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(My grandson next to the Mickey statue at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum)

Where did Walt Disney get his idea for Main Street USA in Disneyland? Perhaps from the small, rural town in Missouri where he lived for several years during his impressionable childhood. My grandson and I had the opportunity to visit Marceline, Missouri during our vacation. Marceline is about 17 miles away from my father-in-law’s farm and driving down the main drag, conjurs up all sorts of ideas and thoughts about what many small towns in rural America are like. There’s a corner café where the food is out of this world and owned by a local resident. If you arrive during regular meal time hours, you might find Ma Vic’s standing room only – but don’t leave – a table will soon be available!  Down on the corner is Zurcher’s. Close to the old train depot is Ripley Park.  The park includes a Santa Fe railroad caboose and a steam locomotive as well as a gazebo.

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Near there is the Walt Disney Hometown Museum where I took my grandson during one of our excursions while on vacation recently. The museum is open April through October and is only $5 for admission. It is well worth that! The tour begins in the first room where a guide provides a very rich and detailed history of not only the Disney family, but the Santa Fe Railroad and the city of Marceline. She was eloquent, personable, and very knowledgeable. Very large panoramic photos are displayed in chronological order around the room and at one side is Walt’s original school desk from Park elementary which he rescued on one of his visits to Marceline before the school was torn down. During the summer the desk is on loan to the museum from Walt Disney Elementary school and if you go, make sure to notice the large WD that Walt carved into the desk (which is how he knew that it was his)! There is a sign outside the museum which restricts the use of photos or videos, however, we were informed that photos are allowed because so many people are posting them to Facebook and of course, free advertising doesn’t hurt!

Most of the artifacts, especially in the several rooms on the first floor, were donated by the family of Walt’s younger sister, Ruth Disney Beecher. There were letters, photographs, objects – even the TV that Walt made sure Ruth had in order to watch the opening ceremonies of Disneyland because she didn’t like to be in big crowds. On that television set was the original special broadcast of those ceremonies which you can stand and watch. In another room was information, posters, records, videotapes, DVDs, and news clippings about the 1956 Disney movie, “The Great Locomotive Chase” with Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter. The movie is playing on a screen and anyone is welcome to pull up a chair to watch it.  Another room is the “Train” room and has many displays of Walt’s trains. There are cases filled with letters among the Disney family members, a phonograph (which is playing on a recording) of Walt interviewing his parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. In another room is a large screen and several chairs where a visitor can watch The Man behind the Myth hosted by Dick Van Dyke. My grandson and I watched about ten minutes of the documentary, and I wished we had more time to watch all of it.  My grandson also enjoyed the ten minutes of “The Great Locomotive Chase” so I will be on a mission to see if our local library has a copy to borrow. Upstairs, is a large room dedicated to a scale model (not complete) of Disneyland. Since I had visited the theme park as a very young child (see my series of Travel Thursday posts: Over the Rainbow Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5), I pointed out to my grandson the areas I fondly remember. There were several local news articles about Disney and artifacts elsewhere on the second floor. Downstairs, adjoining the large front room where we began the tour, was a room dedicated to the only ride that operated outside of Disneyland – the Midget Autopia. There is a car on display from that ride. Since there are 70 trains that run through town each day – the museum is located in the former train depot – we were able to look right out the window to watch them go by – another highlight for my grandson!

Exiting the museum through the same door that Walt would enter when he rode the train into town (Amtrak only stops in Marceline for groups of twenty or more with special arrangements), there is a smaller building toward the back that is the Railroad museum. That was very interesting as well. Even though the ladies who run the tour explained that if we wanted to leave for lunch and come back – our ticket would be valid all day – our time was very limited. Perhaps on another visit, we would be able to do just that and spend more time. In particular, I think I would have found the correspondence between the family members pretty interesting. We were told that on the north side of town, we should visit the “Dreaming Tree”, a cottonwood tree that grew on the Disney farm and where Walt and his baby sister, Ruth, would sit under while Walt would daydream. The Tree of Life at Walt Disney World represents Walt’s tree from Marceline. There are other spots around town that were pointed out as places to visit – Walt Disney Elementary School, the park with the flagpole that Walt gifted the city with during one of his trips back, the barn that used to sit on the Disney property, and even the Disney home (which is now a private residence, but people do drive by to look at it). Though the main drag of Marceline is on Kansas Street, the street sign downtown reads “Main Street USA” and resembles the famous mouse ears that Walt made famous!

I recommend that if you are within a 50-75 mile radius of Marceline that you drop in during the times the Museum is open – especially if you or your family are fans of anything Disney – or trains!

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This past week I shared this photo of the Caquot Observation Balloon that is on exhibit in the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  I’ve taken many pictures of this balloon over the years.  Rarely do I visit this exhibit and not just stand gazing at it for a long time.  Why?  It’s a connection to my grandfather, Col. Glen R. Johnson. 

When my grandfather enlisted in the Army Signal Corps on February 5, 1918, he was sent to Fort Omaha, Nebraska for training on Caquot Balloons.  I wrote about his service in this post. Taken from his obituary is the following, “In the 1950s and ’60s, he was active as national commander and newspaper editor of the National Association of Balloon Corps Veterans (NABCV) (WWI), and had contributed many artifacts to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.” 

The official website of the Air Force Museum says of the balloon on display: Manufactured in 1944, the balloon displayed at the museum is believed to be the only survivor. The British used it for parachute testing and noncombat aerial observation and photography until 1960. The British Ministry of Defense, Royal Aircraft Establishment, presented the Caquot to the museum after it was located with the aid of American and British WWI balloon veterans in 1975. Assisted by the Goodyear Aerospace Corp. of Akron, Ohio, which had produced these balloons during WWI, museum personnel mended and sealed the balloon fabric and prepared it for inflation. It was placed on display in May 1979.

My grandfather was one of the American WWI balloon veterans who helped locate this balloon.  I remember his excitement especially when it was finally ready for display.  He also contributed many other artifacts to the museum including this:

Piece of WW I balloon fabric manufactured in the U.S.
Donated by Col. Glen R. Johnson, USAF (Ret) Dayton, Ohio

U.S. Insignia removed from the last observation balloon
flown by American Forces in Europe.  The balloon was
assigned to the 14th Balloon Company during occupation
duty in Germany, 1919.
  (This was donated by Evert Wolff, N.Y.)
(Grandson in front)

Ft. Omaha Squadron 2 Flag (donor unknown)

So the next time (or the first time) you visit the Air Force museum, take a look at the Balloon that dwarfs one of the areas and take the time to check out the displays that talk about the Balloon years.  I guarantee that you will learn something that you probably didn’t know before your visit.

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