So way back in March, my Wife and I were on a trip to St. Louis and we decided that we might take a day trip over to the childhood hometown of our mentor, friend and idol, (Uncle) Walt Disney. We knew that it was going to be special, but we didn’t realize just how special it would be. I cannot speak highly enough of the generous, kind and loving people of Marceline that welcomed us into their town. As two Disney fanatics who have dedicated most of our adult lives towards working for, learning about and promoting the Walt Disney Company*, we were overwhelmed by the amount of Disney history that we encountered here. It is the absolute epitome of a pilgrimage for any Disney enthusiast!
A Brief History of Walt Disney in Marceline
Surprisingly, since he spoke so much about it, Walt Disney didn’t spend that many years of his life in Marceline. He arrived at the town in April 1906, he was four years old and at that age where fairytales are really real and your imagination can run wild. While walking around, I could almost imagine him dreaming up all the stories that he would go on to tell through his movies and theme parks. Four years later his family moved to Kansas City. Despite spending such little time there, Walt always thought of Marceline as his hometown. There are a couple of notable Disney landmarks that are definitely worth the trip out there. We managed to do all of them thanks to some of the kindest people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
So let’s dive right in with us arriving on the original Main Street U.S.A. with a horrendously corny video!
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A Guide to Walt Disney’s Hometown: Marceline, Missouri
So once that excitement was over, we decided to pull up and check out the first Disney landmark that Marceline had to offer: the Uptown Theatre.
Location: 104 N Kansas Ave, Marceline, MO 64658
One of Walt’s favorite things to do as a young boy was to go, with his sister Ruth, to the movie theatre that had just opened in Marceline. There is a story about Walt and Ruth going to his first movie, a reenactment of the crucifixion and resurrection, and getting out of the movie late when it was already dark. They hurried home and thought they would be in deep trouble. Luckily Elias and Flora, Walt’s parents, did not scold him as they were just thankful that the two were found unharmed. I have a feeling that if they had scolded him, it might have turned him off movies and we would never have everything that he created for us to enjoy.
Now don’t get ahead of me. The Uptown Theatre was in fact not the theatre that Walt would visit while living there. The theatre that he did visit, unfortunately, no longer stands. But there is still a little bit of Disney magic at the Uptown Theatre. When Walt returned, a successful head of a movie studio, he decided to hold the premier of his new live-action feature film, The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), at the Uptown.
Walt invited all of Marceline’s children to the premier. Once they were all seated, everyone hushed as he took to the stage. He stood in front of a microphone and said with a hint of nostalgia in his voice, “My best memories are the years I spent in Marceline. You children are lucky to live here.”
Although we didn’t get chance to go into the theatre, it was definitely worth the stop. We managed to take some photos through the windows and outside of the theatre.
Location: E. P. Ripley Park, Marceline, MO.
Of course, a big part of Marceline is the railroad line that runs right through it. We could have guessed that trains played a huge part in Walt’s early life, as his passion for the railroad was unmissable in his later life.
Locomotive #2546 stands in E. P. Ripley Park and was dedicated to the City of Marceline on December 20, 1955. When Walt and Roy visited Marceline in 1956, the engine was painted with “Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad” as a homage to Walt’s latest accomplishment, Disneyland.
Next, we passed by the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, but they weren’t open. They were actually doing a renovation for a re-opening on April 1. But more on that later, as there was a very special surprise for us.
The Marceline Post Office
Location: 120 E Ritchie Ave, Marceline, MO 64658
We then went briefly over to the Marceline Postal Office where we heard that you could buy a commemorative stamp that was made in honor of Walt right after he died, however, it was no longer being sold. Although we didn’t, we thought it might be nice for others to send a letter or postcard from Marceline to get their mail stamped with Marceline on it.
Walt Disney’s Childhood Farm
Location: 119 W. Broadway St., Marceline, MO
Next, we headed over to the farmhouse that Walt lived at. After researching the property a bit more, we came to find that someone currently resides in the house. We didn’t want to intrude, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We were there just long enough to take a couple of photos.
Walt’s Dreaming Tree and Barn
Location: 275 W. Broadway St., Marceline, MO
This was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Down towards the bottom of the field behind Walt’s childhood farmhouse is a tree. He called it his dreaming tree. He would go down there, sometimes with a book, and just read and dream about far off lands and fairytales and let his imagination run free. We can almost imagine him dreaming up his first cartoon characters and creating their story. One thing’s for sure, this is where Walt first got his taste of theater. A little further along the field, you can find a reconstruction of Walt’s barn (the original barn has been relocated to California, where you can find his model railroad). It was in this barn that a young Walt got his first taste of show business. He would often hold a barnyard circus for his friends and charge them a fee to get to see his show. Unfortunately for Walt, the animals in the show did not wish to participate and Walt’s mother made him reimburse all of his friends for the flop. Luckily for us, that didn’t stop Walt’s persistence in the world of show business.
