There’s something a little uncanny about Halloween season at Walt Disney World, and it’s not just the fact that people are sipping Pumpkin Spice Lattes, wearing corduroy, and pretending that it isn’t 94 degrees and humid outside. (Or, in the case of Disneyland, that California isn’t being burned by wildfires.)
No: there’s something about Disney Parks that’s spooky in a Stepford Wives kind of way: everything looks pristine and perfect even though you know tourists and toddlers are messy. Cast members always smile even when they’re getting unfairly yelled at. Everything is bright and cheerful even though you suspect that Walt Disney’s frozen head is probably buried underneath Pirates of the Caribbean.
There are a lot of urban legends, ghost stories, and tall tales revolving around the Disney parks and no matter how many times some of them are disproved, we still love to tell them. I personally speculate that it’s a reaction to just how perfect Disney seems: you know there just has to be something sinister lurking just below the surface.
So, in the spirit of Halloween, here’s my round-up of my favorite tall tales, urbane legends, and scary stories about the Disney Parks. Some of them are true and some of them transcend truth: see for yourself!
Is Walt Disney Cryogenically Frozen Somewhere in Disneyland?
This is probably the most pervasive Disney Urban Legend. The story goes that, before he died, Walt Disney arranged to have his body cryogenically frozen, and that his frozen corpse is stored in Disneyland, waiting for the technology to become available to revive him.
In early 1967, a few weeks after Disney’s death on Dec. 15, 1966, a reporter for a tabloid newspaper called The National Spotlite claimed he had snuck into St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, directly across the street from the Disney studios and where he was treated during his final illness. As the story went, the reporter disguised himself as an orderly, broke into a storage room, and saw the deceased Disney suspended in a cryogenic metal cylinder!pbs.org
There’s something about this that’s almost believable: we all know that Walt was a huge fan of science fiction and dreamed of futuristic cities and technologies such as the original EPCOT (Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow).
Alas, this legend has been quite thoroughly debunked by snopes.com and Walt’s own daughter, Diane:
“There is absolutely no truth that my father, Walt Disney, wished to be frozen. I doubt that my father had ever heard of cryonics.”
But isn’t it fun to imagine that fantastic rumor is true? Benjamin Lancaster and the creative team behind the guerilla-film The Further Adventures of Walt‘s Frozen Head sure thought so (and the people who donated over $10,000 on Kickstarter to fund the film seem to have agreed)! They snuck their cast and crew into Disney World to secretly film a movie about an employee named Peter who gets coerced into sneaking Walt Disney’s recently-unfrozen head into the parks in a Mickey Mouse bag.
Even if this one is decidedly untrue, you can still spook your friends the next time you ride Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland, under which Disney’s cryogenically-frozen body allegedly waits.
Are the Splash Mountain Animatronics Cursed?
Have you ever gotten to the end of Splash Mountain and thought… wait, why are we suddenly on the Mississippi River? Why is there a huge riverboat full of characters we’ve never seen before? Why do these can-canning birds look like they’ve seen some stuff that they can’t unsee?
Well, the answers to those questions are: capitalism, capitalism and they have.
This is one of the Disney legends that actually affected real people with families, so I’m going to leave out the names of affected parties. But if you manage to ride Disney World’s Splash Mountain again before it gets re-themed to The Princess and the Frog, tell your family and friends this spooky (and true) story.
In 1974, the “Carousel of Progress” ride at Disneyland CA was broken down and shipped to Walt Disney World FL, where it is still operating. In that empty, rotating theater, Imagineers installed a new attraction called “America Sings,” which was an animatronic celebration of American music and culture.
Guests would enter the theater, be greeted and seated by a hostess, and then the auditorium would rotate around the circular stage (in which scenes were separated by walls). Unfortunately, about a week after “America Sings” opened, an 18-year-old hostess was caught and crushed between two walls as the theater rotated. The cast member died of her injuries in the attraction, but the ride was only closed for two weeks while safety measures were added.
“America Sings” operated until 1988, when the theater was converted into office space. Various expo-style attractions have since occupied the space, which is now home to “Star Wars Launch Bay” and various character meet-and-greets.
The very expensive animatronics from “America Sings” didn’t go to waste, though. Most of them were shipped to Florida to be used in Splash Mountain, which opened in 1989. If you watch the full America Sings show below, you’ll probably recognize quite a few Splash Mountain characters. But the most recognizable (and obvious) are the singing and dancing birds from the finale of Splash Mountain, which were also featured in the earlier ride.
Now it seems as though these birds might actually have a siren call… there have been multiple incidents of guests on Disney World’s Splash Mountain inexplicably leaving their boats during the ride (and sometimes the boats just sink and the guests are forced to leave).
In 2000, another adult guest climbed out of his log flume and was struck and killed by another boat… and none of his friends could explain why.
So are these singing-and-dancing birds cursed? I’ll leave that to you to decide. Personally, I watched my little brother try to climb out of our log at the very top of Splash Mountain’s drop so I’m a little suspicious…
Are there Human Remains in the Parks?
The short answer: at any given time…. probably!
Apparently, “scatter my ashes in Disneyland” is a disturbingly-common final wish. Talk to pretty much any cast member and they’ve heard from “a friend” about having to clean up ashes that people tried to discreetly scatter in the parks.
My old teaching assistant, who will remain unnamed but worked in attractions during his College Program, claimed to have caught someone dumping a ziplock bag of powder into the water during a boat tour at Disneyland CA. And it’s not just anecdotal evidence either: the Wall Street Journal interviewed custodians and other employees on the record to prove that, yeah, this happens! About the Haunted Mansion, one cast member claimed: “it probably has so much human ashes in it that it’s not even funny.”
Unsurprisingly, the Haunted Mansion(s) and Phantom Manor in the various parks are the most popular spot to try to scatter ashes in the dark. But y’all… they have cameras everywhere at Disney. If they catch you, you’ll get escorted out of the parks. And even if they don’t, the remains will eventually be ignominiously vacuumed up and thrown out.
Is it possible that some of these many, many deceased loved ones still linger around the Haunted Mansion (and possibly even make appearances on CCTV footage)?
Your mileage may vary, but there have certainly been reports of sightings of at least one of the 999 happy haunts roaming the grounds, like multiple sightings of this crying child at the exit of the Haunted Mansion that began after a family scattered the ashes of their 7-year-old son on the ride.
Pirates of the Caribbean is another popular place to scatter ashes, but that might not even be the only evidence of human remains on that ride in Disneyland CA…
Are some Pirates of the Caribbean Skeletons Actually Real?
Allegedly, Imagineers who worked on the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland were… unimpressed… by the quality of the fake human bones they made for the skeletons in various scenes. So they turned to UCLA medical center for some very, very realistic bones and skulls.
Most of these bones have been replaced in the almost 60 years since the ride’s opening, but rumor has it that three scenes still have real human remains in it: specifically the skull and crossbones in the headboard of this vignette in the Captain’s Quarters (as well as in two other possible scenes).
This claim comes from the book Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies by former Disney producer Jason Surrell and in 2014 the DisneyDose blog interviewed a Cast Member who seems to confirm that this is true?!?! I can’t find this one debunked anywhere, and we know that they used real remains in the film Poltergeist so I guess this one might just be real!
There are plenty of other ghost stories and urban legends from the Disney Parks, but these are some of the ones that I’ve experienced personally or had a little “insider info” about!
Hopefully you’re not too scared to venture onto Disney’s dark rides next time you visit the parks. I mean… not every big Disney smile is hiding something sinister, right?
Pixie dust and glamour!
The Fancy Floridian