Welcome to Disney in Review! Today, we trace Walt Disney’s lineage, travel to his hometown of Marceline, Missouri, and join him in France during World War I.
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1. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler
2. How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams with Jim Denney
3. In the Service of the Red Cross: Walt Disney’s Early Adventures: 1918-1919 by David Lesjak
Disney History Timeline
Herbert Arthur Disney (December 8, 1888 – January 29, 1961)
Raymond “Ray” Arnold Disney (December 30, 1890 – May 24, 1989)
Roy Oliver Disney (June 24, 1893 – December 20, 1971)
Walter Elias Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966)
Ruth Flora Disney (December 6, 1903 – April 7, 1995)
-d’Isignys of Normandy, arrived in England with William the Conqueror and fought at the Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066)
-In late seventeenth century, during English Restoration, a Protestant branch of the family moved to County Kilkenny, Ireland
July 1834 (Decade before the Potato Famine)
-Arundel Elias Disney (Elias’s grandfather, Walt’s great-grandfather) sold his holdings and moved from Liverpool to America with wife and 2 kids & his older brother (Robert) and his wife and 2 kids on the New Jersey
-Arundel bought 149 acres along Maitland River and moved to the township of Goderich in SW Ontario’s wilderness (Canada), near Lake Huron
-Arundel built his area’s first grist mill and sawmill, farmed his land, and had 16 kids (8 girls & 8 boys)
-Oldest son, Kepple (25), married Mary Richardson (another Irish immigrant)
-Bought 100 acres of lands and built small pine cabin and moved to Bluevale in Morris Township (north of Goderich)
-Elias Disney (February 6, 1859 – September 13, 1941)
-Kepple restlessly strikes out
-Oil struck nearby in Oil Springs – rented his farm, left family with Mary’s sister, and joined drilling crew for 2 years (Struck no oil)
-Returned to Bluevale, then left to drill salt wells for one year (still no fortune)
-Returned to Bluevale and built new frame house on his land and started farming again
-Kepple left with Elias (18) and Robert (2nd oldest son) heading to California, where gold had been struck
-Only got to Kansas. Kepple bought >300 acres in NW Kansas (Ellis county) from Union Pacific Railroad (trying to get people to settle at division points along the train route throughout the state; Disneys couldn’t get land through the Homestead Act because not American citizens)
-Dry and bitter cold climate/rough frontier, making it hard to farm, so raised livestock instead (sheep and cattle could graze on yellow buffalo grass)
-Difficult to farm, so men join railroad crews and women sell buffalo bones to fertilizer manufacturers
-Winter of 1885/1886 rough (10-12 foot snow banks)
-Kepple and Elias (27) went on a reconnaissance trip to Lake County, middle of Florida with their neighbors, the Call family, including their 16 year-old daughter Flora Call
-Kepple returned to Ellis County, Kansas, but Elias stayed with the Calls in the middle of Florida
-Moved from England to America in 1636, first near Boston then to upstate New York
-In 1825, Eber Call, Flora’s grandfather, left for Huron County, Ohio with wife and 3 kids, to escape hostile Indians and “bone-chilling cold”, and farmed several acres
-Eber’s son, Charles Call, graduated with honors from Oberlin College in 1847
-Charles then headed to California to find gold then drifted around the West for a few years until he ended up near Des Moines, Iowa and met a German immigrant by the name of Henrietta Gross.
-Charles Call and Henrietta Gross got married on September 9, 1855
-Charles and wife returned to father’s house in Ohio, and Charles became a teacher like his two sisters
-Flora Call (April 22, 1868 – November 26, 1938)
-January 1879- Charles and his wife and 10 kids moved to Ellis County, Kansas because he was afraid one of his 8 daughters would marry one of the neighbor family’s 8 sons, all of whom were “not sober enough” for the devout father, Charles Call
-1880- Flora was sent to Ellsworth to train to be a teacher and roomed with Albertha Disney, Elias’s sister
-Elias moved to Acron.
