find family letters and personal memorabilia (most of it came from the Disney family, not the corporation).
Upstairs is the heart’s work of one artist, a man named Dale Varner who spent nearly 40 years building his own model of Disneyland. I’m sure he could have sold it anywhere, but he chose to donate it to the Hometown Museum. He had originally planned to keep working and adding pieces to the display, but passed away the next year (so some of the pieces don’t look as finished as others).
I dare you to look at this for any length of time without humming that song!
I’m telling you these models look as good or better than the one’s I saw Walt Disney himself share on TV. This man should have been an imagineer.
The Disney Hometown Museum is open Tues-Sun from April through October. You may want to come in September when the whole town celebrates Toonfest. Before I close, I want to thank Mr. John Browning of John and Sigrid’s Adventures for letting me share his photographs. Visiting Marceline is still on my bucket list so I’ve only virtually visited via his blog (which you can visit to see even more images).
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