Main Street, U.S.A. may be modeled after one of Walt’s hometowns of Marceline, Missouri, but Walt’s original hometown was Chicago, Illinois. It’s a city Walt had a relationship with at multiple points in his life.
When we think of Walt Disney’s hometown Marceline, Missouri is what comes to mind. After all, Main Street, U.S.A. in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World was modeled on this town that Walt remembered fondly from his childhood. Walt’s original hometown, however, was Chicago, Illinois.
Fun Facts About Walt Disney and Chicago
As a fellow Chicagoan, I’m proud of this connection to Walt and the ongoing efforts of folks in Chicago to honor Walt’s legacy. We’re diving into not one but six facts on Walt and the Windy City, Chicago, Illinois.
The House that Elias Disney Built.
The house Walt grew up in was designed by his mother Flora and built by his father Elias in 1891. The house is at 2156 N. Tripp Ave. Chicago, IL 60639.
Flora and Elias continued to partner up, building other houses in the same neighborhood. What I love about this fact is that it’s 1891. Women could only kind of own property (primarily through their husbands), vote, or even have a line of credit, but Walt’s mother was a force and designed their house and that of their neighbors.
Walt’s Birthplace has Become a Destination for Disney Fans
Today this property is owned by a Disney fan and they are working to restore the property. They offer events throughout the year. You can read about them on their website. I highly recommend visiting them on Instagram for information on their events.
On Tuesday, December 5, 2023, they celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the organization. In previous years they also did an event on December 5th honoring Walt’s birthday. The celebration included local children singing Happy Birthday and enjoying holiday decorations. Previous guests have included Mickey Mouse and Roy P. Disney.
For the first time in October of 2023, the Walt Disney Birthplace was open to the public as part of an Open House Chicago event. Both of these events are now on my Disney bucket list!
Chicago Honors Walt Disney and His Family
Chicago declared December 5th as Walt Disney Day back in 2013. You can also find the Honorary Disney Family Ave at the intersection near the Walt Disney Birthplace. Two items off the bucket list in one!
Walt Started High School in the Chicago Area
Researching this article I was surprised to learn Walt and his family moved back to Chicago when he was 13 and he attended freshman year at McKinley High School.
Most of the things I had read mentioned Chicago and then quickly jumped to Marceline but was excited to learn the Walt and Chicago connection continued. He left high school to join the American Red Cross during World War 1 but did attend night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
Walt and Ward in Chicago
In 1948 Walt and Ward Kimball took a break and grabbed a train west to visit Chicago to attend the Chicago Railroad Fair. According to the Walt Disney Family Museum Blog, this was at the height of a stressful situation at the Studios and the two needed a break.
The Museum even has a fun photo of Walt and Ward inside one of the trains.
Walt and Ward in Chicago Again…
Walt Disney’s love of trains is often one of the top 10 facts shared about Walt. Most of the pictures of Walt on trains are in old-fashioned engines, like what you see in Disney Parks all over the world. But Walt’s love of trains extended to all trains, including the El (the Elevated Train) in Chicago.
In the book Remembering Walt Ward shared a story of a trip to Chicago with Walt. Ward suggested seeing a jazz group playing. Walt said “You can do that anytime. Let’s go ride the El.” According to Ward, “We rode the damned elevated train half the night and he was looking out the window, reliving his childhood.”
This is quickly becoming one of my favorite Walt stories. I do love the idea of Walt as an adult in Chicago, with the steakhouses, jazz, and museums and he decides to ride public transportation.
Chicago is a Great Stop for Disney Fans
Take Walt’s advice and visit Chicago! You can visit his birthplace, and take a selfie on Honorary Disney Family Avenue. Plus, Chicago is often a stop for traveling Disney exhibitions. It’s currently host to the Disney100 Exhibition and was one of the stops on the Science Behind Pixar Traveling Exhibit in 2018.
This is also the perfect time of year to ride the El Walt loved so much. There is a special Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Holiday El train decked out with lights, Santa, and food baskets en route to various charities. Walt loved trains and he loved Christmas. I imagine if Walt were alive today, he would be dragging a few Cast Members to Chicago for hot dogs and riding that train.