Unfortunately the original “dreaming tree” fell in 2015. It is still there to look at, but it is dead and starting to decay rapidly. Hence why you should take a trip to Marceline as soon as possible. In 2004, one of Walt’s Grandsons (Bradford Disney Lund) and three Walt Disney World Ambassadors (Sara Spike, Juan Aviles and Christopher Stewart) planted a sapling that was grown from a seed harvested from the original dreaming tree. They planted it using soil from the Magic Kingdom park and poured water over it from the Rivers of America. This “Son of a Dreaming Tree” is now growing well right next to the original. If you plan on heading to see Walt’s Barn and Dreaming Tree, bring shoes that won’t get ruined by a lot of mud because the ground was extremely damp after it had rained. Oh, and be sure to bring a pen or marker with you because they encourage you to leave a message or signature on the barn. Look out for ours! 🙂
Walt Disney Elementary
Location: 420 E California Ave, Marceline, MO 64658
Not far away from Walt’s Dreaming Tree and Barn is Walt Disney Elementary. The school, originally named Park School, reopened as Walt Disney Elementary in 1960 in honor of Walt. When he was approached by School Officials and asked if he would allow them to name the school after him, he was thrilled and even contributed a flagpole among other things such as educational materials and playground equipment. Many schools had already been named after Walt, but to have his old school in Marceline extend the offer was such a special moment for him. He had previously been the Chairman of Pageantry for the 1960 Winter Olympics and had one of the thirty Olympic Flagpoles (already signed by him) moved to stand outside the school. If you decide to visit here, be sure to go after school lets out or when the students are in classes as it usually gets congested when the school busses come in.
After we wrapped things up at the school, we decided to go and look in the stores on Main Street USA and just talk to the people of Marceline. We were recommended by the lady at the Post Office that we should check out Magnolia Antiques & Tourist Center as they have a lot of antiques from The Walt Disney Company. When we were inside, my Wife had a look around and I got into a conversation with the the man behind the counter, David. He was a lovely man and had a lot to tell us about Walt’s visits to Marceline. When my Wife came to check out (we collect Christmas tree ornaments so we got an ornament with the commemorative stamp on it), we told him more about our history with the company. David decided there and then that we had to meet Peter Whitehead, the Creative Director at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum as he has a son that is doing the exact same Cultural Representative Program at EPCOT that I completed back in 2009, although he is in the Canadian Pavilion and I was at the United Kingdom. David told us to take short look at the Walt Disney Municipal Park (pictured below) while he got on the phone with him.
The Walt Disney Municipal Park
Location: 800 S Kansas Ave. Marceline, MO. 64658
The Walt Disney Municipal Park was dedicated on July 4, 1956. Both Walt and Roy Disney attended the ceremony. In 1966, the Midget Autopia ride was removed from Disneyland and Walt and Roy donated it to their old town of Marceline, which placed it in the Walt Disney Municipal Park. As of now, the rails are no longer in the park, but the cement track is still there for children to play on. What was the loading area is now a picnic pavilion. The ride cars are in storage awaiting their restoration, except for one car that can be found inside the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.
When we got back to the store, Peter was waiting for us to take us over for a look at the
not yet open to the public reopened April 1. 2016, revamped Walt Disney Hometown Museum. What we found there was more than any Disney fanatic could ever dream of.
The Walt Disney Hometown Museum
Location: 120 E Santa Fe Ave, Marceline, MO 64658
Peter took us into the museum and explained that the museum was actually created inside the old Train Depot that Walt Disney would have spent a lot of time in and gained his love for trains and the railway. We then went into the museum that had a lot of artefacts in there, but we’re only going to show you our most favorite pieces so that it leaves something new for you all to go and see.
In this photo you can see Walt fishing in Marceline. The photo was taken on one of Walt’s visits back to his hometown, where he would often bring his media crew with him. It is a funny fact around the town that Walt didn’t actually catch this fish, but instead had someone place it onto his hook for the purpose of a photo.
As we mentioned above, this is an actual car from the Midget Autopia attraction that once stood at Disneyland. The ride was removed and donated by Walt and Roy to the town of Marceline for use at the Walt Disney Municipal Park.
Pictured above is a track panel from Walt’s Carolwood Pacific Railroad which looped around his estate in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles. This is the railroad that can be seen in many memorable archive videos from The Walt Disney Company.
These Mickey Mouse dolls were a gift that Walt had produced for Flora and Elias’ 50th wedding anniversary. In this room, you can also hear a recording of an older Walt talking to Flora about an incident where he convinced his sister Ruth to paint the outside walls of his boyhood home, the one we wrote about above, with black tar that took quite some effort for the family to remove.
In 1963, Walt bought sister Ruth a T.V. set so that she could watch his weekly television show. Pictured above is that exact same television set!
Here are a collection of letters sent to Ruth from Madeline Wheeler, on behalf of Walt. Madeline was actually Roy’s secretary and I’m not sure why she was the one that was writing the letters to Ruth from Walt and not Walt’s more known secretary, Dolores Scott. There’s a question that the We Love Orlando readership may be able to answer. Get in contact with us if you can offer any assistance.
The next part that we wanted to showcase is an amazing replica of Walt’s porch. This is an addition that Peter personally made and we thought it was a great touch to the museum. We can’t wait to return soon after the museum reopens so that we can see how it turns out!
And now for the artefact that we were most excited about, Dale Varner’s Disneyland model.
For over 40 years, Dale Varner worked on his scale model of Disneyland’s attractions and buildings. In December of 2006, Dale was visiting Marceline for the annual Toonfest. After showing photos of the model to the museum and voicing his concerns that the model did not have a permanent home, the museum agreed to house the wonderful piece. Dale’s only request was that he could come to Marceline and continue to work on it. Sadly, in 2009, Dale passed away. You will notice that he was in the process of working on some of the models as you can see that some of them are unfinished.
After we got back to the Magnolia Antiques store, David told us that a local group were having a fish fry and wanted us to go along so that they could meet us. We politely declined as we had to make a long journey back to our hotel in St. Louis, but it just goes to show the character of the people that live here. That’s the thing that we found most noteworthy about the town of Marceline, the kindness of its people.
As we made our way out of the town, we drove by Walt’s old home once more. We looked across the field down towards Walt’s Dreaming Tree and Barn where the sun was setting. Of course, we had to listen to the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” as we passed by. It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip to the town of Marceline, MO.