It’s perhaps one of Asheville’s most pervasive urban legends that a young Walt Disney once worked in town as a draftsman. But it never happened, says local historian Joshua P. Warren, who unveiled the new “Walt Disney Mystery” exhibit May 12 at his Tourism Center and Free Museum.
The oft-repeated rumor is that in 1924, at the age of 23, a then-unknown Disney lived in Asheville for a few months and worked as a draftsman in the Jackson Building for the engineering firm of Major Thomas A. Cox Jr. He was fired for doodling on plats, the rumor goes.
Warren and his Museum Chief Historian Vance Pollock said that last year they tracked down the infamous “Disney plats” from the Buncombe County Register of Deeds Office. But an analysis by an independent art authenticator proved inconclusive. And “after months of exhaustive research,” including an investigation of records at other county offices and private collections, the team said they could find no evidence that Disney ever worked or lived in Asheville. Despite historical claims by Cox’s relatives to the contrary, Warren said that he hopes “this will be the definitive investigation of the story.”
“I would much rather be telling you that Disney lived here,” he added. “It almost seems like the legend is an odd conspiracy from people who wanted him to be here.” Pollock speculated that the rumor might have started as a good-natured “tall-tale from a father to his children.”
The opening of the exhibit was paired with an official ribbon cutting outside the museum, which occupies a small building behind Pack’s Tavern that once housed an old county jail. “This is the only museum that displays Asheville’s most unusual and extreme history,” Warren exclaimed as he cut the ribbon. “It’s an attraction that exemplifies what makes Asheville so mysterious and interesting.”
In addition to the Disney exhibit, the museum features displays on local hangings, the brutal 1936 murder of Helen Clevenger, the mysterious “Brown Mountain Lights” and more. It also functions as the headquarters for Warren’s Haunted Asheville ghost tours. A self-declared “paranormal investigator,” Warren hosts the Speaking of Strange radio show on WWNC and has appeared on major media outlets including the National Geographic Channel, the History Channel and more.
Photos by Jerry Nelson