Exploring the Disney Connection

Students from Western Michigan University visit UMKC to Research Walt Disney

Eight Western Michigan University (WMU) students have embarked on a three-state, eight-city tour to study the life and times of Walt Disney from boyhood to fame – a journey that brought them to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

UMKC hosted the WMU students for a short tour May 10, as they explored Disney’s key Kansas City influences. The tour was guided by Western Michigan alumnus Jacob Smallegan, an enrollment advisor in UMKC’s Admissions Department.

Christopher Wolff, general manager of the UMKC Bookstore, gave a presentation of photos and artifacts from the Miller Nichols Library’s LaBudde Special Collections. Wolff retold the story of the original Kangaroo mascot Disney drew for the cover of the Kangaroo Magazine, a University of Kansas City student publication. The kangaroo was adopted as the official UKC mascot in 1937. The visiting students took a moment to admire various depictions of the mascot in the UMKC Student Union.

The students also learned of the Kansas City influences behind the early Disneyland amusement park design. One of those influences was the Electric Park amusement park. Key structural aspects of Electric Park, which at the time Disney lived in Kansas City was located at 47th St. and Paseo, can be vividly pointed out in early photos of Disneyland. Other influences behind Disneyland can be found in Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Mo.

The Lee Honors College at Western University offers a Study in the States program as a way to introduce students to the concept of traveling abroad. Stemming from his childhood fascination with Disney, adjunct professor Dr. Christopher Tremblay developed the three-credit Walt’s Pilgrimage honors course three years ago in response to a call for proposals seeking ideas for unique place-based courses for students who are members of the Honors College.  The eight-city journey from Chicago to Anaheim, Calif. includes stops at some of the most significant places in Disney’s life, including Kansas City.

Other Kansas City venues on Western Michigan’s Disney tour include Disney’s original Laugh-O-Gram studio on 31st Street, Union Station and the Kansas City Public Library.

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