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Guest Blogger Ryan Kilpatrick started his life long love of Disney when he visited Walt Disney World with his grandparents in 1982, just a week after Epcot opened, and got his picture in Communicore printed in Southern Living magazine. Since then, he’s drafted his wife and kids into the mix! Between Disney trips he started his blog, The Disney Film Project, where he is starting the adventure of watching all the Disney shorts and features in chronological order. You can find him on his blog or on Twitter.
When you visit Walt Disney World and stroll down Main Street, USA, you may not realize that you’re really strolling through Walt Disney’s memories. After all, Main Street was designed to be a turn of the century street, just like Marceline, Missouri, the town where Walt spent some of his formative years. My family and I recently traveled to Marceline to see where it all started, and it was an absolutely amazing experience.
Driving into town, the signs let you know that you’re headed to Walt Disney’s Hometown, and when you pull onto Main Street USA (yes, that’s the street name) you know it. Driving down that street, you can see the vision of the entrance to Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom.
All along the street are reminders of the Disney parks. When you get out of the car, loudspeakers are playing Disney music. The hotel we stayed at, the Uptown Theatre Bed and Breakfast, looks just like the outside of the Main Street Cinema. Across the street is the Zurcher building, which was the model for Coke Corner. Signs up and down the street show you what building on Main Street in Disneyland was based on buildings here.
I cannot say enough about the kindness of the people in town. Debbie Foster, who runs the bed and breakfast, me us when we arrived, and showed us all around the theatre, including other rooms, the back entrance to the theatre itself as well as pointing out areas of interest around town. Then, in the morning, she brought us a breakfast of a “quiche” that had ham, eggs, hashbrowns and cheese, along with Mickey waffles, blueberry muffins, fresh squeezed orange juice, apple juice, fresh strawberries and grapes. Yum! After that, she showed us a short movie in the theatre and let my kids parade around the stage.
The kindness continued at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, located in the old train depot. We paid our admission and began the guided tour, which reviews Walt’s boyhood in the town, as well as his visits back to town in 1956 and other times. Our guide was speaking and I was reviewing the exhibits, when she said:
“And since our house was the only one with air conditioning, the town decided that the Disneys would stay with us while they were in town.”
What? I was talking to someone who met Walt Disney? It was amazing. From that point forward, I peppered our guide with questions about Walt, and she kindly answered every single one of them. Our guide, along with the fabulous exhibits, really told the story of Walt’s time in Marceline.
Away from the museum, there are several other sites to visit. Just around the corner is EP Ripley park, named for one of the engines on the Disneyland Railroad. In the park is an engine that Walt had painted to say “Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad,” which is just one of the gifts he gave to his hometown. Outside the Walt Disney Elementary School, you can find a flagpole from the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, donated by Walt after he ran the entertainment for those games. But Walt’s biggest gift to the town could be found at the Walt Disney Municipal Park.
If you drive down to the park, you’ll see the pool that was named after Walt when the complex was renamed, and off to the left is a section of track. This is where Walt sent the Midget Autopia, an expired ride from Disneyland. For years, the ride ran in the park, a little piece of Disneyland in Marceline! The ride is long gone, and grass is growing in the track, but the townsfolk are hoping to fix the cars and get it back up and running.
The last site we toured was Walt Disney’s original homesite. It’s a private residence now, but in back of the home are two things I think every Disney fan will want to see. First is Walt’s “Dreaming Tree.” When he came back to town, he told the people about how he would lay under the old cottonwood tree and sketch, because he was not yet old enough to work in the fields with his father.
The second thing is a reconstruction of the barn that stood on the property when Walt was there. It’s a reproduction, sure, but when you walk into the open field, you can easily imagine young Walt Disney there in 1905. Inside the barn, you can sign the walls, leaving your thanks to Walt. So many people have signed, including Pete Docter of Pixar and many other animators and cartoonists. Leaving your signature where so many great artists have signed was a humbling experience.
If you are a Disney fan, and you want to see where it all started, I can’t recommend a quick trip to Marceline enough. It’s not just the sites that inspired Main Street, or the fields or barns that inspired so many of the early cartoons. No, the main thing I took away from Marceline was the attitude. It was pure Disney. Everyone there has an unflagging optimism that Marceline will be a destination for Disney fans. They believe that the Uptown Theatre will re-open, that the Midget Autopia will come back, that the trains will start stopping there again and that the Disney Museum will be a huge attraction. Based on visiting them, I have to say I hope they’re right, because Marceline deserves it.