by Rhonda Moffit, Moffits-Mad Hatter Adventures July 8, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were so many artifacts- it is easy to spend a day just taking it all in.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We can plan your experience as well.
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Images copyright Disney, 2018.