From Mickey Mouse to Civil War veterans, learn about the clubs that shaped Salem’s history

Visitors read about Salem’s Mickey Mouse Club at Willamette Heritage Center’s new “Join the Club” exhibit (Courtesy/Willamette Heritage Center)

For much of the 1930s, more than 1,000 children flooded Salem’s Elsinore Theatre on Saturday afternoons to watch Mickey Mouse cartoons and act in skits.

They were members of the city’s Mickey Mouse Club, one of the first of its kind in the U.S. High school student Bill Hagedorn led the group as the “Mickey Mouse Chief,” according to the club’s official letterhead.

The group is just one of the local organizations highlighted in a new exhibit at the Willamette Heritage Center called “Join the Club,” running through April 18.

Curator Kylie Pine said she was staggered by the scope of the city’s Mickey Mouse Club when the center acquired a scrapbook of its activities from a donor.

“I can’t think of another event that brings 1,200 kids together on a weekly basis,” she said. Children involved signed a pledge to keep their grades up, respect their elders and be good citizens.

The exhibit is the Heritage Center’s 10th annual “heritage invitational,” where museums and historical organizations around the region are invited to contribute a mini-exhibit around a common theme.

Past exhibits have been organized around romance, immigration and migration to the Willamette Valley and the experiences of women and children in Oregon, Pine said.

The club theme came after Rotary Club of Salem approached the Heritage Center about doing an exhibit to celebrate its 100th birthday. Pine said staff wanted to expand the idea to other clubs and organizations.

“It’s been really fun to see how the stories are really very different and find weird ways they connect to each other,” she said.

Some items on display focus on the daughters of Civil War veterans with ties to the Salem area.

Another collection is from the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinville, where Howard Hughes’ famous plane, the Spruce Goose, is on display. The space museum’s mini-exhibit focuses on the unofficial “club” that mobilized to bring the aircraft to the region in the 1990s.

Other organizations contributing to the exhibit are Bush House Museum, Daughters of Union Veterans, GeerCrest Farm and Historical Society, Hoover-Minthorn House, Keizer Heritage Museum, Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health, Rotary Club of Salem, Silverton Country Historical Society, and Western Steam Fiends Association.

Willamette Heritage Center, 1313 Mill Street S.E., is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.