Tag Archives: ruth disney

Destination: Magical Marceline, Missouri

by Rhonda Moffit, Moffits-Mad Hatter Adventures    July 8, 2018

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Driving in to Marceline, Missouri.  – Image ©Moffits: Mad Hatter Adventures 2018

We recently had the honor of visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum and other locations in Marceline, Missouri. The community of Marceline has around 2,500 people and is located a few hours northwest of St. Louis. The Disney farm is where Walt, Roy, and Ruth Disney lived with their parents Elias and Flora. Elias purchased the farm from the estate of Civil War Veteran William Crane and moved the family there in 1905. There were also two older brothers, Herbert and Raymond, (who did not want to adjust to farm life) who crept out the window in the middle of the night to travel back to Chicago, where the family had been living prior to moving to Marceline.

Walt received his first payment for a drawing while in Marceline from a local resident, Doc Sherwood. In addition to that, Walt was in a presentation of Peter Pan during elementary school, and Roy manned a block and tackle so that Walt could “fly”. Walt spent time with his uncle, Mike Martin, who was an engineer for the Santa Fe Railroad. Uncle Mike would stop the train about a mile outside of town and blow a secret whistle so that Walt would hear it and run to greet him. He would hop aboard and ride the last mile into town. This fueled his lifelong interest in the railroad.

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Martin and Rhonda at Walt Disney Municipal Park, 2018. Image ©Moffits: Mad Hatter Adventures.

The Walt Disney Municipal Park is located south of town and is beautiful to see. We headed there before any other location. There is a lake there and also the original site of the Midget Autopia that Walt Disney donated to Marceline when the attraction was dismantled at Disneyland.

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The lake at the Walt Disney Municipal Park.  Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018

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The original site of the only Disneyland ride to be operated outside of a Disney park- Midget Autopia. The town operated the ride from 1966 until rising insurance costs and a lack of replacement parts forced it’s closure in 1977.

We took our time and drove around town to see Walt’s inspiration for Main Street, USA, in detail. Walt’s boyhood recollections of Marceline influenced films such as “So Dear to My Heart” and “Lady and the Tramp”. It is easy to understand how when you spend time in this peaceful small town. Walt’s first animated film featured barnyard animals he knew as a boy in Marceline.

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At last it was time for us to visit the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, where we happened to run into one of the few people still living that was friends with Walt, Roy, and Ruth Disney- Inez Johnson. Inez and her late husband Rush had quite a task set before them in 1955 when Walt Disney asked them to purchase the family farm for him under the name of the company, “RETLAW”. They did so, being locals and avoiding any suspicion. Not long after, Walt and Roy made the train ride back to Marceline to attend the dedication of the Walt Disney swimming pool and park. The town was abuzz with the plans for the dedication, and it was suggested that Walt and Lillian Disney should stay with the Johnson’s because they were among the first in town to have air conditioning in their home.

Inez laughed as she told us that she had looked at her furniture when it was decided that Walt would stay with them and shook her head- it was not up to her standards for someone of that importance. She had a friend who had just bought new furniture, so they worked together to move the Johnson furniture out of the house and borrowed the new furniture for the Disney visit. When Walt and Lillian arrived, they put all fears to rest. Inez said that he was a regular person, approachable and kind, not at all snooty or snobbish. In fact, Walt asked Inez and Rush’s daughter where he should sleep. She answered to him that the “pink” room (her room) was the best room in the house. Walt smiled at her and said that they would be fine sleeping in the pink room, and so they did. That young lady is now the owner and resident in the Disney family farmhouse.

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Rhonda and Inez Johnson, Disney family friend and Walt Disney Hometown Museum volunteer. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

Inez was an absolute delight. She is the person you will see as you watch all of the videos within the museum and we were fortunate to spend an afternoon with her. She took us around, just the two of us, and showed us highlights of the artifacts that were left to the museum by Ruth Disney, Walt’s youngest sibling. After that initial visit for the pool dedication, Walt and Roy frequently made stops in Marceline to visit with the Johnsons. He loved to travel from Los Angeles to New York via train, and every chance he got he would stop off for an hour or two as the train came through town. Inez became particularly close to Ruth, and it was Ruth who instructed that all of her family memorabilia be donated to the museum upon her death. Inez tears up when she talks about it, but has a smile on her face as she recalls how special that was.

“Walt was supposed to be here for the dedication of Midget Autopia,” she recalls. Her voice breaking a bit she says “he cancelled at the last minute because he thought he had a bad cold. It was the cancer. He dies just three months later.”  We all had tears in our eyes when she said this.

