How Did Mickey Mouse Hill Get Its Name?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

East Lansing kids of all ages have loved Mickey Mouse Hill for generations.

Mickey Mouse Hill, located on the east side of MacDonald Middle School, is well known as one of the local hotspots to go sledding on a cold, snowy day. But how did the hill get its name?

One ELi reader pointed us to a conversation on the East Lansing High School Alumni Facebook group that offered up some possible answers.

Some have assumed the name is related to the name of MacDonald Middle School. This theory suggests that “MacDonald” morphed to “Mickey” over the years, perhaps with some changes in between.

Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi

Others pointed out that MacDonald Middle and Mickey Mouse share the same initials: M. M.

A related theory believes that the M.M. for “Mickey Mouse” originally came from calling the hill “Marsh’s Mountain.” According to some alumni, the first physical education teacher at MacDonald was Craig Marsh, beloved by the school’s students who subsequently dubbed the hill Marsh’s Mountain.

Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi

But alumni who lived in East Lansing in the 1950s remember the hill being called Mickey Mouse Hill long before MacDonald Middle School opened in the late 1960s.

Perhaps the topography influenced the name? Some say that, once upon a time, aerial views of the two hills looked like Mickey Mouse’s ears. Today, the aerial views look more like bunny ears to some, and nothing at all to others. Those who remember the construction of MacDonald Middle School said that the hills were reduced in size when the school was built, thus distorting the aerial view.

Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi

One alum has suggested that Mickey Mouse Hill got its name from its size, writing, “I always thought the name reflected that fact that it’s such an unimpressive hill. Micky Mouse meaning small, ineffective, or unimportant.”

Others quickly fought back against the notion of the hill being diminutive in size, recalling broken bones. Those who revisited the hill recently with their children recounted sore backsides.

The hill, however, was seemingly more dangerous in years past. Previous generations, who frequented the hill before some modifications were made, enjoyed “nutcrackers,” which caused one to fly off the east side of the hill before landing at the bottom.

Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi

One alum also recounted being part of the infamous “Mickey Mouse Mafia,” writing, “We had the Mickey Mouse Mafia, we’d wait for someone to go down, then about 10 to 15 of us would launch, and we’d all try to smash into each other.”

But one of the name-origin theories harkens back to 1950s postwar cultural changes. More and more Americans purchased televisions during that time, bringing the Disney character into children’s homes. Wrote one alum, “In the middle fifties when the first housing was coming up around it, I just thought we named it after our favorite TV show. Television was so new.”

Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi

Although no definitive answer was reached in the discussion, the debate clearly brought back happy memories for many. Several alumni fondly remembered Craig Marsh, who later became the principal of Marble Elementary, with one alum saying Marsh gave him the confidence to learn to swim.

Others recalled East Lansing before some significant changes were made. Back in the day, Burcham Drive stopped at Hagadorn Road, and the Inter-Urban Train’s railroad tracks were south of Burcham. One alum found a trunk near the tracks, and some suspected it had been thrown off a train earlier in the century. They also pointed out that the Burcham park area with the solar panel array was previously the town dump. (That land still requires active environmental management because of its history as a landfill.)

Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi

Regardless of the origin of its name, Mickey Mouse Hill remains a community gathering spot following snowstorms like the bevy we’ve had lately, and it seems very likely to stay just as popular for generations to come.

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