ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) – Most everyone knows that Walt Disney grew up in Missouri, but there are plenty of stories floating around regarding his plans for St. Louis that aren't entirely true. Disney did love Missouri and that is evident in his theme parks. In fact, some local historians claim that Walt Disney based Main Street USA off his hometown of Marceline.
"I don't think there is any doubt that Main Street of Marceline is clearly the vision for Main Street USA," said local historian Dan Viets, an author and lawyer based in Columbia, Missouri. "All the entrance ways to those theme parks are based on this little town's Main Street."
Disney historians based in Orlando have a different view of Main Street USA. They point out the plaque on Main Street that reads, "Main Street is everyone's hometown, the heart line of America."
But when you look at historical pictures of Marceline and how Main Street USA looks today, you can certainly see the similarities. But it can also be argued that many main streets across America during that time resemble what you see inside Disney Theme Parks.
But there are other connections to the park that certainly do have a connection to Missouri. The name of Disney's father, Elias, is plastered on windows on Main Street USA. There are also crates scattered around the parks leading to some rides. And many of those crates have cities from Missouri written on them, like Cape Girardeau.
"The Mark Twain Steamboat that runs around Tom Sawyer's Island in Frontierland was clearly an inspiration of Missouri's own Mark Twain," Viets said.
It is also true that Walt had interest in building a theme park in downtown St. Louis before he built Disney World in Orlando, but after he had already built Disneyland in California.
Plans for the park known as "Riverfront Square" were found several years ago showing the five-story indoor theme park designed for the area between where the St. Louis Arch and 'old' Busch Stadium were being built. The legend is that August Busch killed the project because Disney refused to serve alcohol at the park. That's not entirely true. Historians do agree that Busch said he was fool for not serving alcohol, but Disney had apparently agreed to move forward with limited alcohol options. What really killed the plans were issues over financing.
"Walt didn't have the money to build this theme park," said Viets. "If the city had passed a bond issue, he would've repaid it out of the profits of that park and St. Louis would have a tremendous asset today that they don't have."
Instead, Disney abandoned those plans are forged ahead in the Florida swamps to build one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world.