Please welcome to the blog Ron Thompson. Also known as DisneyDragons, Ron is a passionate Disney fan. He is a D23 Charter Member and a DVC member since 1998. He has enjoyed 35 vacations to Walt Disney World, 26 to Disneyland, once to Tokyo Disneyland! Welcome, Ron!
On March 14, 2012 The Disney “official” fan club, D23, took a group of eager fans on a journey to the small town of Marceline, MO.
Marceline? We usually think of LA or Orlando when we think of Walt Disney. But, long before there was the World and Disneyland….. Long before there were the Studios, Laugh-O-Grams and even Mickey and Oswald….. There was a 5 year-old boy named Walter Elias Disney and he lived in a small town in Missouri called Marceline…
Walt’s boyhood hometown is what Walt described as “the place that had greatest influence on my life”.
The current population of Marceline is around 2500 people. It has no hotels and only one small Bed and Breakfast, so bringing around two hundred fans plus staff represented a logistical challenge for D23. They solved it by staging the trip from the nearest large city which turns out to be Kansas City.
Marceline is about 2 hours away so to make the bus trip more enjoyable, D23 showed us a series of Disney short features starting with some early silent films including some “Alice” features, moving on to Silly Symphonies, Mickey cartoons and ending up with some very recent Mickey and Goofy ones.
Our excitement was building as a green and white highway sign announced that we were arriving in Marceline. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect, but I think it’s safe to say none of us expected what happened next.
As we turned onto Main Street USA in downtown Marceline, apparently the entire town had turned out. The streetlamps were hung with American flags just like Main Street USA in the Disney Parks. The townspeople were waving flags and shouting “D23, D23, D23 !!” Part way down the street the buses turned into a plaza area by E. F. Ripley Park to let us disembark. There we were greeted to the Walt Disney Elementary School kids holding signs saying Welcome D23. Many of them were wearing Mickey Ears as well. The kids also took up the chant of D23 as we got off the buses and when we were all collected together, they sang the Mickey Mouse Club song for us. This was in homage to the first time an adult Walt came back to Marceline. At that time the town did not get the Mickey Mouse Club TV program so they had been taught the song and then sang it for Walt.
Right next to the park was the town post office. One of the few in the nation with an actual name appropriately called the Walt Disney Post Office. The US Post Office had awarded Marceline a new cancellation postmark depicting Walt’s “Dreaming Tree” (more on the Dreaming Tree later). They chose March 14th as the First Day of Cancellation for it in honor of our visit. Virtually all of us took the opportunity to mail Marceline postcards to friends to take advantage of the First Day of Issue.
Our next stop was the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. It contains a wonderful collection of memorabilia of both Walt’s time there (his school desk for example) as well as from several visits Walt made to Marceline over the years. There is so much to see for a Disney geek that you could spend hours here.
Sadly our time there came to an end and we were taken over to a town hall for a homemade lunch and a viewing of a new documentary called “Marceline” including a discussion by the two filmmakers responsible for it. Following lunch, we took a tour of the Walt Disney Elementary School. Walt had sent in a team of his artists to create murals of Disney characters on the walls in the halls, the gym and even a floor mosaic of Mickey for the entrance.
We were given some free time to explore the shops of Main Street USA. Standing on one corner, the likeness to its namesake in the Theme Parks in truly uncanny. While some of the Disney artists working on Main Street USA may have had other small towns in America as a reference point. There is no doubt that for Walt, his vision of what it should be was firmly planted in the Marceline, Missouri of his adolescence.
The next stop was the Uptown Theatre where Walt had premiered two of his movies: “The Great Locomotive Chase” and “ So Dear to My Heart.” At the theatre, we were treated to a discussion of the films and their relation to Marceline by Disney’s Chief Archivist, Dave Smith, and a viewing of “So Dear to My Heart”.
Our last stop for the day was a visit to the Disney farm barn and the “Dreaming Tree”. The tree was an old cottonwood tree that a young Walt and his sister Ruth referred to as their secret place where Walt sat and dreamed. He had later claimed that the “magic” all started under that “Dreaming Tree.” Sad to report, the tree was struck and killed by lightning a few years ago. A large portion of the stump remains and in fact another cottonwood tree grown from the original stands nearby. There is also a Dreaming Tree sapling that has been planted at Disneyland. The town treated us to a wine tasting at the barn and we all were given the opportunity to sign our names on the interior of the barn. I know it sounds like graffiti, but visitors are encouraged to do so. Looking over the signatures left by previous visitors, we even found one dedicated to WDW Radio!
We went back into town to the Community Center for a farewell dinner. The food was great Midwestern home cooking which went very well with a serenade by a mixed quartet singing the song “Marceline”.
Our visit to the town had drawn to a close. We received goodie bags with Marceline Coffee, a bag of pixie dust and several other items. One touching note, each bag had a handwritten note by one of the elementary school kids thanking us for our visit. Tired but with great memories we boarded the buses for the ride back to Kansas City.
Every Disney Fan owes it to him or herself to visit Marceline. So much of what Walt became in later years started here and it is well worth the journey.
Some web sites to visit for information or when planning your trip.
Marceline homepage: http://www.marceline.org/
Marceline Chamber of Commerce: http://marceline.com/
Walt Disney Hometown Museum: http://www.waltdisneymuseum.org/