Mickey & Marceline
By Vanessa Westmoreland
“More things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened since, or likely to in the future.”
If you want to connect with your inner creative kid and experience the culture and values that exist in a small town, visit Marceline, Missouri. It is the boyhood home of Walt Disney and there you will be transported back to the place that Disney credits the birthplace of his creativity. It is a place inspired by nature and a way of life that slows down and lets you appreciate the simple things. Many of the people that we spoke to love living here because of the peacefulness and serenity. It’s a very clean small town where everyone knows one another. “One farmer would help the other, they would go and help repair fences. Marceline people cared for one another.”
He was a naturalist and the farmland was a wonder to him versus the crowded streets and noise in Chicago where he was born. The wide open spaces sparked his creativity and developed his imagination into one of the most ultimate in history.
Missouri Highway 36 is known as the “Silicon Valley” of the 20th Century, because not only Disney, but other greats in history like General Pershing, J.C. Penny, Mark Twain, Jesse James and more grew up along Missouri Highway 36. Marceline offers guest houses that are a great retreat as your home away from home. The Kelly House and many other guest houses are owned by native, Mike Wrenn and his wife, Becky Cole. The 100-year-old charm of the home is welcoming and beautiful. The large porch and wicker furniture give an inviting space for the family to sprawl out on and let the kids play while you hear the neighbor children laughing and playing nearby. It’s an easy place to sit and listen to the sounds and take in the smells that Disney once did over 100 years ago. You can hear the majesty of the train going by and spot it from the front porch. Mike Wrenn said, “If you want to understand the culture of America, you would want to go to a small town like Marceline and experience the people and see what is important to them.” The house sprawls with four bedrooms and three bathrooms and plenty of room for entertaining with an extended family on vacation.
The interior design is period and allows you to feel like you are living closer to a time that Disney did there. There is also The Lamplighter North Motel if you prefer a motel over a guest house. It is charming and clean and north of town near the Disney Farm. Mike and Becky also own The Crocker House, a new Victorian guest house, a duplex and a brand new house on Main Street USA off of Kansas Avenue. Call Tammy at 660-376-3517 to schedule your visit and stay in one of these beautiful and inviting homes.
“If you could go back in time and look at what Disney is today and the impact he has had on the world–the thread takes you back to Marceline,” said Mike. Some of this impact is displayed inside Mike’s Magic of Marceline. It is a private museum and gallery that Mike and Becky also own and it is inside of the “conversations” store on Main Street. This building is also known as the old Zurcher Building. The building was named after Mr. Zurcher who ran a jewelry store there for 60 years. Walt’s oldest brother, Herbert, purchased a pocket watch there. The museum collection opened in 1988 and includes a hand drawn photo of Pinocchio signed by Walt Disney. It was gifted to Mike when he was a boy in 1957 when he visited Disneyland. Mike said, “The impact on the children of the world by Disney is unparalleled.” There are more Mickey Mouse collectibles here in one place than I have ever seen in my life. From figurines to original Snow White dolls and other princesses still in their original boxes and much more. Mike said, “More things of significance have happened in the world because of Disney.” Mike pays homage to Walt at the Magic of Marceline.
The Coca-Cola mural can be seen on the patio of the Zurcher building. It was originally painted around 1906 when Disney first stepped off the train in Marceline. It was recently restored. Ma Vic’s is a friendly hometown cafe where almost everyone stops to say hello and strikes up conversations, even if you are a guest of their town. Named after Grand ”ma” Vicki and ran by
she and her family members, including her high school aged grandson, Devon. He told Travel Buddy how much he loved
hunting on the hundreds of acres his family owns and he feels lucky to have a family heritage there. The raisin cream pie is homemade by his mother, along with many other flavors. The Mickey Mouse pancakes are a crowd pleaser for the littlest diners. We learned that when Walt would travel he would often have his favorite can of beans and chili with him. Walt’s Chili was the soup of the day on our visit and there wasn’t an empty seat from the time we arrived until when we left in a two-hour span. Ma Vic’s is known for their hand-bread tenderloins, rubens and famous “Dusty Miller” ice cream. It includes vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, marshmallow cream, malt powder and a cherry on top. Named after a coal miner, Tom Miller, who lived in Marceline years ago.The Hometown Walt Disney Museum is passionately run by family friends of the Disney’s, Executive Director Kaye Malins, and her mother, Inez Johnson. The two women are a delight to talk to since they have so much knowledge about the Disney family. Whenever Walt came back to visit Marceline, he would spend the night or a couple of days with Kaye, Inez and their family. The Museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1-5 p.m. on Sundays and closed on Mondays.
