“Imagine… if every child, family and community could achieve their highest and best purpose in life because that one single life story inspired them.”
Walt Disney House and Museum website
From Steamboat Willie to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Little Mermaid remake, the name Disney has always meant something special to the wide world of entertainment.
Perhaps the creative gene came from his parents. His mother Flora drew up the architectural plans, and his father Elias built the two-story, 18 x 28 foot wood cottage in 1893.
Disney, according to Wikipedia sources, was their fourth and youngest son. Aside from Walt, Elias and Flora’s sons were Herbert, Raymond and Roy; and a fifth child, Ruth, was born in December 1903.
“A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”
According to the blog ‘The Disney Classics,‘ Disney developed an early interest in drawing. He took art classes as a boy and drew cartoons for the newspaper at McKinley High School. drawing patriotic pictures about World War I. According to Walt Disney.org, in the most serious of times, everyone could rely on Walt, a prankster, to lighten the mood. He said, “My mother had a terrific sense of humor. My dad was sort of straight-laced and very slow to catch on to a gag, a joke—but when he did, he would laugh until he had tears in his eyes.”
Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s Off To Work You Go
The Disney family left for Missouri, where Elias ran newspaper routes and employed his sons to deliver the newspapers year-round, which took a toll on Walt’s health and schooling. They moved back to Chicago when Elias got a job at The O-Zell Soda Company.
When Walt was in high school, according to the website, Elias couldn’t understand his son’s ambitions, but he agreed to pay for Walt’s extracurricular art classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
Once he got his first job as an animator, it was the catalyst that set off his dream of opening his own studio.
According to Wikipedia sources, Disney and his brother Roy opened Laugh-O-Gram Studios in Missouri. Before Disney created Mickey Mouse, he made Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Then, Disney lost the rights to Oswald. The loss of his first character inspired the birth of the Mouse. Disney got the inspiration from a tame mouse at his desk. Disney altered Oswald’s appearance and created a new character that he named Mortimer Mouse; at the urging of his wife, Lillian, every bit the creative partner that his mother was for Elias, Disney rechristened him Mickey Mouse. Fromhis first silent film, Plane Crazy, in 1928, to 1940’s Fantasia, the mouseinspired hundreds more Disney characters and became an icon known the world over.
The rest…Disneyland, Disney World, the Disney Channel, the Mickey Mouse Club, Bambi, Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, and multiple multibillion-dollar enterprises, as they say, is Disney magic.
Your Heart Will Lead You Home
While Walt was making Disney magic in Los Angeles, the two-story cottage in Hermosa remained an unmarked single-family home. In 1991, according to the home’s website, Chicago attempted to designate the property as a historical landmark but the owner fought the designation and won, putting the home at risk of demolition.
Dina Benadon and Brent Young purchased the home on Tripp for $169,000 in 2013 and turned it into a heritage site, and it became a historical landmark, according to an article in Business Insider.
They bought the home after hearing through their jobs working on theme-park animations that the property had fallen into disrepair.
“It was very sad to us because this is a part of very important history in our country,” Benadon told Chicago ABC affiliate ABC 30 Action News in 2018.
As the Insider notes, a grant from the Walt Disney Company and crowdsourced funding helped restore the home to its original state.
The Future’s In My Hands
While the museum is not open for touring just yet, they do host annual, free Creativity Days, a community block party and arts festival, in late June. They also host holiday celebrations on Walt Disney’s birthday, December 5.
Co-presented with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago and the Hermosa Neighborhood Association, Creativity Days is an important part of The Walt Disney Birthplace’s long-term goal of supporting arts education for children.
At Walt’s 121st birthday party in 2022, the YMCA of Chicago tweeted “We had a blast celebrating Walt Disney’s 121st birthday at the @WDBirthplace on Dec. 5! It was a fun-filled evening of special guests, treats, and a community gathering to celebrate limitless creativity and imagination!”
Walt, who died in 1966 at the age of 65, would be proud. For more information, click here.
Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago