Students studying in either of the Jack and Belle Lindquist Dream Rooms (313 and 314), in the Edgar and Libby Pankey Library of Education on the third floor of the Leatherby Libraries may have noticed a new and unusual display hanging between the two rooms: a jar of corn kernels!
No, these kernels aren’t for popping – they’re for honoring one of the more unusual celebrations of one of Orange County’s most famous residents: the Cornfield Mickey, an elaborate planting on a farm in Iowa. In 1987, Jack Lindquist, then Vice President of Disneyland Marketing, proposed the Cornfield Mickey as a way to promote Mickey Mouse’s upcoming 60th birthday. After getting approval for the idea, discussions began as to where to place the “birthday card” for Mickey. Disney researched and discovered that Iowa had the most air traffic, which later led them to the Pitzenberger family who farmed land in northwest Iowa. Mimi Cora, Chapman University Alumna Class of 1984, was the project coordinator for the Cornfield Mickey.
The idea had two notable obstacles. First, Iowa was recovering from the 1980s farm crisis and was at the time experiencing a drought. Second, as there was no GPS technology during this time, the surveyors had to manually stake flags into the ground for the Pitzenbergers to accurately follow with the planting. Luckily, the Pitzenbergers did not add any out of the ordinary practices to help the field grow. They called it “Disney Magic.”
Later in the summer of 1988, Disney organized a celebration in Sheffield, a small town close to where the Pitzenbergers lived. Seven communities joined together around that same time to form the Area Community Commonwealth (ACC) to help each other in the struggling rural economy. The event came together in a month, with over thirty thousand people celebrating Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, and included beauty pageants, street dancing, hot air balloon rides, and Disney character meet and greets.
Jack Lindquist donated a substantial number of his memorabilia from his days at Disneyland, along with a sponsorship of the two story rooms named for him and his wife, to the Leatherby Libraries in 2013. This collection is on display on the third floor of the library, adjacent to the Peter and Mary Muth Library of Children’s Literature in the Education Library.
Due to the nature of agriculture, Mickey’s “card” lasted for only one season. The Pitzenbergers decided to continue the celebration a bit longer, though, by jarring and selling the kernels of corn from the field locally in Sheffield. All of the jars were sold quickly by fans of the Cornfield Mickey. In March of 2019, the Leatherby Libraries held a reception for an exhibition in partnership with the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University. The exhibition included early Disney character art, and so the reception included a screening of “Growing Magic: The Mickey Mouse Cornfield Story,” a documentary about the Cornfield Mickey made by a professor and his students at Buena Vista University in Iowa. Several of the people who were a part of the Cornfield Mickey story attended the reception, including Mimi Cora and her husband Disney Legend Jim Cora. Mimi was a key contributor to the making of the documentary. Along with the Coras, two of the other reception attendees were Ted and Judy Pitzenberger, of the very field where the Cornfield Mickey grew. In conversation with Dean Charlene Baldwin at the reception, the Pitzenbergers spoke about the selling of the corn kernels, and Dean Baldwin told them how much she’d love to have some to display near the rest of the Disney collection. Shortly after the event, a small box arrived at the library, addressed to Dean Baldwin – a jar of the Cornfield Mickey’s corn, now preserved in the library to tell this whimsical story.