Walt Disney’s Hometown—Where the Magic Began—Part 2

Though Walt Disney spent fewer than five years in Marceline, they were formative years filled with people, events, and activities that remained pleasantly vivid in his memory his whole life. 

Those positive memories took him back to Marceline many times over the decades: 

  • Summer, 1946—Walt’s secret mission (learn more next time)
  • July 4, 1956—the dedication of Marceline’s Walt Disney Pool and Park Complex. 

“My best memories are the years I spent here.
You children are lucky to live here.”
—Walt at the Disney Park Complex dedication, July 4, 1956

Disney Complex in Marceline, dedicated in 1956
  • 1956—the Midwest premiere of the movie The Great Locomotive Chase with Fess Parker at the Uptown Theatre. Fess Parker was known for playing Davy Crockett. The museum has a framed poster signed by him.
  • 1960—the dedication of a new elementary school named after Walt. He donated audio-visual and playground equipment. The interior walls featured Disney murals.

“You know I’m not a funny guy,
I’m just a farm boy from Marceline
who hides behind a duck and a mouse.”
–Walt at the Walt Disney Elementary School dedication, 1960

  • September, 1966—Walt retired the Midget Autopia ride from Disneyland after ten years and donated it to Marceline. A huge dedication was planned, but this time, Walt was sick and couldn’t come. What he thought was only a nasty cough turned into lung cancer. He died three months later, in December, 1966. 

Midget Autopia consisted of child-size cars that ran along a track. 

The Mark I Arrowflite Tracked Junior Automobile was manufactured by the Arrow Development Company of Mountain View, CA, 1956.
Headlines on June 2, 1966

Replacing Midget Autopia in Disneyland was “It’s A Small World,” after debuting at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

In one of the museum videos, Marceline native Inez Johnson shares how she and her husband Rush were chosen to host Walt and Lilly Disney in 1956 because they had central air conditioning. Very few houses did then. After she declined due to their used furniture, friends donated good furniture to the cause. The Disneys stayed with the Johnsons in 1956 and many times afterward.

But before Walt could so generously give back to Marceline, he stumbled through various jobs and business enterprises before finding success. The Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, Missouri houses relics from various phases: Walt’s childhood, early career, and Disneyland.

WALT’S EARLY WORK & DISNEY BROTHERS STUDIOS

In 1910, Elias Disney moved his family to Kansas City where Walt later graduated from high school. After World War I, Walt returned to Kansas City and met Ubbe Iwerks, later to become a key Disney employee. 

Working at Pesmen-Rubin Commerical Art Studio was Walt’s first paid job as an artist—for $50 a month. He and Ubbe did early advertising animation for livestock feed and the local Newman Theatre. 

After six weeks, they were laid off, but they forged their own partnership: Iwerks-Disney Commerical Art Studio (1920).

Later, Ubbe refined Mickey Mouse and animated Steamboat Willie, among other early cartoons. Over the years, he headed Disney Studios’ special effects division and introduced new techniques that kept them on top.

For over thirty years, Mr. Pesman kept the light table Walt and Ubbe had used. This is the tabletop. Somehow I’m missing a picture of the actual table.

In 1923, Walt left for Los Angeles. He paid his Uncle Robert $5/week to rent a room. He built a makeshift animation studio in Robert’s garage. Uncle Robert later gave Walt and Roy seed money for the Disney Brothers studio.

Walt married Lillian Bounds in 1925. Their daughter Diane Marie Disney was born in 1933, after two miscarriages. They couldn’t have another so they adopted Sharon Mae in 1937. Walt and Lilly had eight grandchildren. Walt had a namesake in Diane’s son Walter Elias Disney Miller, Dec 1961.

Walt and Roy bought a house for their parents in LA in 1936 and urged them to move there from Portland, where Ruth was. 

On Christmas 1937, Walt interviewed his parents and made three records of it for their 50th wedding anniversary. The recording plays in that museum room. Walt and his parents discuss his painting pictures on the side of their house, their wedding in Florida, and more.

Record label of Walt’s 1937 interview with his parents

Unfortunately, Flora died at end of that year, twelve months later, Dec 1938, due to gas fumes from a hot water heater in their Hollywood home. She was 71. Elias survived, 82 then.

The museum has several sweet letters written to and from Walt and Roy to their sister Ruth. They sent her money regularly.  

DISNEYLAND MEMORABILIA

This orange flag flew over the west end of the Main Street Train Station. 

These Anaheim street signs were awarded to Robert Penfield when he retired from Disney after 42 years.

These signs were on the NE corner of the Disney Resort, next to the Team Disney Anaheim cast building, 1997.

This sword and shield celebrated Disneyland’s 50th anniversary in 2005. It hung at the entrance of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

DISNEY TOYS & BOOKS

Here’s a sampling of the museum’s Disney toys and books.

This 1934 Mickey Mouse velocipede (in other words, tricycle) was almost trashed. When collector Oscar Urrutia found it, the trike could have been mistaken for any old tricycle. Only Mickey’s feet on the petals remained. Oscar had it restored.

On this velocipede, Mickey peddles along with the rider.

“Corky” Richard David Rupert of Independence, Missouri (1928 – 2012) collected comic books from 1938 through mid-1950s. He had over 1000.

