Walt Disney’s birthday is cause for celebration for millions of fans all the world over, but for the people in a tiny Chicago neighborhood, Walt’s birthday is more than a date on the calendar; it’s a production.
Before Marceline, Missouri
Disney fans who’ve visited Disneyland Park in California or Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort have experienced the charm and welcoming feel of the parks’ Main Street, U.S.A. Both versions were inspired by the town of Marceline, Missouri, where Walter Elias Disney and his four siblings grew up on a farm in the early 1900s.
But before Marceline, there was Hermosa, a tiny neighborhood located on the northwest side of Chicago, Illinois, where Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901, on the second floor of a home located at 2156 North Tripp Avenue. In the late 1800s, Walt’s parents, Elias and Flora Disney, purchased the land on which to build the home, which was designed by Walt’s mother and then built by Walt’s father.
Per the official website for the Walt Disney Birthplace:
In 1991, Chicago attempted to designate the [Walt Disney birthplace home] as a historical landmark, but the owner fought the designation and won, putting the home at risk of demolition. Today, after years of neglect, the home is purchased with the intent to restore it to its 1901 state. The new owners are working with the City to protect the home forever.
Hermosa Brings Walt Disney to the World & Keeps Celebrating
Marceline, Missouri, has its claim to fame staked in the fact that Walt Disney moved there when he was five years old, but the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago is famous for being the birthplace of the great visionary, and residents there take that fame very seriously.
As they have done in previous years, the residents of the tiny town near Chicago planned an entire celebration in observance of the day Walt Disney was born–December 5, 1901.
“Tuesday is Walt Disney Day in Chicago,” reads a post on the official website for the Walt Disney Birthplace.
On Tuesday, which would have been Walt Disney’s 122nd birthday, residents of the Hermosa neighborhood hosted a grand celebration in honor of the famed entertainment mogul. The festivities began at 5:30 p.m. and concluded at approximately 6:00 p.m. As part of the Walt Disney birthday celebration, residents gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” in honor of Walt. There was also a special candle-lighting ceremony, singing, and, of course, holiday treats for everyone.
“Since 2013, we’ve celebrated Walt’s Birthday every year,” said Dina Benadon, a Walt Disney Birthplace Project Founder.
Benadon said that in 2020 and 2021, the event was held virtually as the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. But in 2022, the townspeople were able to come together to celebrate Walt’s birthday yet again. It was such a success that during the 2022 celebration, Benadon said that plans were already being made for this year’s celebration.
This year’s birthday observance on Tuesday marked the 10th annual birthday tribute to Walt Disney.
The story of Walt Disney’s life is one full of determination in the face of challenges and failure, as well as the successes that came because Walt never gave up on his dreams. Walt’s story also includes the earning of respect from his colleagues, his employees, his family, many U.S. Presidents, and fans around the globe.
Throughout the course of his life, Walt Disney revolutionized the way animated films are made, developed the multiplane camera, developed and patented the audio-animatronic robot prototype, took amusement and theme parks to an entirely new level, revolutionized the way families spend time together, and set a standard of excellence in every single thing he accomplished.
Walt Disney Departs
But Walt only lived to be 65 years old. On December 15, 1966, just two weeks after his birthday, Walt Disney unexpectedly passed away at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, located across the street from his studios.
The Chicago Tribune was one of countless publications to print the news on the front page.
The Los Angeles Times described Walt as “the one-time Missouri farm boy who for more than a quarter of a century created fantasies that made a troubled world laugh.” The highly complimentary obit piece noted that Walt’s funeral services would be private.
His death and placement thereafter have long been the stuff of legend, as some believe Walt Disney was placed into cryogenic suspension, having been frozen with the hope of “waking up” in the future when medical advancements might be able to cure what took his life.
But the truth about Walt Disney’s death is far more mundane. He passed away on December 15, 1966, while he was in the hospital, and the next day, his family held a private funeral at the Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, after which Walt’s body was cremated.
Disney’s ashes weren’t immediately interred, as his burial plot was not purchased until September 1967, according to the book Wills of the Rich and Famous. And it’s Walt’s burial plot–his family interment property at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale–that serves as one of the most famous Disney attractions on earth.
Walt’s burial plot is located in the Court of Freedom section of the Garden of Freedom, Map #G43, at the Little Garden of Communion, a small private garden located to the left of the entrance to the Freedom Mausoleum (see below).
Because of his drive, determination, and many accomplishments that continue to serve to bring magic, joy, and a childlike wonder to people of all ages, whether two years old or ninety-two, Walt Disney’s memory will never be forgotten.
It’s just another reason why the people in his hometown–and all around the globe–continue to celebrate his birthday more than 120 years later.