-Calls moved to adjacent town of Kismet. Charles raised oranges on several acres and began teaching in neighboring Norristown
-Flora was the teacher in Acron her 1st year and Paisley her 2nd year
-Elias (29) and Flora (19) got married on New Year’s Day, 1888 in the Calls’ home in Kismet
-Elias bought an orange grove, but freeze destroyed most of the crop
-Charles Call had an accident while clearing his land of pine trees and never recovered
-Charles Call died in early 1890
-Robert Disney (Elias’s younger brother) had moved to Chicago in 1889 and built a hotel in preparation of the 1893 Columbian Exposition (celebration of the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America.
-Herbert Arthur Disney (December 8, 1888 – January 29, 1961)
-Elias, Herbert, and pregnant Flora moved to Chicago (Rented one-story frame cottage at 3515 South Vernon in South side of Chicago, located 20 blocks from exposition)
-Raymond “Ray” Arnold Disney (December 30, 1890 – May 24, 1989)
-Elias earned $1/day as a carpenter
-Saved $700 and bought land in 1892 through Robert’s real estate connections and built 2-story wooden cottage at 1249 Tripp Avenue (later renumbered as 2156 North Tripp Avenue in 1909)
– Roy Oliver Disney (June 24, 1893 – December 20, 1971)
-Disneys moved to Tripp Avenue in spring 1893, which had just begun undergoing construction
-Elias bought plots of land in the neighborhood, designed houses, and built them
-By 1900, Elias had built 2 homes: sold one home for $2500 and rented out the other for extra income
-St. Paul’s Congregation Church built in October 1900, 2 blocks from the Disney’s home (Elias named a trustee and member of the building committee)
-Disneys attended church throughout the week, and when the preacher was gone, Elias would occasionally preach
-Walt born in the upper bedroom of the Tripp house
-Walter Elias Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966)
-Bet with pastor: Minister Walter Parr’s wife and Flora were pregnant at the same time. Elias and Walter agreed if they both had sons, they would name them after each other (Supposedly Ray was originally named Walter, per his birth registration; Walt had no birth certificate, just a baptismal certificate)
-Also rumored Walt was born in Mojacar, Spain, his parents had emigrated to the US and worked for Elias, who adopted Walt, per the Spanish magazine, Primer Plano
-The Parr’s child was born in July 1902 and named Charles Alexander
-Another of Parr’s children, born in May 1904, was named Walter Elias Parr
-Ruth Flora Disney (December 6, 1903 – April 7, 1995)
-2 neighbor boys the same age as Herbert and Ray and from a family in their congregation attempted to rob a car barn and killed a cop in a shootout
-Elias was afraid his boys would follow the same path, since the neighborhood was getting rougher
-February 1906, sold Tripp house for $1800, and sold another in March
-Elias, Herbert, and Ray went to Missouri in a boxcar to prepare the farm
-Flora, Roy, Walt, and Ruth came later on the Sante Fe train
-Uncle Robert owned 500 acres a mile west of the Disneys
-45 acre farm near Marceline, Missouri, 100 miles NE of Kansas City on Santa Fe RR, with whitewashed house
-Walt’s first pet, Maltese terrier, followed Roy into town one day and didn’t come back
-Piglet named Skinny, followed Walt like a puppy
-Walt didn’t start school until age 7, so he could accompany Ruth to school
-Marceline was the seat of the western division of the Santa Fe Railroad. Because of its large workforce, it had a large progressive population that supported William Jennings Bryan, and this contributed to Walt’s cultural education
-Walt saw his first circus parade. Walt made his own and displayed it for neighboring kids
-Walt attended his first Chautauqua (traveling tent show that featured the leading speakers of the time)
-Walt saw his first theatrical play: Touring performance of Peter Pan starring Maude Adams
-Walt and Roy reprised the role at school using a hoist and tackle set that broke
-Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show paraded through Marceline, when Buffalo Bill stopped his buggy and invited Walt to join him
-Walt saw his first motion picture: Depiction of crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Walt convinced Ruth to go, and they both got scolded by parents when they came home after dark
-Uncle Edmond “Ed” Disney (Elias’s younger brother, with intellectual disability, real-life Peter Pan, Walt admired his juvenile sense of freedom)
-Uncle Robert and his wife Margaret would visit, and Aunt Margaret “Auntie” would bring pencils and Big Chief drawing tablets for Walt to draw on. She encouraged his art.
