In His Own Words: Walt Remembers Marceline

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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Marceline was the most important part of Walt’s life. I remember when we used to take the train across country, he would drag people out in the middle of the night when we passed through Marceline. He had to show them where he grew up. He didn’t live there very long, but there was something about the farm that was very important to him. He always said apples never tasted so good as when they were picked off of the trees on the farm.” --Lillian Disney quoted in the book, “Remembering Walt” by Amy Boothe Green and Howard Green

In 1887, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway began construction from Kansas City to Chicago. A location was chosen as a terminal between these two cities, which was situated in North Central Missouri. By January 1888, the first town lot was sold in the newly platted division point of the railway, later to be known as Marceline.

Marceline received its name at the request of one of the directors of the new railroad, whose wife bore the somewhat Spanish name of "Marcelina." So with a change of the last vowel, this became the name of the new railroad city.

The new railroad city grew so rapidly that six months after the first lot was sold, it boasted a population of 2,500. Marceline's present population is 2,558.

Walt only spent a few years in Marceline beginning in 1906 but it made a huge impact on his life and he constantly talked about his time on the farm there with passion and great warmth. To learn more about Walt’s time in Marceline, I would recommend getting a copy of the book, “Walt Disney’s Missouri” by Brian Burnes, Robert Butler and Dan Viets. It is a terrific book filled with information you won’t find elsewhere about this time in Walt Disney’s life (link).

Marceline has Walt Disney’s Hometown Museum operated by one of the women I love, Kaye Malins, who lives in the house where Walt grew up. Kaye is one of those people you fall in love with within the first five minutes of meeting her. She is filled with energy and a love for Marceline.

Another woman I love is Kim Eggink in Chicago, who despite the geographical distance has helped me locate obscure Disney articles including one of the ones I am reprinting today. She trudges through the snow to the library to arrange interlibrary loans to try and find some interesting articles to help with my research. She struggles to find some of these items and not only do I appreciate it, the readers of this column have benefited from her work, as well.

Here are two articles, both credited to Walt himself, about Walt’s time in Marceline and how he remembered it. I have no doubt that these are Walt’s true feelings as I have read many things where he talked about Marceline and it was always with a genuine fondness. In fact, you would have thought that Walt spent his entire childhood in that small town.

For the September 2, 1938 “Golden Jubilee” edition of “The Marceline News," Walt wrote a letter of his memories of growing up in Marceline.

The Marceline I Knew” by Walt Disney

I was extremely glad to receive your letter asking me to write some impressions of Marceline as I remember it from childhood days.

 “To tell the truth, more things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened since — or are likely to in the future. Things, I mean, like experiencing my first country life, seeing my first circus parade, attending my first school, seeing my first motion picture! I know you’ll agree with me that such childhood 'firsts' as those are of utmost importance in any human being’s life.

 “I went with my family to live in Marceline when I was 5 years old, and I stayed there until I was 9. I clearly remember the day we arrived there on the train. A Mr. Cottman met us in his wagon and we rode out to our house in the country just outside the city limits. I believe it was called the Crane Farm. My first impression of it was that it had a beautiful front yard with lots of weeping willow trees.

 “The Taylors lived on one side of us, and Doc Sherwood on the other. One of my fondest childhood memories is of Doc Sherwood. He used to encourage me in my drawing, and give me little presents for my efforts.

 “One time I think he must have held a horse of his nearly all day so that I could draw it. Needless to say, the drawing wasn’t so hot, but Doc made me think it was tops.

 “My brother Roy reminds me of another flyer I took in the line of art that time. I painted one side of our house with black pitch. The outcome must have been slightly frightening, to say the least, and I wasn’t thanked for my efforts by the family.

 “I can remember the big red brick school house as if it were yesterday. Maybe if I saw it today it wouldn’t look so immense but it did to my young eyes. My first teacher’s name was Miss Brown.

 “And what fun we kids used to have after school on winter days, going down the hillsides lickety-split on a sled!

 “Everything connected with Marceline was a thrill to us, coming as we did, from a city the size of Chicago. The cows, pigs, and chickens gave me a big thrill, and perhaps that’s the reason we use so many barnyard animals in the Mickey Mouse and 'Silly Symphony' pictures today—who knows! You know what the psychologists say about the importance of childhood impressions.

 “A special event in connection with my life in Marceline was the day I got to go down in the old No. 2 coal mine, which was just a short distance from our place.

Before we left Marceline, we moved from the farm into town for awhile, where we lived between the Wheelers and the Moormans. Mr. Moorman was the high school principal, and Mrs. Moorman, I must confess was my first “dream girl.” Of course, I was all of 8 or 9 at the time, but I can remember what pretty red hair she had.

 “Other random remembrances include the fact that one of the prides of my life was my uncle, Mike Martin, who was an engineer on a train running from Marceline to Fort Madison, Iowa. After all, if you can’t be an engineer yourself, the next best thing is to have a relative who is one.

I’m glad I’m a small town boy and I’m glad Marceline was my town. Thanks a lot for letting me write my impressions, and say hello to all the folks. In addition, here is wishing you all congratulations and success in connection with your Golden Jubilee.”

 Walt wrote another article about his memories of Marceline for Parade magazine in September 23, 1956

 “I’ll Always Remember a Country Doctor” by Walt Disney

 “For a child, encouragement from a grown-up can be a thrilling thing with lasting consequence. It can help fix his objectives, give him confidence to drive unswervingly toward his goal, spell the difference between failure and success.

 “As I say this, I am thinking of a retired country doctor, who lived near the farm in Marceline, Mo. where I grew up, and of the way he and a doting aunt of mine, helped me when I was a youngster.

 “I had always loved drawing and my Aunt Margaret, above all others, encouraged me it. She kept me supplied with paper, pencils, crayons and other artist’s materials—things I couldn’t afford. More important, she gave me constant praise and encouragement.

 “When I was only 8, I hiked one day down the road to the neighboring farm of Dr. Sherwood, who owned a magnificent chestnut stallion, which was his pride and joy. Perching myself on the split-rail fence, I started drawing a sketch of the horse.

 “I had scarcely finished, when a friendly hand fell on my shoulder, and I heard a familiar voice. “Not bad,” it said, “Not bad at all.”

 I gazed up hopefully into the ruddy face of the white-haired doctor. “You really like it?”

 “I sure do,” he nodded gravely. “Don’t supposed you’d like to sell that picture?”

 “Sell it?” I could hardly believe my ears. “Why, you can have…”

 “Before I could finish what I wanted to say, Dr. Sherwood pressed a coin—a shiny new quarter—carefully into my hand. “That ought to do,” he said.

 “All the way home, I walked on air, squeezing the quarter so tight it hurt. A wonderful thing had happened! Someone had liked a drawing of mine well enough to buy it. Perhaps now, I would really succeed in my ambition to be a cartoonist!

 “Many honors and rewards have come my way since then, but none quite measures up to the thrill I felt on that memorable day in 1912.

 “I believe that in order to make good in your chosen task, it’s important to have someone you want to do it for. I honestly believe this—that the greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievements but rather with the things we do for the people we love and esteem, and whose regard we need.”