Midget Autopia

Related Story

MARCELINE - Walt Disney had many homes, but the place he always came back to was Marceline, where he spent five years of his childhood.

In 1956, the town decided it wanted to use Disney's name for its pool, which became the start to an ever-lasting relationship.

Walt Disney Hometown Museum volunteer Inez Johnson said, "He said, 'I'd be honored to have my name on that pool. I have nothing but fond memories of my time in Marceline.'"

Johnson not only met Walt Disney in 1956 when he came back to Marceline, but also she housed Disney and his family when they came for the pool dedication ceremony.

"They were the dearest people, ordinary people," Johnson said.

Through the years, the Johnsons and Disney grew a close friendship that would continue even after Walt's death.

In 1956, when Disney and his brother Roy were in town, they wanted to visit their old stomping grounds from their time as children on the family farm.

Walt and Roy Disney were amazed how intact the farm still was after all those years.

"Walt Disney grinned from ear to ear when he saw this one [tree] and said, 'I can't believe my dreaming tree is still living,'" Johnson said. 

Disney called it his dreaming tree because it was a perfect opportunity to sketch pictures of whatever he saw. He told Johnson, "I could always count on rabbits, squirrels and field mice."

The man-made tree that serves as the center of the Animal Kingdom park is based off of Disney's childhood dreaming tree from Marceline.

In 1966, Disney decided he wanted to send one of Disneyland's ride to Marceline.

"Midget Autopia" was a children-only ride that had run for 10 years in Disneyland. Disney felt was better suited back in his hometown of Marceline.

Walt Disney Hometown Museum creative director Peter Whitehead said, "It did the most amazing thing ever, and it moved from its home in California to Marceline. Historically significant, because it is the only ride that has ever left a functioning Disney theme park and maintained operation outside of Disney's control."

Disney was scheduled to come to the dedication ceremony but called two weeks earlier to say he was ill and unable to travel. That same year, Walt Disney passed away from lung cancer.

The ride was functional for 11 years in Marceline. The ride was thrown in the trash after needing additional storage space, and only parts were retrieved. The museum was able to salvage two cars from the ride, one of which is still on display.

Although Disney only lived in Marceline for a short period, he found inspiration and comfort in the town from his childhood.

Email us if there are sites you'd like KOMU 8 News to profile.