The Museum wonderfully highlights the life of Walt while living there and his world-renowned success that was sparked from there. Ruth Disney was a good friend of Kaye’s and gifted her with a goldmine of Disney treasures when she passed. Kaye told us that she went to California with a small suitcase and was in shock when she realized how much she was being gifted.
Kaye said, “They started taking stuff out of the top of closets and under beds and I knew I was in way over my head. I came back to Missouri to get some help. We documented over over 3,000 artifacts.” Ruth told her family that she wanted Kaye to have it because she knew it would be properly taken care of. In 2001 there was a $2 million renovation done on the museum which was originally built as a Santa Fe Railroad station. It is here where Walt Disney first stepped off the train as a 4-year-old boy in 1906 and where the magic ignited. It’s the only place he truly got to be a kid before his family moved to Kansas City five years later. He and his brother got jobs running a paper route for The Kansas City Star since his father had fallen ill. As Walt would hear the steam train about a mile away, Walt would run toward the tracks where he would see his uncle, Mike Martin, the conductor. Mike would often see Walt running with the train and stop just a mile short of the station to pick young Walt up and let him finish the last track with him.
This is quite possibly the reason why Walt had a miniature steam train in his backyard in California for his children and grandchildren to ride after he had become the creative genius he is today. And of course the reason why he had steam trains running at his Disney parks. In 1966 the Autopia ride was gifted to Marceline. It was the only Disneyland ride ever moved elsewhere. Walt wanted the children of Marceline to have a piece of Disneyland. You can see one of the cars on display in the Disney Museum today. Collectors from all over the world approach the museum to display their Disney treasures. One room of the museum rotates the collectibles. Kaye told us that the collectors must have a story to go along with the piece in order to display it. Kaye said, “It is important to us that we share the heart of the story of why the collector has the piece.”His boyhood home was sold to Kaye some years ago and has been kept up well. It is a beautiful red farmhouse on the corner just outside of town. It is not available for public tours, but The Dreaming Tree & Barn is free and open to the public dawn to dusk. It is a magical experience and a must see when visiting. Visitors are welcome to park and walk through the same footsteps as Walt. It was under the Dreaming Tree where Walt would recline and sketch barn animals on the farm. He loved the tingling sound the cottonwood trees made. This was part of the magic that inspired him. Whenever Disney would come back and visit Marceline he always asked for some alone time under his beloved Dreaming Tree.
Sadly, his Dreaming Tree blew away in 2015. It was already damaged from a rainstorm in 2008. One of the branches was persevered and is on display in the Walt Disney Hometown Museum on the second floor. Don’t miss going upstairs to see this and touch a piece of history.In addition, the Walt Disney World Company asked permission to extract over 1 million seeds from the dying tree. They returned a short time later to plant 2 saplings with water and dirt from Magic Kingdom. The third sapling is hidden on Tom Sawyer’s Island in Magic Kingdom. The other two saplings were lovingly planted on the grounds of the old Disney farm. One of the saplings is 30 feet away from the original Dreaming Tree. It has thrived since the planting in 2008. The tree now stands 40 feet tall. The other sapling is secretly planted on the farm to protect the magic of the Dreaming Tree. The remaining seeds are safely stored in a security box.On the day we visited, it was overcast and dreary until right before sunset as we headed to the Disney farm. It was a religious experience and as if the farm beckoned us to come and walk on the sacred ground Walt once did. The skies opened up and the sun shined down upon us as we retraced Walt’s footsteps. Disney’s Barn has been replicated and is on display for visitors to enter inside. There is a book on the history of Walt located within. Visitors are encouraged to draw or write a message to Walt on the inside walls of the barn. Don’t forget to bring a sharpie with you!
As you enjoy your walk on the well-kept and mowed trails and hollow ground that Walt once played and dreamed on, you can walk by the pond where Walt wrestled pigs into the water as a boy.It was a magical childhood and one that Disney modeled Main Street USA after in both Disney World and Disneyland. He wanted his memory of Marceline to be shared with the world. Today Mickey Mouse ears are on the downtown street signs in Marceline and it was renamed “Main Street USA.” “I am a Missourian in every sense of the word, even to the “Show-Me” tradition.”
He wanted to “show” the world his hometown by building an interactive farm park in the heart of Marceline. The plans were found on his desk on the day of his death. Sadly, his dream never came to fruition. It would have placed Marceline on the map even more so today and would have given every child and adult the chance to experience a living history farm with Disney educational values.