Disneyland did not start in Anaheim, Calif. Nor was Disney World first established in Orlando, Fla.
Such unrivaled world-renowned family attractions are the manifestations of myriad plans, measurements and prototypes, themselves the products of initially intangible ideas. And those ideas arise from the creative imagination and unstoppable passion, in this case, those of a young farm boy from Marceline, Mo. — Walter Elias Disney.
The Disney family —Elias and Flora and their children, Herbert, Raymond, Roy, Walt and Ruth — moved to the quiet burg of Marceline when Walt was 4 years old.
Too young to contribute much to the farm work, young Walt spent his days dreaming and imagining a halcyon fantasy world he longed to share with other children. “I hope the youth of today and the future know a childhood as happy as was mine in Marceline,” he said decades later of his unchangeable dream.
His favorite venue for felicitous contemplation: The Dreaming Tree, a large cottonwood situated on the farm. Walt would often sit under the tree and draw or imagine stories. His heart was never far from his hometown, and he incorporated various elements of his years there, such as the family barn, rustic surroundings and the cartoon characters he conjured during his unfettered meditations, into his films, movies and theme parks.
Walt Disney’s love affair with Marceline is returned in earnest by the town of 2,125 residents, which will “forever” remember Walt as its favorite son and “will never forget that the legendary Walt Disney began his journey in this small American town.”
In 2001, to commemorate Disney’s 100th birthday, the nonprofit Walt Disney Family Foundation opened the 10,000-square-foot Walt Disney Hometown Museum in the restored Santa Fe Railway Depot, acknowledging the man’s lifelong love for trains.
The museum contains more than 4,000 artifacts, including personal family items and personal correspondence, gifts Disney gave to the town, photographs and original artwork by a graffiti artist, a reproduction of the elementary school Disney attended and a gallery of items donated or loaned by Disney collectors around the world.
Other locations throughout Marceline celebrate the life of the boy with the big imagination:
Disney Family Farm
The Disney family moved to the farm in 1906. According to the museum’s website, “It was on this very land that a young Walt Disney would say he found the magic of his life. On this farm, Walt held his first live show, developed his love for nature and had a special place under his Dreaming Tree.”
The land is privately owned, but guests are welcome to visit the barn 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset at no cost and are permitted to leave their signature or a note in the barn. Because the farmhouse is a private residence, guests are asked to be respectful.
Walt Disney Elementary School
In 1960, Walt Disney personally dedicated the new elementary school in Marceline. He donated state-of-the-art equipment, textbooks and every single Disney educational product available. He also donated custom playground equipment. Murals throughout the school with some of the most famous Disney characters are regularly restored.
At the dedication ceremony, Walt presented the school with an orange Mickey Mouse flag — now displayed at the museum — that had been flown over his apartment in Disneyland and presented a flagpole from the 1960 Winter Olympics, for which he was the chairman of the Pageantry Committee.
Walt Disney Post Office
In 1968, two years after his death, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative Walt Disney stamp. In 2003, Congress officially renamed the location as the Walt Disney Post Office, the only federal building named after him.
Walt Disney Municipal Park
Originally built by the Santa Fe Railroad, the park was officially renamed in 1956.
Main Street USA
Main Street USA is a staple of Disney Parks around the world. The street was originally known as Kansas Avenue and is now marked with special mouse ears street signs that Mickey himself unveiled.
EP Ripley Park
The park is named after the president of the Santa Fe Railroad. The Disney family visited the park quite often.
A young Walt Disney remembered the Coca-Cola Wall from his years in Marceline. The mural was also to be lost for many years, as another building was constructed in front of it. Years after Disney moved away, that building burned down, revealing the Coke Wall once again.
The Walt Disney Hometown Museum is located at 120 E. Santa Fe Ave., Marceline, Mo., and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.
Adult admission is $10; youth (6-12 years), $5; seniors and military, $9; and children under 6 are free.
For more information, call (660) 376-3343 or visit waltdisneymuseum.org.