01 April 2008

A town built on dreams

Living in Western North Carolina, I have come to realize that I do not have to venture all the way to Marceline, Kansas City, California, or Disneyland to walk in Walt’s footsteps. In fact, all I have to do is trudge into downtown Asheville, and meander around Pack Square.

In 1924, Walt Disney came to Asheville, NC and began working as a draftsman for Major Thomas A. Cox Jr. and the Asheville-Citizen Times. Cox’s office was in the Jackson Building, which overlooks Pack Square, formerly known as Court Square. Though his work was impeccable, he was ultimately fired for his incessant doodling of mice and other creatures.

Okay, before this goes on any further and I start receiving heated comments telling me how wrong I am wrong or, worse, thanks for my highlighting this little known fact of Western North Carolina, this article is a complete farce, other than the fact that this fable does still have legs in Asheville. In case you haven’t checked the calendar today, it is April 1st, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day. Since I have given new life to this legend, I had best set the record straight too.

First, let’s look at the time period through the accepted history of Walt’s life. In 1923 Walt, alongside Roy Disney, opened to Disney Brothers Studios and began producing more of the Alice Comedies, with Virginia Davis, that he had begun in Kansas City. It is hard to believe that Walt would walk away from Roy, whom Walt had just convinced to move to Hollywood, and the investments from Roy, their Uncle Robert, and their parents, Elias and Flora, investments that totaled 3,200 dollars, to take a job as a draftsman in Asheville, NC.

On the evidence side of this debate, there is very little to go on. While the city of Asheville, along with Buncombe County, keep registered deeds on file, none of the alleged works of Disney show any of his trademarks, specifically the creature doodles or his signature. These are important factors in the myth for two reasons, one, Oswald wasn’t created until 1927 and Mickey did not follow until 1928. With work continuing on the Alice Comedies, it would be years before Walt turned to the Mouse that started it all. Two, Walt put his name on everything he touched, he was very proud of his creations, and not one of the documents sport a Disney signature, real or otherwise. The latter factor is understandable, since in 1924 no one knew Disney was going to be as big as he was so there would have been no reason to attach his name to a project, especially one he hadn’t really worked on.

Other pieces of missing evidence are the records for employment from Major Thomas A. Cox Jr. and the Asheville-Citizen Times. I was unable to find any employment records for the draftsman Cox Jr., but the Citizen Times’ employment records do not go back far enough to even get close to any of their 1924 employees.

As for Cox Jr.’s office in the Jackson building, this also has some hang-ups. In 1923 L.B. Jackson hires the architect Ronald Greene to design the building. However, construction on the building is not completed until sometime in 1925.

All of this pales in light of the fact that of all the biographies written about the life of Walt Disney, and all the exhaustive research that went into said biographies, not one has ever made mention of Walt’s time in Asheville. In the end, my hometown of Asheville must be content in its place within Disney history, as home to a fabricated story on one of the world’s most innovative thinkers that has persisted for generations and brings a smirk to the faces of Disney enthusiasts.

I hope you enjoyed this look into the history and not-history of this myth. I thought it would be a great way to spend April Fool’s Day, and not a bad way for the Gazette to mark its 200th article. I also would like to thank my friend Sue, who first turned me on to this story, and whom I ultimately had to disappoint with the truth.


Greg said...

Congratulations on 200 posts! I am looking forward to the next 200.

Jaime said...

The Citizen-Times had a column on this a few years ago - the rumor of Walt Disney ever living in Asheville. You also won't find records of employment for the Citizen-Times dating 1924, because the current newspaper didn't exist at that time. Asheville Times and the Asheville Citizen later merged (in 1991, I believe).

Either way, it's a fun rumor :)

Ryan P. Wilson said...

Thanks for a few more nails for this rumor's coffin Jaime!