At Walt Disney World there is a sense of excitement as you walk down Main Street, U.S.A. This street that grew out of the imagination of Walt Disney is about an America that is changing and making new discoveries at every turn. It is the turn of the 20th century on Main Street, U.S.A. Everywhere you look, progress and new innovations are helping to make life brighter and better. This captures the energy and feel of a hopeful future. Although most miss them, some amazing stories are waiting to be discovered if you just take the time to look at some of the details. The back stories of these places are fascinating and one that catches your attention is the Main Street Confectionery.
As the story goes, Confectionery owners Thomas and Kitty McCrumb attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago back in 1893, where Thomas was particularly impressed with all the mechanical marvels on display at Machinery Hall. These impressions turned to inspiration as the McCrumbs returned home from the Fair, and Thomas set about applying his inspiration to the creation of fantastic new devices for making candies and chocolates.
This progress and sense of discovery let to the mechanization responsible for the growth and success at the Main Street Confectionery. That is why as you look at the decor, you see colorful machines, contraptions, and creations making the candy magic happen. You can also see displays of some of the early attempts that Thomas made to create better and more efficient ways to make candy. As you look around the shop, notice the souvenir program from the 1893 Fair.
Although this is an amazing and usually unknown backstory, the actual roots of the story can be found in the life of Walt Disney himself. Disney’s father, Elias, worked as a contractor on the World’s Columbian Exposition after moving his young family to Chicago in the early-1890s. Later, he would build the home on Tripp Avenue where Walt was born in 1901. Prior to that Roy was born there and then later, their sister, Ruth. This home would serve as a model for others that he would build in the same neighborhood. The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair also plays into the story of the Crystal Arts shop on Main Street, and the 2nd-story window tribute to Elias Disney lists his profession as Contractor. The only time Elias was a contractor were in those days as the family lived in Chicago.
But Elias was also involved in another construction project that would impact Walt’s life. Elias was a spiritual man and when the local church was ready to build a new building, Elias stepped in and helped build St. Paul’s Congregational Church in October 1900. Flora would play the organ for services and Elias would occasionally take the pulpit to preach. The Disney family would attend every Sunday and often during the week.
The church had a young minister named Walter Parr whose wife was pregnant at the same time Flora was with Walt. Elias and Parr supposedly agreed that if the children were male, Elias would name his child after Parr and Parr would name his after Elias. That is reportedly the reason why Walt was named Walt.
Through the years, Elias would recall stories of working on the fair and shared those stories with young Walt. Walt would always remember the stories of the bigness of the fair but also some details that stayed with him the rest of his life. The Exposition was divided into 2 sections. One featured pavilions showcasing new technology. Another section featured international pavilions where visitors could get as sense of different cultures from around the globe. It was designed for families. Together they could have fun and learn something at the same time. That influence and those stories became part of Walt and would impact how he would dream the rest of his life.
Now history is clear that Elias was a tough man and his relationship with Walt was not always one you could describe as “warm and fuzzy” but the influence of his father, the willingness to work, and the struggle to survive and provide for his family were not lost on the impressionable Walt. The lessons that Elias shared from the Chicago World’s Fair were lessons that shaped Walt’s thinking and created within him ideas and hopes that one day would become something no one had ever seen before.
Never underestimate the influence you have on others. You may not realize it, but your life, what you do, and the stories you tell, can shape and change the lives of others forever. It is also important that you never get so busy that you forget to listen to others. Allow them to share their lives, hear their stories, learn from their past because it can your future better.
One last detail…and another one often missed….back on Main Street, U.S.A. at the candy shop. Notice the name again of the Confectionery’s proprietor. The owner of the candy shop gets his name from a dentist. Dr. Thomas McCrumb, who hired Walt Disney to make one of his very first films in 1922, Disney history buffs will remember the title, it was an educational piece known as Tommy Tucker’s Tooth.
*Background information for this article came from Mouse Planet, Disney Pal, and USA Today