Boyhood Home of Walt Disney

Walt's Deepest Dream

Go to Disneyland in California -- or to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Florida, or Disney Tokyo, or EuroDisney outside Paris -- and you will find that there is only one entrance: under the station of the old-fashioned steam railroad, through a town square, and down the Main Street of a nostalgic, gingerbreaded, nineteenth-century American town. The town is lavish in its detailing: the names of the lawyers and accountants in gilt lettering on the second-story windows, the horse-drawn trolley down the middle of the street, the ice-cream parlor with the ceiling fans turning overhead. The town could be straight out of The Music Man, or Oklahoma -- or it could be Marceline, Missouri, the little town by the railroad where Walt spent his boyhood, finally made perfect.

This was Walt Disney's deepest dream, deeper than anything else he invented: he wanted to build a town. The theme is repeated throughout all Disney parks: ToonTown, Frontierland, Liberty Square, New Orleans Square, Fantasyland, Typhoon Lagoon, even the faux Hollywood of the Disney/MGM Studios -- all are designed as miniature towns.

But Disneyland's towns were not enough to satisfy Walt's longing. When he opened the gates to Disneyland and its Main Street in 1955 he knew that it had a flaw: it wasn't real. Nobody actually lived there. He wanted to build a place where people lived, a place that could make life about as good as life could be, perhaps as a way to re-invent his own difficult, hardscrabble early life.

The more success he had, the more the longing grew. By 1959, he was commissioning studies on two ideas: where to build a second theme park, and how to build a futuristic "City of Tomorrow" around it, where the park's workers could live in an ideal society.

This article appeared in:New Scientist, January 1996


by Joe Flower