Kansas Avenue, also known as Main Street, runs through the heart of tiny Marceline in northern Missouri. But it’s also known as Main Street, U.S.A.
Why? Because Marceline, sleepy now, is where the young Walt Disney spent a handful of formative years, long before he dreamed up Disneyland or the all-American commercial thoroughfare that leads from its entrance to the heart of the theme park. Years later, Disney credited Marceline as an inspiration.
His stay in Marceline was brief. The family arrived when Disney was 5 and moved to Kansas City, Mo., in about 1910, the year Walt turned 9.
When I passed through a century later in 2010, Marceline’s population had dipped from 3,920 to about 2,350, and the train had halted scheduled stops in town (though many roll through). But something seemed familiar about that short main drag.
DISNEYLAND AT 60: How ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ is celebrating | 60 things you might not know about Disneyland | Disneyland got off to a nightmare start in 1955 | What will Disneyland look like at 100? | We reveal some of the park’s secrets
In Walt’s youth, the brick Zurcher building at 123 Main St. held a jewelry shop and had a Coca-Cola logo on its side. (In Disneyland, the Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner occupies a similar brick building.)
Just off the main drag, Marceline had a busy Santa Fe train depot. (The town was on the way from Chicago to Kansas City.) These days, the big red depot (rebuilt in 1913) houses the Walt Disney Hometown Museum (www.waltdisneymuseum.org).
IN THE LOOP: Sign up for our weekly theme parks newsletter
An unhappy footnote: In late May, the museum announced the death of a beloved cottonwood, known as Walt’s Dreaming Tree, after years of struggle against disease, repeated lightning strikes and finally a fatal windstorm. The tree stood on the Disney farm, now privately owned, at 200 W. Broadway St.
As for the landmark Zurcher building, in 2010, it was occupied by El Cimarron, the town’s first Mexican restaurant. Since then, the restaurant has closed and an H&R Block tax preparation office has moved in.
Disney visited Marceline at least twice after earning his fame. Local leaders named a pool and recreation complex for him in the 1950s, and they named Walt Disney Elementary School for him in 1960.
Downtown signs emphasize the town’s role in pop culture history, and an annual Toonfest celebrates animation (the next one is Sept. 19). The town’s landmark Carnegie Library came along in the 1920s, after the Disneys had already headed off to Kansas City.
Marceline is 92 miles west of Hannibal, Mo., the childhood home of Mark Twain, and 109 miles east of St. Joseph, eastern terminus of the Pony Express.