The author Charles Baxter declared that a Midwesterner is “a thoroughly unhip guy with his heart in the usual place, on the sleeve, in plain sight.”
Walt Disney remained a Midwesterner all of his life. His formative years were almost exclusively spent in that region of our country, with the exception of a short jaunt to Europe to serve his country during World War I. Many of the old timers have told me that his sensibilities and mannerisms were decidedly Midwestern, and that Walt spoke fondly of all three places where he lived: Chicago, Marceline, and Kansas City. The three locations were just as fond of Walt, and each laid claim to their “hometown boy”. Walt was always happy to oblige when someone came calling with a worthy cause. This was especially the case with DeMolay.
So in honor of yesterday’s “Help Wanted” for the renowned Disney historian Jim Korkis, I want to offer a few items from my own research files. I know Jim has requested information regarding the Mickey Mouse comic strips before, so hopefully this new request will fuel more interest and turn up some leads. One would think there is an institution of some sort that has the DeMolay Cordon on microfilm or even bound volumes. Ask around.
The above image is a good example of Walt’s generosity with his Midwestern roots and associations. After fame and fortune found Walt, he was besieged with numerous requests from old “acquaintances” to help out. Walt would often accommodate these requests, by sending artwork, photo, or a quote, and sometimes even a personal appearance. The 1930s newspapers and magazines of the Midwest (and frankly all over the world) are scattered with thousands of these little Disney history “tidbits”. I have over the last twenty-five years tried to hunt these down and will be happy to present them in future Institute posts. The Mickey Mouse bearing “The DeMolay Emblem” is just such an example. The clipping is as I found it, with no citation or date added. I do know it is from the Kansas City Star. It is likely from 1931, the year Walt received the DeMolay Legion of Honor. It is no later than 1932, as the “Emblem” that Mickey is seen sporting is the second variation of the organization’s official symbol. This Emblem was in use from 1920 until 1932.
The Order of DeMolay had more than just Walt as a member, he was also a “hometown boy”. You see DeMolay was founded in Kansas City in 1919. It was named after Jacques de Molay, a Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The mythic Knights Templar were sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1128 to guard the road between Jerusalem and Acre, and were also legendary for their participation in the Crusades.
DeMolay was founded in 1919 by a Kansas Cityan named Frank S. Land, affectionately known as “Dad” Land. Exclusive at first (limited to 75 members of one high school), it was so well received, that it was soon opened to the other three High Schools in Kansas City–the idea being “if it was good for one boy, it must be good for all boys.” That “idea” was to provide a fraternal organization and structure for boys, especially those who had lost their fathers during the “War to end all Wars!” Walt joined in 1920, at age 19, and became the 107th member of the original Mother Chapter of DeMolay in Kansas City.
Walt received the two highest honors bestowed by The Order of DeMolay. The first was the Degree of Chevalier. This honor could not be worked for, only awarded.“Dad” Land stated that it was “the highest award for Distinguished DeMolay service…only one other award, the Legion of Honor…outranks this distinction.” Of course, the “other” award Walt would receive from DeMolay was the “Legion of Honor” (also known as the Cross of Honor–either way, it was the highest honor DeMolay could give). The name of the award derived from the Immortal Tenth Legion of Julius Caesar’s Rome. Walt received his Legion of Honor in 1931, and was quite honored (and most likely resulted in the image of Mickey Mouse above, proud of his Emblem). There is no current record (another “Help Wanted”) as to when Walt received his Chevalier, but it is assumed to have been in 1931 or before (logically it would have been awarded either before, or at the same time, as the Legion of Honor). Walt did receive one final distinction from DeMolay when on November 13, 1986, he became a member of the first induction class into the DeMolay Hall of Fame.
the arrival of favorite son Walt Disney for the
DeMolay Conference, July 6, 1936.
Walt’s devotion to his old organization continued throughout the 1930s, and in 1936 he was invited to address the DeMolay Founder’s Conference at the new Art Deco marvel, the Municipal auditorium in Kansas City. The above clipping is from the Monday Kansas City Star, July 6, 1936. The caption reads: “Walt Disney (left), former Kansas Cityan whose Mickey Mouse creations have brought him worldwide fame, and Walter P. Pitkin (right), New York, author of Life Begins at Forty, arrived in Kansas City Monday morning to attend the De Molay convention which opened at the Municipal auditorium. Pitkin addressed the convention Monday afternoon and Disney was to speak Tuesday night.” The clipping is from a period newspaper, so the quality is not great. But if you look closely, you can see that Walt is wearing two Regalia Cords (and is actually holding the ends of each in his right hand). The one that has a tassel on the end is the Chevalier Cord featuring his Degree of Chevalier honor. The other one with a cross on the end is the Legion of Honor.
In Walt’s address at the Conference he emotionally declared: “I feel a great sense of obligation and gratitude toward the Order of DeMolay for the important part it played in my life. Its precepts have been invaluable in making decisions, facing dilemmas and crises. DeMolay stands for all that is good for the family and for our country. I feel privileged to have enjoyed membership in DeMolay.”
Endnotes and Citations can be seen at: endnotes.