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Road Trip to Marceline: An Alternative Way to Connect with Disney History

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If you’re a Disney history buff like me, I’m sure you’ve walked through Hollywood StudiosWalt Disney Presents numerous times examining Walt’s timeline of legacy. Toward the beginning of the attraction, you’re presented with images and artifacts related to Marceline, Missouri, Walt’s childhood home from ages 5-10. Although his time there seemed short, Marceline had a great impact on Walt’s formative years and actually served as inspiration for the idea of Main Street, U.S.A.  



I was able to make a trip to Marceline a few years back and to this day, it still holds a special place in my memories. In some ways, it feels like traveling to the land where the spark of imagination began. 

Upon my visit to Marceline, right off the bat, I was immersed in the intimate small-town Americana charm. Our first stop was the Walt Disney Hometown Museum where we found all sorts of scenes and artifacts relating to Walt’s childhood, his adult life, Disneyland, and his visits back to Marceline in later years.



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<em>Model of the Disneyland entrance at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum<em>

How did Walt end up in Marceline? Walt’s father, Elias, decided to move his family from Chicago due to concerns of safety and under a notion to start farming.

Our tour guide at the time, Inez Johnson, who actually met Walt Disney, had a wealth of knowledge and stories related to his time there. She recalled a story Walt passed on to her where he created a circus to earn some money as an 8-year-old entrepreneur. He trained dogs to do tricks and found that he couldn’t train the cats, so his sister, Ruth, helped create some fun outfits for the latter. Charging a dime for admission, the audience was entertained by Skinny, the ironically-named pig, the costumed cats, and dogs jumping through a hoop. All the kids thought it was the best circus until the ponies wouldn’t perform the tricks he taught them and ended up not doing much. Because of this, the audience wanted their money back. Walt’s mother, Flora, overheard what was going on and told him he had to give them their money back because they were not happy with his service. 

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<em>Inez Johnson from the Walt Disney Hometown Museum<em>

You may be thinking, “How did Inez obtain gems of information such as this?” Well, when she was 27, her family’s house was the only air-conditioned house in town and they had the Disney family stay with them when Walt and his brother, Roy, visited Marceline back in 1956.



Upon Walt’s visits to Marceline, he gave back in many different ways to the community. Around the school, he had his artists create renditions of the original Fab Five characters: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. Disney had said if it hadn’t been for his love of the simple barnyard animal and enjoying nature within those five short years at Marceline, he was not sure that he would’ve created those particular characters. 

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<em>Model of Sleeping Beauty Castle at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum<em>

After coming back, Walt had fallen in love with the farm again and the nostalgia of simple living. Walt said if Inez’ husband bought the farm because he could get it cheaper than Walt could, he would buy it back from him. This did happen, however, both Walt and Roy’s deaths proceeded before it could be worked on. Inez and her husband bought it back to preserve the property, and even her daughter has raised their family there. 



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<em>Train car located in Marceline Missouri <em>

The Disney grandchildren were invited back for Walt’s 100th birthday with a set celebration in September 2001. They saw the state of the railroad that Walt had talked of so fondly and the fact was there wasn’t any money to have the railroad restored. When the Disney grandchildren went home, they sent some personal Disney stock to help save the museum. Ruth Disney’s descendants also gave them items that she wanted to go back to Marceline.

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<em>Uptown Theatre on Main Street USA Marceline Missouri <em>

Part of our trip to Marceline included walking right down the middle of the original Main Street, U.S.A. The foundation of the buildings are still intact with some repurposed in different ways. 



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<em>Building in Marceline Missouri that served as inspiration for Coke Corner in Disneyland<em>

The building that served as inspiration for “Coke Corner” in Disneyland used to be an undertaking business. Roy had a job helping the undertaker and Walt said he could help by keeping the hearse clean. However, Roy said the only thing he remembered Walt doing was crawling in the hearse and playing dead. I would love to believe this memory was a spark related to The Haunted Mansion.

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<em>Son of Dreaming Tree located on the Disney Farm property<em>

Walt’s relationship to nature in his youth could be best summarized with his Dreaming Tree. Walt would come to this cottonwood tree with his sister, Ruth, a pad, and pencil, while laying on a blanket during what he called “Belly Botany.” He sketched whatever wildlife he saw including rabbits, squirrels, field mice, and an occasional Bambi [deer].

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<em>Signage located beside Son of Dreaming Tree<em>

The National Forestry took seeds from the original cottonwood tree from the Disney farm knowing the age and importance it carried. As it started to die, seedlings from the tree were planted. Bradford Disney Lund, Walt’s grandson, along with Disney World Ambassadors, brought water and soil from the Rivers of America connecting the past and present to create the future. The Son of Dreaming Tree was a highlight on our trip from visiting the property.

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<em>Replica of the Disney Barn located on the Disney Farm property <em>

Nearby the Son of Dreaming Tree is also a replica of the Disney Barn. Rather than the original building, this barn stands as a testament to the time during which the Disney family lived in Marceline.

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<em>Messages inscribed on the Disney Barn replica located on the Disney Farm property<em>

The public, including some notable artists and figures, have left messages inscribed on the walls, beams- any surface that can be written on with tributes to Walt. I myself left my own little note of thanks.

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<em>In front of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline Missouri<em>

If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend stopping in Marceline, Missouri for a little slice of Disney nostalgia. If you can make it part of your Disney trip, it will make booking a vacation to Disneyland or Walt Disney World all the more enriching. Our tour guide, Inez, was an irreplaceable treasure herself with the stories and knowledge she shared about her home. You can tangibly feel the connection from Marceline, to Disneyland, to Walt Disney World in this special little pocket of the country. Breathing in the outdoors, gazing at a clear blue sky in a field of grass and cottonwood trees, you too, may see why Walt found this place so special.

Emily has a background in the arts and has been going to Disney World since 1992. As a more recent resident of Orlando, her theme park mindset has fluctuated from avid vacationer to local park goer. She enjoys sharing her love and knowledge for all things Disney and can be found on Instagram and TikTok @explorewithemilynicole





























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