-Doc Sherwood (Retired doctor with wife and no children, so they basically adopted Walt as their son)
-Doc commissioned Walt to draw his prize Morgan stallion, Rupert. That day Rupert was skittish, so Doc had to hold his reins, and Walt had trouble drawing the horse.
-Different stories: Doc paid Walt a nickel or a quarter for the drawing (unlikely for the frugal doctor) OR Doc framed and hung the drawing in his house
-Walt and Ruth used tar from barrels’ tar lining on the farm to pain the side of their whitewashed house. Walt convinced Ruth because he told her it could come off.
-Herbert and Ray grew wheat on Uncle Robert’s land with his permission, neighbors harvested it, and they got the money.
-Elias asked what they were going to do with the money, and one said he wanted to buy a pocketwatch. Elias freaked and said instead he would take the money to help pay off the farm.
-Herbert and Ray left the farm that night, withdrew their money from the bank, and hopped on a train for Chicago.
-By spring, they had moved to Kansas City, where Robert got them jobs as bank clerks
-Herbert became a postal service mail carrier in 1909
-Herbert and Ray would send old clothes to Flora for her to hem for Roy and Walt
-Herbert and Ray would occasionally visit the family in Marceline, but the rift/wounds never fully healed
-Farm was harder to run without Herbert and Ray
-Elias formed a chapter of a farmer’s union, The American Society of Equity
-Elias became sick with typhoid or diphtheria early in 1910, after which he was too weak to work the farm
-Crop prices fell, and there was a 5-month-long coal strike in summer of 1910
-Elias finally sold farm in November 1910 for $5,175
-The Disneys moved into town in Marceline to a small 4-room house at 508 Kansas Avenue, so kids could finish semester and Elias recover his health
-Walt would remember his idealized version of Marceline, the rustic farm city, which would eventually inspire/influence:
–So Dear to My Heart, Pollyanna, Disneyland’s Main Street USA and Tom Sawyer Island, and early cartoons about animals and farm life
-Moved to Kansas City to 2706 E 31st St (small house, no indoor plumbing, outdoor shed “barn” that Walt and Roy would stay in when family visited, close proximity to Fairmount amusement park)
-Elias bought distributorship of Kansas City Star newspaper in Roy’s name
-13 editions of the paper delivered per week
-Elias made about $28/week. Roy made $3. Walt (9) made “some little amount.”
– Walt and Roy delivered papers starting around 3:30AM daily (took pushcarts resembling roman chariots to the paper’s distribution points, load up with papers, then return to Santa Fe St to deliver papers; papers too heavy on Sundays to make one trip)
-First year, Walt delivered his 50 papers per edition by foot, second by bike (Walt got the bike because Roy left the route to become a bank clerk after graduating, and Walt took over Roy’s route too)
-To make extra money, Walt also delivered medicine on his route for a pharmacy. Eventually Walt got 50 extra papers to sell near a trolley stop, then on the trolley
-Because of the paper route, he would get to school late and leave early
-Walt had to walk up to each door to make sure the paper wouldn’t fly away (put under a brick or between 2 doors)
-In winter, snow would come up to his neck, and he would fall asleep in entryways of apartment buildings on his route.
