Just a Simple Farm Boy
Written by Pat Neistat
An appreciation of Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A isn’t complete without a trip to Marceline, MO including a visit to the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Marceline revels in the notoriety of being Walt’s childhood home. Rightfully so, because Walt took great pride in being from Marceline. The museum’s motto “Ensuring that the world never forgets that Walt Disney was a simple farm boy from Marceline who grew up to become the keeper of childhood magic,” only further perpetuates their pride. He lived in Marceline for only a few years, yet it inspired and stayed with Walt until he died. A stroll through this tiny town will give you an insight and a connection to the vision that became Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. Although, it’s not identical or even remotely close to what was finished in the parks. Disneyland does have some little tributes such as Marceline’s Confectionary, Hotel Marceline, and Tilly the ticket seller from Marceline, MO to name a few. The Walt Disney Hometown Museum’s has packed in over 13,000 visitors this year so far from all 50 states and several countries. That’s kickass for only being open for seven months out of the year because of not having a damn heating system. The museum isn’t operated by, nor has any affiliation with, The Walt Disney Company or even the Disney Family. It’s instead managed by Kaye Malins, the daughter of Walt’s friend Rush Johnson. But don’t let that deter you from visiting. The massive museum is filled with rare Disney relics that will give any Disney enthusiast chills.
I have lived in St.Louis, MO my whole life and have been a Disney dork for most of it. Only a three hour drive- How the hell was this my first visit to Marceline? I had thought about making the trip several times but nothing ever materialized. It was always this, that, or the other kinda bullshit that got in the way. On the trip home from our Yellowstone vacation, we were looking for places to stop that would be interesting. Our first stop was in Thermopolis, WY to visit the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. It was interesting and the kids enjoyed it. As I was sitting in the hotel room that night looking at Apple maps routes home, I remembered Marceline, MO. I reminded my wife about Marceline. With her being as big a Disney dork as me, it was a no-brainer. With no damn clue what the hell to expect we spent the next two days driving with anticipation of visiting Walt’s childhood home. On the final stretch of Highway 36 we exited onto Missouri 5, and veered right onto North Kansas Ave as our anticipation grew. We couldn’t hide our excitement as we pulled up to a giant, red brick building with white lettering that plainly said WALT DISNEY HOMETOWN MUSEUM.
We paid our $30 admission for the four us and waited for the tour to begin. The pleasant older lady at the front desk informed me that it was a two part tour; the first part would be guided and the second part would be self guided. She then proceeded to tell us that the museum used to be the old Santa Fe Railroad Station that Walt first step foot in Marceline as a young boy. As we looked around the rinky dinky gift shop I started to get a little worried about what lay ahead. Disney fanatics are more than willing to give you their money. Nothing in the store was interesting or enticing. Walt Disney was a creative man, so why not find a creative way to promote their merchandise. To be honest, the gift shop sucked ass. A harsh criticism, but I feel it’s fair. Before I could complain to my wife about the gift shop, Linda popped her head out of a room,ready to start our tour in the main gallery. This is where the magic begins.
I have read Walt Disney biographies and listen to the ‘Connecting with Walt’ series on The Dis Unplugged Podcast with Michael Bowling. I feel I have a substantial grasp on Walt’s life. As Linda started to tell the story about how the Disney Family found their way to Marceline, my eyes started to wander and I noticed a substantial sized glass case full of Disney memorabilia. Hanging from the ceiling was a monster sized, framed orange flag with an equally oversized Mickey face. In the center of the room was an antique wooden school desk that was in its own personal sturdy glass case, trimmed out in what appeared to be quarter sawn oak. After explaining Walt’s love of Marceline, the guide pointed to the ceiling frame that housed two different flags. One side contained a Disneyland flag that actually flew over the castle. The other side was the giant orange flag with an extraordinary story. Walt had two identical twin flags made, one to be erected at Disneyland and the other to be given to the Walt Disney Elementary School. When the Walt Disney Elementary School was opened in 1960, Walt was present for the grand opening. He donated multiple sets of encyclopedias, a new jungle gym, and even had a head cartoonist paint giant murals inside the school. Hell, Walt even donated a flagpole from the 1960 Olympics, of which he was the Chairman of Pageantry. The giant orange flag with Mickey’s face was flown at the school for a long time, even after his death. Fortunately for Disney fanatics, someone ultimately had the common sense to put that shit in a museum. Underneath the framed flags was the antique wooden desk. This was Walt’s first grade school desk from 1908! Remembering that he carved his initials into the desk he rummaged around the school and discovered the desk on his trip to open the new school. Interestingly enough, the desk is moved back to the school to sit in the hallways for 5 months while the museum is closed so the kids have an inspiration for creativity and hard work. Pertaining to the authenticity of the desk, Peter Whitehead, creative director of the museum wrote, “WDW had the museum’s desk on display for the first year that ‘One Man’s Dream’ opened to the public. When they returned the desk they installed a replica that fit the space better… hence the discrepancy between the single desk on display and the double desk in the ‘discovery’ photo.” The grade school desk is a one-of-a-kind artifact exclusive to Walt Disney Hometown Museum. The Mickey Mouse flag is unique to the museum, its twin recently auctioned off in 2015. Needless to say this room is glorious and will have any Disney enthusiast over the moon with excitement!