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This is one train car that no longer rides the rails, located not far from the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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The restored train depot serves as the home for the Walt Disney Hometown Museum that opened in 2001. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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The Walt Disney Hometown Museum owns roughly 3,000 Disney-related artifacts, including many items from Ruth Disney. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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As a Disney fan, it is a rare opportunity to get to spend time with anyone who knew Walt and his family personally. Inez was a gracious hostess and we appreciated everything that she shared with us. She pointed us in the direction of the Disney Family Farm after we viewed the museum displays and told us that her daughter would be delighted as well for us to spend time at the house. We promised to stop by as soon as we were done taking in every item on display.

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Installation of the Midget Autopia in Marceline. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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Martin is delighted with his find of one of the Midget Autopia cars- this one was never used on the track in Marceline, but was housed in a warehouse as a spare car. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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An image of the Midget Autopia car displayed in Disneyland. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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We were able to see the diploma presented to Walt Disney from Marceline High School during one of the presentations that took place as well as Walt Disney’s grade school desk, complete with Walt’s initials.

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There were so many artifacts- it is easy to spend a day just taking it all in.

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Possibly some of the first ever Disney pins next to a classic wrist watch.  Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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Some of the original track from Walt’s railroad that he built at his home in Holmby Hills, CA. Known as the “Carolwood Pacific Railroad”. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Martin and Conductor Mickey Mouse.  Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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This stereo and it’s album collection are priceless- the albums are recordings of the Disney family, most notably of Walt and Roy talking with their father, Elias. They liked technology and playing around with it was a great form of fun and learning.  Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Roy was the business man that got things done, and Walt was creative operations.  If not for Roy keeping his word to his brother when Walt was dying, we would never have had Walt Disney World.  Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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We were able to sit down and watch Ruth’s TV and walk on her living room rug. The TV shows the Disneyland opening special. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Note the letterhead on correspondence from Walt’s secretary to Ruth over the years. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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A treasure indeed- this is an actual branch from Walt’s Dreaming Tree. This large cottonwood tree was Walt’s favorite thing on the Disney farm. He and Ruth would play under it, climb it, and play in the spring that ran at it’s base. In later years, Walt would return to his favorite spot for inspiration when he visited Marceline, reflecting beneath it and spending time alone with his thoughts. The tree finally lost it’s life after a battle with disease and lightening strikes in 2015, but there is a location dedicated to it on the farm (see pics below). In 2003, one of Walt’s grandsons planted a sapling grown from the original Dreaming Tree and it is known as the “Son of Dreaming Tree”. It is flourishing. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Original miniature models for Disneyland are proudly on display. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney worked together at this light table. They shared it during their time working for Pesmen Rubin in 1919. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Walt’s grade school classroom is recreated including some of the original desks. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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Model for the Matterhorn at Disneyland. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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Model for It’s a Small World at Disneyland. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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Original model for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle area at Disneyland. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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This display is Main Street USA, and the display above it shows the buildings that were in Marceline. There is no doubt that Walt modeled Main Street USA directly after Marceline, although there is a town in California and one in Colorado that have tried to claim the same. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Delightful Disneyland miniatures are everywhere. It is interesting to see how Walt wanted everything to look. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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When leaving the museum, Inez bestowed a great gift to Rhonda. She told her that she believed that Walt would have adored her and that she must have been a wonderful Cast Member- and told her that she was a “pistol”. It made Rhonda laugh, and then cry as she was given some cottonwood seeds from the actual Dreaming Tree to take home. It was a very special moment. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

After hugging Inez goodbye and thanking her profusely, it was time to go to the Disney Family farm house. As we pulled up, we were able to greet Inez’s daughter. She told us that we could roam the entire farm and to feel right at home.

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Walt Disney’s Childhood Home in Marceline. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Wanting to see everything, Martin and Rhonda started walking the grounds to go back to the site of the Dreaming Tree and Walt’s barn. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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This is “Son of Dreaming Tree”, and it is thriving. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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We roamed all through the wooded areas happily. It was very special to truly walk in such a place of reverence for Disney fans. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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The Disney Family Farm is beautiful and the views are largely unchanged from what Walt would have looked upon. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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And there it was…Walt’s beloved barn. He loved the barn so much that he had his California barn modeled after it as an adult. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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In many ways, walking in Walt’s footsteps where he spent his formative, happiest, and most imaginative years is greater than the feeling one gets when visiting Disneyland.  The beauty of this place is so special. It is simple and beautifully pure, and even listening to the breeze and smelling the flowers touches you emotionally. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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Many Disney fans have made the pilgrimage to the barn. They sign their names somewhere in it as a lasting tribute. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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It is easy to see why Walt was inspired with such incredible beauty surrounding him. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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Peering out from the front of the barn. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

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We also left our mark. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.
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The appreciation for this place only grew with our journey. We hope it lasts for many years to come. Image ©Moffits Mad Hatter Adventures, 2018.

It was a day we will never forget, and a place that is every bit as magical as anything Walt or Roy created. If you would like to visit and would like some assistance with where to stay and how to get there, just email us at moffits@madhatteradv.com. We can plan your experience as well.

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Images copyright Disney, 2018.