-In his 6 years on the route, Walt only missed 5 weeks:
-2 weeks with a severe cold
-1 week to visit his Aunt Josie in Hiawatha (Hi-wath-uh), Kansas (1913)
-2 weeks in 1916 when he kicked a piece of ice that had a nail hidden in it (Spent his recovery renovating Bellefontaine house with new kitchen, bedroom, and a bathroom to replace outhouse)
-Walt never forgot his time with the paper route (Still having nightmares 40 years later about missing a customer on the route)
-Elias’s temper and frugality distanced him from Walt (Elias invested Walt’s money earned from the trolley; Walt got another job at a candy store to earn money to buy extra papers for extra money that Elias didn’t know about)
-Disney frugality -> Walt’s most memorable Christmas gift was a new pair of steel-toed leather boots to replace his worn-out shoes
-Elias ordered 14 year-old Walt to the basement for a beating for being “too insolent,” but Roy pulled Walt aside and told him to resist. Walt went downstairs, and Elias followed. Elias yelled and grabbed a hammer to hit Walt, but Walt rose up and grabbed his father’s hand and took the hammer. After this, Elias never touched Walt again.
-Roy took a parental role for Walt and Ruth (buying toys and candy, taking to the movies, trade stories, etc.)
-Roy left home in the middle of the night for Kansas
-Walt in 5th grade at Benton Grammar School
-Walt’s best friend, Walter Pfeiffer (lived on Bellefontaine)
-Walt had a curfew of 9pm for the paper route, but he’d sneak out to the Pfeiffers (family of performers)
-Walt’s principal, Mr. Cottingham (1938 Walt invited entire student body to watch Snow White for free)
-Walt/Walt skit in school talent show, “Fun in the Photograph Gallery”
-“The Two Walts” skits and comedy routines at amateur night contests in Kansas City at Agnes Theater
-Walt did impressions of Charlie Chaplin, drew cartoons, and told stories
-Walt continued to draw throughout school (margins of textbooks, perfect Teddy Roosevelt on chalkboard, school posters for events, cartoon advertisements on glass slides for Agnes Theater)
-Just as he had for Doc Sherwood, Walt drew cartoons for Bert Hudson, owner of a barbershop, in exchange for free haircut or 10-15 cents, and Bert Hudson would hang the pictures in a special frame.
-Amusement parks in Kansas City:
- Fairmount Park “Fairyland per Ruth” (giant dipper rides, 9-hole golf course, zoo, swimming/boating on lake, 4thof July fireworks show)
- Electric Park (one of the largest amusement parks at the time, band concerts, thrill rides, spectacular nighttime fireworks displays, steam-powered train that circled the park, named from 100,000 electric bulbs transformed nightly)
-Summer/Fall 1914 moved to 3028 Bellefontaine 2-story house (still along paper route)
1916 (Walt 14)
-Elias allowed Walt to begin taking Saturday art classes at the Kansas City Art Institute in the downtown YMCA building (learned basics of sculpture and casting)
-First feature-length film seen: silent movie of Snow White, starring Marguerite Clark
1917 (Walt 15)
-March 1917- Elias sold newspaper route for $16,000 to invest and buy shares in jelly-canning firm, O’Zell Company of Chicago
-Elias, Flora, and Ruth moved to Chicago to head up construction and maintenance at company’s factory. Elias became O’Zell executive
-Walt stayed with Herbert and Roy in Bellefontaine Street home (Herb married with 1-yo daughter, Roy unmarried bank clerk)
-June 1917- Walt graduated from Benton School (school ended at 7th grade)
-Principal Cottingham gave Walt a $7 prize for a comic character Walt had drawn
-Roy joined Navy in June 1917 after America entered WWI (2 weeks after Walt graduated)
-Roy got Walt a summer job as “news butcher” for Van Noyes News Company (selling newspapers, candy, and tobacco to passengers on Santa Fe RR, brief education in business; quit after 2 months)
-At end of summer, Walt moved to Chicago with his family
-By day attended William McKinley High School in West Side Chicago, near Disney’s house on Ogden Avenue.