Next we moved into the Autopia Gallery where they have displayed an original ride vehicle for the Midget Autopia. Midget Autopia was an original attraction in Fantasyland at the opening of Disneyland. The attraction had a good nine year run and was eventually replaced by “It’s a Small World” in 1966. The Midget Autopia was another symbolization of Walt’s love for Marceline. Most attractions that are retired at the parks are thrown into a warehouse, but Walt had the idea to donate this attraction to the town for the kids to enjoy. Walt refurbished and shipped 10 cars, track, electrical equipment, and loading building by truck. It was professionally installed at the Walt Disney Municipal Park to look like how it did in Disneyland. How mind blowing is that shit?! Its run in Marceline only lasted around 12 years. The cars became dilapidated and rusted out due to weather and because of cost and upkeep, the attraction eventually closed. Only one car was salvageable, which was refurbished and used as a revered spotlight of the Museum. The two room guided tour delivered an amazing wealth of Disney history that can only be found in this museum!
As we begin the self guided tour we were told that Walt’s sister Ruth was a packmouse (that’s my corny dad joke) and saved a shit ton of personal stuff from the Disney family. A lot of the odds and ends we saw was saved by her, donated by her son after she passed. The first room we entered was filled with Disney memorabilia, pledged to the Museum by collectors to be displayed for all to see. Some of the items are displayed in enormous magnificent wooden display cases. Items included a piece of Walt’s Carolwood Pacific track, model of the Disneyland Hotel Jungle Cruise boat, a vintage collection of the Seven Dwarfs dolls, and a vintage Mickey Mouse Velocipedes. It’s a rotating exhibit, so others may not see these particular items but I’m sure they always have spectacular shit displayed. The next room contained a collection of personal communications with Flora and Elias, Walt’s parents. In one case, were two Mickey Mouse dolls from a bygone era that were to given to their parents on their anniversary by Walt and Roy. The stuff in this room is yet again the sole possession of the Museum, only to be seen in Marceline. Down the hallway to the next room contains countless priceless communications from within the family. It’s a little overwhelming. This room has a TV running a loop of the opening day of Disneyland. He wanted his whole family present at Opening Day. His sister Ruth, haunted by the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, was a recluse. So Walt sent her a TV to watch it. Again, you can only find this shit here. It’s amazing the treasure trove of personal letters and communications that are in this old building!
As we meandered upstairs we came across the “Dreaming Tree” branch. This is the tree that some say Walt officially started his career as an artist. Unfortunately, the tree fell in 2015 but they were able to preserve a large branch and salvaged yet another authentic item. Other Items upstairs include a full model of the of Disneyland by Dale Varner, Walt’s porch, and Walt’s office that includes and table he and Ubbe Iwreks shared during their time at Persmen Pubin in 1919. The Disneyland model takes up a lot of real estate and is very detailed. Impressive, to say the least. I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of information I was trying to process as we walked down the stairs back to the main lobby. This place kicked so much ass that we still bought shit from the gift shop and everyone I saw leave did as well. Linda, our fantastic tour guide, informed us the experience doesn’t end at the museum. She gave us directions to Main Street, U.S.A and also to the Disney Farm, now inhabited by Museum owner Kaye Malins.
On our way out of town, we stopped by the old Disney farm. We parked our truck on a small gravel patch off the side of the road, and followed the inconspicuous signs to the site of the “Dreaming Tree” and the Disney family barn. We passed by ‘Son of Dreaming Tree,’ a young tree that was planted in 2003 by one of Walt’s grandsons, harvested from a seed of the original Dreaming Tree. The original family burn burned down, but the town of Marceline erected a recreation in 2001 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Walt’s birth. Inside the walls, ceilings, and beams are covered with notes, signatures, and memories of Disney fans. We properly tagged that shit with our names and the date, and left. On the way back to the car, we paused at the lake at the edge of the property. Right then Walt’s quote about Marceline hit me. “To tell the truth, more things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened to me since or are likely to in the future.”