You know of the man's legend, his legacy in Walt Disney Studios and his beloved theme parks. But while many of us enjoy the movies and parks, we don't always stop to think about the man himself. All of this, including the single most popular theme park in the world and a multi-billion dollar profitable entertainment company, was because of one man's vision and dream. Walter Elias Disney started off as nothing more than a dreamer with a penchant for drawing and because he followed that dream, lives were changed and magic was reintroduced to the world.
Some might assume all of the best Disney sites and attractions are located in California and Florida, and though some are, Walt Disney actually started off in the Midwest. He was born December 5, 1901, in Chicago but the family moved south to Marceline, Missouri, when Walt was only four. Here is the influential pastoral life that went into inspiring Main Street, USA in the two U.S. based Disney parks.
Marceline is very proud of its influential son and opened the Walt Disney Hometown Museum to ensure that the world never forgets the man behind the magic. Exhibits focus on Walt Disney and his family, his childhood and the many people who supported his dream. The museum is filled with personal letters written by the family, personal belongings and artifacts, and even special footage of Walt and Roy (his brother and business partner) visiting Marceline as grown men. This is also the only place where you can find an operating ride taken from Disneyland, donated by the Disney brothers. The Disney Farm is also a Marceline attraction although it is now private property and the owners respectfully request no disturbances. Other sites around town include The Dreaming Tree, under which young Walt would daydream, Walt's Barn, whereas a kid he would perform the "Disney Circus," and the Disney Farm Arboretum which contains trees from Abraham Lincoln's property, among others. The city welcomes Disney enthusiasts to stop by and learn more about the man and the legend.
After four years there, however, the family moved on to Kansas City where Walt grew up to start work as an animator, meeting some important connections and colleagues that he would eventually work within California. In Kansas City, Walt opened his first animation company which is where many believe is where Mickey Mouse was firstborn. Here, the man of imagination started making what he called Laugh-O-Grams, short silent cartoons which were modeled, at first, by Aesop's Fables. The Laugh-O-Gram Studio is still in existence in Kansas City, owned by the Thank You Walt Disney Inc., and is in preparation to be restored and turned into an interactive historical museum about the start of Disney animation. Visitors and Disney enthusiasts come by the building to see the Disney murals on the side of the brick facade and to pay their respects to the legendary man.
In 1923, Disney decided that his talents better lay in California, where the entertainment industry was just burgeoning and the bright golden sun promised dreams to come true. It was here that he and his brother Roy started a cartoon studio which, after many tribulations and failings, would eventually become The Walt Disney Company and later The Walt Disney Studios. All over Los Angeles, Walt left his mark. Today you'll find not only Disneyland but the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a beautiful if unusual looking Frank Gehry-designed hall where you can enjoy the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing a myriad of classical and contemporary music.
Griffith Park is another extremely popular destination for tourist groups of all ages. Within the beautiful park, you can find the Los Angeles Zoo as well as the Griffith Park Observatories among other sites. It's also the place where Walt Disney's Carolwood estate Barn and other historic sites find rest. The Barn was moved after Walt's death and is credited for being the birthplace of Imagineering and continues to hold personal and historic artifacts including the workbench Walt made for himself. Next door to the Barn is Ollie Johnston's Station, owned by one of the first men to work with Walt in California, and also the Retlaw1 Combine, a train car upon which Walt worked as a young man.
Not all of Walt Disney's California adventures remain in Los Angeles, however. Travel northward to San Francisco and you'll experience the Walt Disney Family Museum in The Presidio. The huge 40,000 square foot space is as magical as the man's work itself, full of interactive details and historic artifacts, showing off the 248 awards that Walt won during his career, and a digital theater showing Disney classics daily. Exhibits also include histories and careers of the men and women who worked with the Disney family, the evolution of Mickey Mouse, and Walt's experiments with sound, light, and animation which would set the foundation for modern animation technology.
Walt Disney was more than an animator with a dream, he was a man who believed in his dream so much he changed the world. He brought light and laughter, entertainment and amusement, and most incredibly, magic to the everyday lives of families across the world. He revolutionized the entertainment industry, changed the way animation was done and loved every minute of it. We could all, perhaps, benefit from learning the history and enduring legacy of the man called Walt Disney.
Take your student group on a trip to one or more of these Walt Disney sites and have not only a fantastically educational time but also a heartwarming and entertaining one as well.