In the Midwest and craving a little bit of Disney? The Walt Disney Hometown Museum is a great trip for the whole family!
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“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
Walt Disney Hometown Museum
Few people realize the man behind Mickey Mouse, Disney Land, and Disney World spent his childhood living in the Midwest. Walt Disney was about 5 years old when he stepped off the train in the small town of Marceline in northern Missouri. His family had moved from Chicago to a farm just north of town, where they lived until Walt was 9 years old.
Our family was in the area recently to attend the commencement ceremony at nearby Truman State University, and we decided to spend an afternoon exploring Walt’s old stomping grounds and the Walt Disney Hometown Museum dedicated to his memory. My husband, Josh, and I joked, “We’re still saving for a trip to Disney World, so for now we’ll just take the girls to the Disney museum.”
First Stop: Lunch
We arrived in town at lunch time and ate at Ma Vic’s Corner Café on Marceline’s main street, which bears a striking resemblance to Main Street USA in the Disney parks. The café is popular among both locals and tourists. We walked in and stood by the door for a moment, wondering if we were supposed to wait to be seated. An older woman dining at a nearby table addressed us in friendly small-town fashion: “You can seat yourselves.” We slipped into one of the few open booths; the café tends to be a busy place.
Ma Vic’s serves a variety of food at affordable prices. Josh ordered a bacon cheeseburger and fries, our two daughters split an order of tortilla chips with nacho cheese, and I had nachos grande with ground beef, nacho cheese, salsa, and bell peppers. We shared a few pieces of cherry cheesecake for dessert.
Home of All Things Disney
Then we were back in the car, following signs and driving just a couple of blocks to the Walt Disney Hometown Museum located in an old Santa Fe depot with train tracks only a few feet from the building. We had just stepped into the museum’s front room when a train roared by, whistle blowing, the ground rumbling beneath our feet. Trains pass about every 20 minutes, or roughly 70 trains a day. One room in the Walt Disney Hometown Museum offers seats and plenty of windows just for people who want to watch the trains. The Walt Disney Hometown Museum ‘s website states, “We guarantee you won’t have to wait long.”
The museum holds many items of interest. There’s Walt’s old school desk with his initials carved into it, a recording of Walt talking with his parents about their 50th anniversary, a miniature car from a Disneyland ride, and a large room full of model buildings and rides from Disneyland (That room was our daughters’ favorite.).
Some of the exhibits also mention just how much Walt loved small towns as an adult. Movies like Pollyanna that were set in small towns often moved him to tears, perhaps because of the nostalgia he felt for his childhood home.
The friendly volunteers staffing the museum the day we were there are lifelong Marceline residents who interacted with the Disney family when Walt was an adult. Our tour guide told the story of how, when she was a child, her family had one of the only air-conditioned homes in town and was to host the grownup Disney when he visited to dedicate the town’s Walt Disney Swimming Pool and Park. The family worried their furniture was not nice enough, so people from town shuffled furniture around to make sure the house was ready for Disney’s visit.
Then our guide gestured to a white-haired woman working at the museum’s front desk. “She’s in this picture,” our guide said, pointing to a photo on the wall showing a group of adolescent girls in bathing suits at the dedication of the pool.
The woman at the desk spoke up proudly, “I wore a one-piece suit and three-inch heels.”
As we were leaving, one of the volunteers told us about a local ice cream shop. “They’ll make a Mickey cone if you request it,” she said. I later learned the shop will add chocolate cookies to the scoop atop your cone to create Mickey “ears.”
The Dreaming Tree and Walt’s Happy Place
We didn’t stop at the ice cream shop because we’d already eaten cheesecake at Ma Vic’s, but we did pick up a map that led us to the former Disney family farm. We drove past the red-painted house, which is a private residence with a sign marking it as Walt’s boyhood home.
Farther down the road, we found a small parking area and made a short walk to the site of Walt’s Dreaming Tree, a large cottonwood under which he sat to think and draw as a child. During his return trips to Marceline, he often went back to the Dreaming Tree. The tree was eventually struck by lightning and only the trunk remains today, but its seeds were preserved and a smaller intact cottonwood, the “Son of the Dreaming Tree,” stands nearby.
We walked a little beyond the Dreaming Tree to a replica of the barn that once sat on the farm. It’s called Walt’s Happy Place and Walt once held a circus in the original barn, but his audience was disappointed and his mother made him refund their admission. She told him, “Give the audience more than they expect and they’ll be happy customers.”
In some ways, the town is largely unchanged from the time when Walt lived there. There are no flashy signs advertising, “This is where it all began.” But it’s nice that the town is not highly commercialized. In many ways, it looks and feels as it would have in Walt’s childhood.
Even as someone who enjoys suburban life and all its amenities, I could see the appeal of Walt’s small town. From watching the trains to gazing in the shop windows on the main street, to sitting under the Dreaming Tree and roaming the farm, it’s a life many young boys would love. And now that we’ve introduced our daughters to Walt Disney and his family, we’ll keep saving our money so we can one day introduce them to Mickey Mouse and the rest of Walt Disney’s friends down in Florida.
If You Visit:
The museum at 120 E. Sante Fe Ave. in Marceline, MO, is open April 1 through October 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, and the museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is $10 for ages 11 and older, $5 for ages 6-10, and free for children younger than 6. Children ages 6 or 7 and older — who can read independently — will best appreciate the exhibits at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.
Shortly after our family’s visit to Marceline, the remains of Walt’s Dreaming Tree succumbed to a wind storm. Plans are under way to create a tribute to the tree.
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