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 history—the history of anything, as long as I'm involved with it—I 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 point—Mickey is nearing ninety years of age this coming November 18—the 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 York—far 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 creation—even, 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 Disneyland—to say nothing of including the park hopper option to its partner attraction, the Disney California Adventure Park—a 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.