Just a few miles off Route 36, halfway across Missouri, lies a quaint and sleepy little town. Even at first glance, the charming downtown sparks something familiar – at least it does if you have ever seen Main Street USA in Disneyland.
Marceline has a population of just over 2000, but every year thousands of pilgrims travel to the town many consider a mecca for Disney lovers. Why, you might ask? Because Marceline produced one of the most well-known filmmakers and entrepreneurs of the 20th
century: Walt Disney.
“To tell the truth, more things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened since – or are likely to in the future.” – Walt Disney
As several Disney devotees and I drove into town, we joked: “This was Disney’s road.” “That was Disney’s hay bale.” “That was Disney’s RV.” For fans like us, the whole town has a certain kind of glamour around it. Disney loved Marceline. And Marceline loves Disney right back.
WALT DISNEY HOMETOWN MUSEUM
Set only 15 feet from the train tracks in downtown Marceline is the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. The two-story brick building that once belonged to the Santa Fe Railroad Company is a testament to a man who built an empire. From commemorative tricycles, to the TV Disney bought for his sister Ruth to watch the opening of Disneyland, to the room full of scale models of the theme park, the museum is chock full of the boy who came to Marceline on the Santa Fe Railroad and the man who was a pioneer of America’s animation industry.
Disney’s love of his hometown is well documented. In the museum, you can even find the plans he drew up for an amusement park on the family farm located near Marceline. Unfortunately, the idea never came to fruition due to Disney’s life being tragically cut short, but the plans and the land he grew up on are well preserved.
The creative director of the museum, Peter Whitehead, is a physical embodiment of how much Disney has impacted the town. Though originally from Canada, Peter found his way to Marceline through his love of Disney, and through his love of Disney, he found a love for Marceline. Whitehead is committed to expanding and improving the museum, and there are exciting things to come, including Midget Autopia, an amusement park ride from Disneyland – originally donated by Disney – that will soon reopen for the first time in decades.
DISNEY’S DREAMING TREE AND BARN
The Hometown Museum is not the only standing testament to Disney in the town of Marceline. A few miles down the road is a plot of land originally owned by the Disney family. The Disney Family Farm was once home to a towering cottonwood that came to be called the Dreaming Tree where a young Walt would sit under its branches and draw his earliest cartoons. Unfortunately, the famous tree no longer stands after being struck by lightning, but the Son of the Dreaming Tree, a young tree grown from the original, is thriving just feet away.
About a hundred yards further into the property lies an idyllic scene. A re-creation of a barn the Disneys had on their farm is surrounded by hayfields and wildflowers. This barn is the real monument to the impact Disney had on the town of Marceline and the world as a whole. Inside, thousands upon thousands of signatures, thank yous and letters to Disney are scribbled on the structure’s wooden walls. Messages include: “I love your cartoons!” and “Thank you for Mickey!” and even a marriage proposal.
Beyond the words, hundreds of Mickeys – from crudely scrawled to expertly drawn – dot the walls of the barn. The mouse stands as a symbol of Disney, the corporation and the man. It is possibly one of the most recognizable shapes in the world. Back at the museum, at least three murals painted by ARCY, a talented artist, now a Disney Fine Artist, contain at least one hidden Mickey.
Through the decades, the idea of Disney expanded far beyond one man. The Walt Disney Company has become a global corporation whose business model has extended from the world of animated fairy tales to television networks, theme parks, merchandise and so much more. But when you strip all of that away and go back to the roots, Disney was just a boy, sitting under a tree on his family farm, dreaming.
Written by Grace Albers Smith