These Mickey comics are from the 1940s. 

This audiobook collection of records reminds me of mine! My Montana grandfather used to send me stacks of Disney books and records.

Tea, anyone? Chef Donald Duck is serving!

A rare child’s tin tea set. Limited edition set produced in 1939 by Ohio Art. Collector Susan Swanson. (Sorry about the glare.)

A Lionel Electric Phonograph Model 41015. This was a gift for collector Shirley Schmidt from her brother in 1960. It looks similar to one I had as a kid.

This 1953 edition of Walt Disney’s Water Birds is signed by Walt himself. Later, this book became an animated film. It earned an Oscar for Best Short Subject and a BAFTA Film Award for Best Documentary Film in the U.S.

Donated by Jeremy Schwartzkopf, passed down from his great grandfather who was principal of the Walt Disney Elementary School. 

These metal plates were used for making boxes for the Disney store in the 1990s. When the Disney store opened in the mall at that time, I could never get past it with my girls, about ages four and six at the time. We’d spend a half hour browsing.

Metal plates for boxes, acquired at auction in Germany by collector Oscar Urrutia.

WALT’S TOY: CAROLWOOD PACIFIC TRAIN

A small framed piece of railroad track remains as a testimonial to Walt’s love for trains and his own locomotive, built in 1950. Over 2600 feet of track surrounded his California home. 

Walt built this 1:24 scale model of the yellow “bobber” caboose. 
Walt riding his train at home.

I found the words from sculptor Kent Melton very intriguing. Kent sculpted in animation for Walt Disney Feature Films, Warner Brothers, and other studios for over thirty years. He made this sculpture in 2001 to commemorate Walt’s 100th birthday. Due to Walt’s personal impact, Kent worked hard to salvage this original sculpture which is normally damaged during production.  

“Later I found out from a Disney staff member that John Hench,
one of Walt’s top multi-talented artists,
wrote a letter to the Classics Collection
expressing his disapproval of my interpretation of Walt’s likeness.
I was told that Diane Disney had also written an emotional letter
to them stating that it was the best likeness
she had ever seen of her father.
I learned a valuable lesson from this experience;
that the truth lies somewhere in between.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.”
–Kent Melton, animation sculptor 

If you’re ever near Marceline (two hours NE of Kansas City), drop in and take a look. The Walt Disney Hometown Museum is well worth it. ($10 for adults, closed on Mondays) There’s plenty to see. I haven’t even mentioned all the old family photos, letters about CalArts, Walt’s high school diploma, the dreaming tree mural in the staircase, the small bronze sculpture of Walt and Mickey (like Disneyland’s), additional toys, the stamp poster . . . and more.

I loved this amazing mural, capturing Walt’s likeness with aerosol paint. I leave you with this artist’s words, which speaks for thousands of people—whether artist or not. It speaks for me.

“Walt Disney’s legacy is ingrained in all of us.
His spirit embodies the magic within.
Completed entirely with spray paint,
The Magic Within reflects the importance that
Walt’s Marceline story has had on my own journey,
as an emerging contemporary artist,
always pushing the limits
and thinking outside the box, just as Walt did.” 
— Arcy, mural artist

Titled “The Magic Within”; size 8 x 12 feet, aerosol paint on plywood by Arcy

Join me next time to learn about the Disneyland-Marceline connection.

Interested in a Disney trip?

Ron’s just mad about Disney travel! Travel specialist Ron Baxley, Jr. with Mad Hatter Adventures Travel Company sells and does planning for more than just Walt Disney World packages. He sells Disney vacation packages of all types. -Free Disney gift cards or other incentives with each booked, fully-paid-for vacation. -Payment plans for Walt Disney World packages. For more information, see his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RonMadHatterAdventuresCompany/ or emailron@madhatteradv.com

Do you have a favorite Disney movie, song, soundtrack, character, toy, or souvenir?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

7 thoughts on “Walt Disney’s Hometown—Where the Magic Began—Part 2

  1. This was a fun little escape this morning while I am catching up on laundry and other mundane tasks.
    God bless the artists who make life brighter and so full of possibilities!

    1. I hadn’t either! I just learned about it a few months ago. It’s a little gem in the middle of Missouri farmland.

  2. Those vinyl interviews of his parents must be fascinating. It would be hilarious to hear their telling of the painting on the side of the house! (I can just imagine young Walt thinking, no big deal. It’ll come off. And then, oops!)
    We used to have vinyls of my grandfather talking and singing from about the same time (1943) and I loved listening to them. He even recorded my father at age 3 and him singing together. I never got to meet my grandfather (he died when my dad was 15), so those recordings were a treasure.
    Unfortunately, our freezer’s ice maker exploded one day and flooded the house when my dad was on vacation, and those vinyls got moldy. If it happened today, I believe someone could have restored them, but 25 years ago, they just went in the trash. So sad!
    I’m glad so much of Disney’s memorabilia has been saved–even the velocipede. 🙂

    1. Oh my, how disappointing to lose the vinyls of your grandfather! What a treasure that was.

      Yes, so much Disney memorabilia has been saved. It makes me wonder about letters people wrote or items they saved–having no idea that years later when they were famous, those things would be preserved for all time! Even things they probably wouldn’t want seen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *