In Walt Disney's Missouri: Marceline
Marceline, in north central Missouri, is a town of around twenty-five
hundred people, its population today about the same as it was when
Elias Disney moved his family there ninety-nine years ago. Marceline
was built in the 1880s as a railroad town, to serve the Santa Fe
line's trains, and its fortunes rose and fell with those of the
railroad. The population peaked at around four thousand while the
Disneys were living there (they left in 1911), before beginning
a slow decline.
Marceline's loss is our gain: It's because Marceline has stayed
small that it still feels much like the town that Walt Disney enjoyed
as a boy, almost a century ago. Were he to come back today, he would
have no trouble finding his way around.
The Disneys lived in this farmhouseolder than Marceline itselfjust
outside the town. It's now privately owned, and has been added to,
but in a way that hasn't compromised the architectural integrity
of the original house.
This is "Walt's dreaming tree," the cottonwood tree on
the Disneys' 45-acre farm where Walt whiled away the hours daydreaming
(but probably not on a chilly day in March, which is when I took
this photo). The tree is accessible to the public without charge,
as is the farm's reconstructed barn in the background. Hundreds
of Disney fans have left their autographs inside the barn.
This depot was built after the Disneys left (click here
to go to a picture of the original depot, the one the Disneys would
have seen when they arrived in Marceline). When I visited in March,
the depot was a construction site, the museum still some weeks away
from opening. From what I saw of the new exhibitsdevoted largely
to the Disney familythey will be strikingly professional,
with none of the thrown-together look so common in small-town museums.
Marceline's main street was called Kansas Avenue when the Disneys
lived there but was redubbed Main Street U.S.A. a few years ago,
in emulation of Disneyland's Main Street. Marceline boosters like
to say Disneyland's street was modeled on Marceline's, but that's
open to question, and probably irrelevant in any case. It's not
in architectural details but in Walt Disney's nostalgia for small-town
life, as evidenced not just at Disneyland but also in many of his
films, that Marceline's influence can most strongly be felt.
Kaye Malins met Walt Disney when he visited Marceline in 1956 and
stayed at her family's home (her father, Rush Johnson, was Marceline's
mayor). She has since become Marceline's most ardent and effective
booster, the sparkplug behind not just the museum but other Disney-related
projects as well, including the annual September "Toonfest."
That festival originated in 2001, with a celebration of Walt Disney's
hundredth birthday, and has continued every year since then, attracting
hundreds of Disney fans as well as such pros as Pete Docter, the
director of Monsters, Inc.
[Posted April 4, 2005]