-Walt worked as cartoonist on McKinley HS magazine, The Voice
-Winter 1917 until Spring 1918- Elias paid for night classes at Chicago Academy of Fine Arts (Walt convinced Elias it had “educational value”). Walt’s first exposure to live models, but he realized his talent lay in caricature, not being a “fine artist”
-Leroy Gossett and Carey Orr, Chicago newspaper cartoonists, mentored Walt and inspired him to pursue career as newspaper cartoonist
1918 (Walt 16)
-1st Girlfriend, Beatrice Conover
-Walt worked part-time at O’Zell Company from the time school let out for summer until July
World War I
-Walt tried to join the Navy with friend, Russell Maas, but rejected for being too young
-Walt tried to join Canadian Army with his friend, where age limit was lower, but Russell was rejected for poor eyesight (wore glasses and Walt didn’t want to join without Russell)
-Turned down for post office job because too young (got job same day by wearing father’s hat and false moustache and returning to same man)
-September 3, 1918- Bomb went off in Chicago Federal Building where Walt was walking through the post office after finishing his mail run (Bomb killed 4 and injured 30)
-Walt tried to join Red Cross’s American Ambulance Corps (age limit 17) with Russell (fake names: St. John brothers). Plan failed when asked for passports, and Russell’s mom told Flora
-Walt asked parents to join Red Cross. Elias refused.
-Walt enlisted on September 16, 1918 (changed his birthday from 1901 to 1900 on his certificate after his mom had it notarized)
-Walt’s training at Camp Scott (Chicago South Side near University of Chicago) cut short by influenza epidemic, contracted within days of starting training. Walt, Flora, and Ruth sick, and Flora took care of them at home (Hospitals considered unsafe).
-When Walt recovered 3 weeks later, his unit shipped for France with Russell.
-A month and a half later, on November 4, 1918 – Walt returned to Camp Scott, reassigned to new unit and sent by train for training at Camp King, located in Sound Beach, Connecticut.
-Walt trained with Ray Kroc (15 year-old ambulance corpsman, lied about age also)
-November 11, 1918 –Armistice signed at Compiegne, France (War ended)
-November 18, 1918 –Walt shipped out for Le Havre, France aboard SS Vaubin (converted cattle ship) to be ambulance driver
-November 30, 1918 –Walt landed in Le Havre, France. Took train from coast to Paris, where he chauffeured military officers around Paris.
-February 1919- Transferred to Neufchateau (150 miles east of Paris) and ran errands for the canteen that served troop replacements passing through Neufchateau. Later drove relief supplies to war-ravaged areas.
-Made extra money by painting discarded German helmets to look like battlefield souvenirs (Sent money home to Flora via American Express with instructions to buy Ruthie a watch and save rest in bank)
-Walt started smoking (Eventually became 3 pack-per-day habit by end of life)
-July 1919- Walt reassigned to Paris
-August 7, 1919- Walt applied for a discharge
-September 1919 –Walt’s ambulance unit disbanded
-October 9, 1919- Walt arrived in New York Harbor on SS Canada
-October 10, 1919- Walt discharged from Red Cross
-October 11, 1919- Walt arrived in Chicago
-Beatrice wrote Walt letters while he was in France, but she was engaged when Walt returned to Chicago (got married in April 1920), and Walt declared himself “through with women.”
-Walt had saved $600 from his earnings in France ($300 from a craps game in Neufchateau)
-Walt declined Elias’s job offer at O’Zell and set his sights on becoming a newspaper cartoonist.
The intro and outro of this podcast are public domain songs obtained from freemusicarchive.org.
Intro– The Royal Vagabond by Jockers Dance Orchestra
Outro– Hello Central, Give Me Heaven by Byron Harlan
For featured image, all copyrights and rights reserved to https://chicagoredcrossstories.wordpress.com/tag/walt-disney/.
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Next episode– 2. Interview: Peter Whitehead- Walt Disney Hometown Museum
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