Saturday, August 18, 2018

Genealogy With a Mouse

I've spent the last week away from home, while my husband attended an annual conference on behalf of our family business. The conference is held at Disneyland, which may help explain why, though the whole family doesn't necessarily attend the conference, we do come along for the ride.

Since I can't escape noticing details about historythe history of anything, as long as I'm involved with itI couldn't help but reflect upon the few facts I picked up, last week, about the evolution of both Disneyland and its mainstay, Mickey Mouse.

It wasn't lost on me that Mickey Mouse's hit debut appearance happened to be when my mother was barely three years of age, making Mickey a prime possibility in the sphere of entertainment options during her growing-up years. Yet, I never heard mention of her awareness, as a child, of that phenomenon. At this pointMickey is nearing ninety years of age this coming November 18the Mouse is ubiquitous, but back in the late 1920s, though he may have enjoyed success through such groundbreaking creations as Steamboat Willie, the diffusion of one of the first of Walt Disney's entertainment innovations spread too slowly to catch up with at least that one little girl growing up in midwestern America on the eve of the Depression years.

Likewise, as I watched the streams of people flooding through the main gates at the Disneyland park, I found it just as curious to realize that the flagship theme park itself originated in just enough time to have been accessible during those same early childhood years in my own life. While I had heard about Disneyland in far-off southern California, at that time, I was growing up in New Yorkfar too great a distance for our financially-challenged family to avail ourselves of such a dream vacation. And so, there was never a nexus between my family and the dream destination for what seemed to be every other kid in America.

Now, of course, Disneyland is a far cry from what it was in those early years of its creationeven, in fact, from its metamorphosis during my college years, when I was finally able to come see the place for myself. Today, we think nothing of plunking down the exorbitant bucket loads of cash it takes to do Disneylandto say nothing of including the park hopper option to its partner attraction, the Disney California Adventure Parka luxury impossible to imagine during my mother's childhood, or even mine.

It always fascinates me to juxtapose family history with that of the current events of an ancestor's lifetime. Yes, it puts our forebears' life experiences in perspective, true, but it also gives me an idea of how little those things that loom large in our own culture hardly seemed to make a dent in the daily lives of the ones who peopled our family tree.

Above: Metalwork detail from a garden outside the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland; photo courtesy Claire Stevens.


  1. My parents grew up in the 1920s and 1930s. Mickey was never an important character for them, probably because there was no movie theater near them, and their families didn't have money for entertainment anyway. My brothers and sister and I watched Mickey cartoons on TV. We went to carnivals, fairs, and amusement parks within 100 miles of our Ohio home for the rides, but we had no interest in "meeting" a Mickey character. My parents had no interest in spending a whole vacation at an amusement park -- much more fun at lakes and seashores. I've often thought, however, that. Dad would have enjoyed observing the cleanliness and efficiency of managing all those crowds and their parking at Disney facilities.

    1. Marian, your observation helps to validate what I've been wondering. We assume that something, all-pervasive in the culture now, was always just that way--at least during the time the item was in existence--but that is not necessarily the case. I wonder how many others were oblivious to Disney developments, even during their heyday...and how many other cultural features now on our radar were never an item to the past generations of our families.

      Flipping that on its head, I'm sure there were some items that, in their waning days, were still popular with our parents or grandparents, even while they were fading from the cultural scene.

      Then, too, that's an interesting point about your dad: our relatives may have had a specific focus that led them to seek out interests other than the main point of a product. And yes, the Disney operation would be a fascinating study for anyone interested in that aspect of business management.

      All those are facets of learning how to view our ancestors. We have to view them from their frame of reference, not just ours, if we want to truly learn more about them.

  2. Very interesting post! My brothers & I were always excited to watch Disney's Wonderful World of Color every Sunday night. Of course, we watched on our big old black & white TV. We dreamed of going to Disneyland but California was too far away from NY. However, Walt Disney World in FL has been the scene for many vacations for our children & grandchildren. Mouse Genealogy is great!

    1. It's interesting to see, Colleen, who remembers what about the history of the development of specific cultural icons we now recognize. Your memories of the Disney universe as a child seem somewhat like mine--especially the part about NY being too far for that dream of visiting Disneyland.

      This has really gotten me thinking, as I read through the newspapers of my ancestors' eras, how many really felt the headlines were pertinent to them, and how many just went "ho hum, just another day of work" while crises were exploding all around them.

  3. I visited Disneyland in about 1965 when I was 14 years old, it was an awesome day! We were in Florida years later in 1973 when Disneyworld opened and were there on a number of occasions:)


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