On bustling Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland, a double-decker bus offers… (Christopher Reynolds /…)
Here’s a back-and-forth photo essay that pairs scenes from two Disney Main Streets. The first Main Street (also known as Kansas Avenue) runs through Marceline, Mo., where the young Walt Disney spent several pre-teen years at the outset of the 20th century. The second is Main Street, U.S.A. the all-American commercial district that Disney unveiled, along with the rest of Disneyland, in 1955.
As Walt later made clear, one street inspired him in creation of the other. But their paths have not run parallel.
The Disney family moved away from Marceline in about 1910, the year that Walt turned 9, and through the century since then, many others have also left. In fact, the train doesn’t stop in Marceline (population: about 2,500) any more, unless you make a special request, and the movie house earlier this year stopped offering regular screenings.
As I found on a quick visit in April, Marceline’s boosters keep trying. They’ve converted the old Santa Fe depot into a Walt Disney Hometown Museum, and the Uptown Theatre Bed & Breakfast (neighboring the now-idle cinema) does its best to keep tourists coming.
At 123 Main, you find the old brick Zurcher building is home to El Cimarron, the town’s first Mexican restaurant. Back when Walt was here, it held a jewelry shop, and apparently it had a Coca-Cola logo painted on its side. To picture that, you need only gaze upon the red-brick Coca-Cola Refreshment corner building on Main Street, U.S.A., at the Anaheim theme park.
The other half of this project fell into place in October, when my wife and I took our daughter (age 6) to Disneyland for the first time. It was my first time there in more than 20 years, and Main Street fairly jumped up to greet us. The crowds! The lights! The perfect small-town dimensions of all those shop windows! The perky xylophone soundtrack and clopping horses’ hooves!
It’s a wonder, the happy, humming nostalgia machine that the Disney people have built and sustained. And as I prowled with my camera, I couldn’t help comparing the red-brick corner buildings, the train depots, the movie houses, the City Halls – the gritty new Missouri reality versus the spotless Disney dreams made real.
It’s worth noting that Walt made a ceremonial trip or two back to Marceline, and the Disney company has staged events there as recently as 1998. Judging from comments on my earlier blog post, "A new first on Disney's first Main Street: tamales," many locals say Marceline is still a great place to raise kids, a great place to wave at neighbors from the porch, to work together on soybean and softball fields alike.
But what would it take to bring one one-hundredth of Disneyland’s vitality back to Marceline?