In the summer of 1946, Walt Disney returned to his beloved Marceline, Missouri on a secret mission–with a camera. Only later did townsfolk find out why.
During that visit, the concept of Disneyland, you might say, was merely a twinkle in Walt’s eye.
But when Disneyland was unveiled in 1955, visitors could see bits of downtown Marceline imprinted on Main Street, U.S.A.
DOWNTOWN MARCELINE: The Inspiration for Main Street, USA
Miniature Disneyland models pictured below were built by Dale Varner. More about that next time.
The ALLEN HOTEL became HOTEL MARCELINE in Disneyland
Once when Elias Disney took his family to eat at the Allen Hotel (built 1906), little sister Ruth accidentally spilled a plate of food. Ruth was mortified and Papa was not happy. A lecture ensued—about wasting “hard-earned money.”
CATERS OPERA HOUSE became THE OPERA HOUSE
As a child, Walt saw many live shows at the opera house, including Peter Pan—perhaps the inspiration for the animated feature?
MURRAY’S DEPARTMENT STORE became the DISNEYLAND EMPORIUM
Flora Disney took her son Walt to Murray’s Department store for his first pair of overalls. Far more fitting for the now country boy after moving from Chicago.
UPTOWN THEATRE became MAIN STREET THEATRE/CINEMA
Uptown Theatre was built after the Disney family moved from Marceline. Even so, Walt chose it for the Midwest movie premiere of The Great Locomotive Chase in 1956.
ZURCHER BUILDING and COKE WALL became COKE CORNER
In 1906, a Coke mural was painted on the wall adjacent to Zurcher store. Disneyland utilizes the same Zurcher building details.
Ripley Park in downtown Marceline was donated by the Santa Fe Railroad, and named after E.P. Ripley, president of the Sante Fe Railway. The Santa Fe line goes through Marceline. Walt named his Disneyland locomotive the E.P. Ripley, and always gave Santa Fe Railway engineers free admission to Disneyland. The locomotive in Ripley Park was named the Sante Fe and Disneyland R.R.
So Walt definitely took Marceline with him to California. He celebrated Marceline not just through Main Street, USA buildings, but in movies, too. Each of the following films has some connection to a Marceline memory: Pollyanna, Ferdinand, Lady and the Tramp, Song of the South, and So Dear To My Heart.
THE MARCELINE PROJECT
For years, Walt had the notion to buy his father’s old farm, and more acreage, to recreate a 1906 Midwest working farm so contemporary children could see how it operated.
“There will come a time when a child will not know
what an acre of land is.
There will come a time when a child will not know
what happens when you put a seed in the ground.”
— Walt Disney
This secret project included renovating downtown and implementing amusement rides–which is why he donated Midget Autopia in 1966. In 1956, Roy and Walt had already discussed the buying of property with Rush Johnson.
Walt himself sketched the plan. This drawing was on his Burbank Studio desk when he died in December, 1966.
The groundbreaking for this project was scheduled for five months later. But instead of going ahead with the Marceline Project, brother Roy went full force into “The Florida Project”—to make Walt’s theme park dream a reality in Orlando.
On September 11, 1968, Roy, his wife Edna, and widowed Lilly Disney returned to Marceline for the post office’s Stamp Day parade. The USPS issued a commemorative stamp from Marceline. In 2003, the Marceline post office was renamed for him, the only federal building named after Walt Disney.
Back in the early 1900s, Marceline had only 3-digit phone numbers. That has changed, among other things. But as I strolled downtown on Kansas Avenue, I think I caught a glimpse of the Marceline Walt knew: the old Zurcher building, the Coke wall, E.P. Ripley Park.
But I’m guessing these Mickey ears on the street signs weren’t there before.
Join me next time for more about the Disney family’s house and barn, and the Disneyland miniatures created by Dale Varner.
- Walt Disney Hometown Museum
- Nice article on the Marceline Project
- Timeline of Walt’s life (pdf)
- Another timeline of Walt’s life–includes company history
- More Disneyland info
- Disney World
- More Disney World info
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 email email@example.com.
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