Walt Disney and his brother Roy always considered Marceline, Missouri their hometown. While he was only there from the age of four through nine. When he left Marceline, he in many ways, left his childhood. The loss of the family farm and his beloved “Dreaming tree” left an indelible mark on the Disney’s psyche. He spent millions rebuilding downtown Marceline as “Mainstreet USA” at Disneyland. The streetlights, buildings, and businesses were all replicas. Walt Disney was at one time even discussing turning the city of Marceline itself into a Midwest Disney Park. The city was the touchstone of the childhood that left young Walter way too early. Today, we explore the Disney family history and the city he loved so much. Tomorrow we will look into the Disney family’s time in Kansas City and the struggles and success of a young animator who would change history.
Part one: The Marceline, Missouri years.
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 the fourth of five children and the youngest son. His father Elias came from Canada of Irish parents and his mother was American of English and German heritage. Walter had three older brothers Herbert, Raymond, and Roy and a younger sister Ruth. His brothers were several years older than Walt. In, 1906 when Herbert had a minor run-in with the law, the devoutly religious father decided to move the entire family out of the big city to experience what Elias considered “small town values”.
Elias’ brother Robert was always a natural at business. He would time and again be a source of largesse for Elias and his children. It was Robert who would eventually loan Walter and his brother Roy the seed money to start the “Disney Company”. Robert had purchased a farm in Marceline, Missouri, and Elias purchased a segment of the land his family. The farm would focus and being an orchard and produced apples.
Walter was four when the family moved to the farm and Disney loved being there. The farm had a barn in the back and a large cottonwood that Walt and his sister Ruth loved to play under. Walter named it “The Dreaming Tree”. Disney said he would often daydream under the massive Cottonwood and said many of the origins of his later cartoons were birthed under the branches. In his trips back to Marceline, Disney would always stop at the tree and often requested some alone time there.
In 2008, the tree was struck by lightning and nearly destroyed. In 2015, a strong wind knocked the tree down entirely. Fortunately, in 2003 one of Walt’s grandsons got saplings from the original tree and replanted three new trees. One was planted next to the original tree and is called ‘the son of the Dreaming Tree” one was planted at Disneyland and a third was planted in an undisclosed location elsewhere on the Disney farm.
The barn was also one of Disney’s favorite places to play. Years later he would have an exact replica built on his property in California and turned in to his workshop. The original barn eventually succumbed to the elements, but a replica was built and is free to the public.
The barn and tree are free and open during daylight hours. Inside the barn, you are encouraged to sign your nake and leave a message.
My housemates and travel companions Jane and Frank were with me and we all signed our names. I also put in a plug for this website. I figure I can always use the free advertising,
The farm is about a mile or two outside of the actual city of Marceline. The city is very charming and Walt Disney based his “Mainstreet USA” at Disneyland on the downtown.
Many of the building on “Mainstreet USA” is based on actual Marceline landmarks including the Uptown Theater and The Hotel Marceline. The streetlamps are the large Coca-Cola mural are also exact replicas.
The city also has a very nice museum that covers the Disney family both during and after their time in the city.
The museum has some great Disney family heirlooms and original artwork. Clockwise from top: The original Mickey from Disneyland, a replica of Walt’s classroom including a desk he carved his initials on as a child, The first edition mickey mouse dolls, The flag flown at Disneyland on the day it opened. Some original artwork hand-drawn and signed by Disney, and original items from the Mickey Mouse Club.
In 1911, hard times forced the family to give up the farm and move to Kansas City. The economic conditions caused both Walt and his brother Roy to have to help work to sustain the family. The dreaming tree, the apple orchard, and the barn were gone. Life became much harder for Walt and his family. Disney always said the happiest days of his life were in Marceline and even as a successful world famous adult he would revisit his hometown several times. After he became famous he only revisited Kansas City once.
Tomorrow we explore Walt Disney’s Kansas City days including his family home and his first animation studio where he had a pet mouse that many believe was the basis for his most famous creation.
The Disney museum in Marceline has an admission of $10. You could easily spend a couple hours there. The city is about a two-hour drive from Kansas City.