Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher
Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher

Freaky Friday: Top 10 Legends of Disney

May 23, 2023

If a person were to ask someone on the street what Disney is, everyone would have an answer. Some people might say that Disney is the biggest movie studio with a monopoly on pop culture. Others might say it’s the name of the studio that created Mickey Mouse. No matter what, it is pretty clear that Walt Disney Studios has created quite a legacy, always adding theme parks all around the world so people can have the opportunity to ride rides based on their favorite Disney movies. But like all good things, the internet loves to come up with a dark side to something seen as so bright. Today, we’ll be looking at the Top 10 urban legends surrounding Disney and its theme parks, and whether they are true.

  1. The Suits That Self-Cool

When people go to any of the Disney Parks, they will see a number of employees dressed in large costumes resembling Disney characters. This sounds like it’s great for the kids, but what about the person inside the costume? If you go to Disney World in Florida in the middle of summer, those people are likely dying from the heat. The reason the cast members can stay in their costumes is because the suits at Disney Parks have self-cooling systems inside that will prevent heat exhaustion.

This sounds like a great idea, but it is highly unlikely that these costume suits have this ability, as it would make them heavier.

  1. Mind Control Through Smell

One staple feature of Disney theme parks is their incredibly immersive environments. You take one step through the gates and it feels like you’re really in another world. A lot of care is put into the landscaping, architecture, and even smells to achieve this effect. That’s right, even the smells. Using devices called Smellitzers, all kinds of scents are pumped into rides, shops, and even some outdoor areas. But could these devices be used for…nefarious purposes?

A popular internet theory states that these smells are being used to control the minds of guests, influencing them to visit certain areas of the park or go into more stores, and there might be a kernel of truth to that. Not the mind control part, fortunately, but scents such as popcorn, candy, and cookies are used to entice people to stop at stores and restaurants.

  1. Bones in The Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean is considered a classic among Disneyland’s collection of iconic rides. It takes guests on a boat ride through various dark ride scenes featuring pirates. Of course, you can’t have a pirate ride without some spooky skeletons, and Pirates of the Caribbean has plenty, but could some of these skeletons be made of real human bones? 

Yes, actually.

As grim as it may sound, when the ride was originally constructed in the late 1960s, most of the skeletons were indeed real human remains. Donated from UCLA, they were used because bones made of synthetic materials didn’t look realistic enough. Nothing’s more realistic than the real thing, right? Thankfully, most of the true skeletons have been removed since the ride’s opening. Improvements in sculpting technology allowed for the creation of more convincing fake bones, and most of the real ones have been replaced. All of the skeletons were given proper burials. Supposedly, at least one real skull remains, though exactly which one remains is up for debate.

  1. “Dark” Magic Kingdom

Disney Studios’ villains are most definitely icons. From the brother-killing Scar to the Voodoo man Dr. Facilier, people are obsessed with these classic villains. But what if Disney decided to create a theme park just for their villains? Imagine an Ursula boat ride, a Maleficent rollercoaster, or a show where you watch the Queen of Hearts scream at her servants; it honestly sounds kind of cool.

But unfortunately, there have never been any plans to make this park a reality. Disney employees have stated that the idea of a villain’s park was made up by the internet, and will likely never happen. 

  1. Haunted Ashes

This rumor comes from Walt Disney World’s The Haunted Mansion attraction. It has been said that the ashes of the dead loved one’s are spread on this ride, meaning that this ghost house has real human remains inside. But Disney, the family-friendly company, surely wouldn’t let this be true, right?

Turns out that there are ashes not only in the mansion, but also most likely in the park as well. Disney does prohibit the practices and has a special code called ‘HEPA cleanup’ to remove the remains from the park. This doesn’t stop people from giving loved ones a final resting place at the happiest place on Earth, though.

  1. Captain George the Ghost

Let’s look at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride once again, shall we? This time, it’s the one located in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. While there are no real skeletons on this ride, there is a real ghost. In the 1970s while the ride was under construction, a park employee simply known as ‘George’ was tragically killed while working on one of the dark ride scenes. How he met his tragic end is up for debate, but the most common theory is that he fell from a high place or was crushed by falling debris.

Today, George’s ghost haunts the ride. Ride operators first noticed the apparition on security cameras after the attraction closed for the night. They also heard mysterious footsteps coming from an empty control room. It has become a tradition among cast members to wish George a “good morning” and “good evening” when opening and closing the ride, for not acknowledging his presence will cause it to constantly break down. George doesn’t intend to harm or scare anyone with his tricks, he simply wants to be acknowledged, and cast members and visitors alike are more than happy to do so. 

  1. River Country Amoeba

Brain-eating microorganisms are probably the last thing you want to think of while visiting “the happiest place on Earth”, but unfortunately, at one point it was a real fear for people visiting Disney World’s River Country water park. 

The story says that in 1980, a boy contracted a deadly, waterborne disease after a trip to the park. It was caused by a rare amoeba that made its home in the lakes that served as River Country’s main water supply. As sad as it is, this story is true. The boy died after the amoeba entered his brain through his nose and slowly ate away at his nervous system. He was one of three Florida children to die from amoeba-caused disease in August 1980. Fortunately, he was the only case that could be directly linked to River Country, as the others had occurred in other parts of the state. 

The incident surprisingly didn’t prompt the closure of the park. This was for a number of reasons, the main one being that there wasn’t really anything Disney could do about it. Amoeba are simply too common to just get rid of since they are able to breed in any body of water. This wouldn’t be the only death to occur in River Country. Within the next decade, two teenagers would drown in one of the pools. The park is currently closed indefinitely, and the official reason is due to a lack of interest among guests. Disney has stated that it would be more than willing to reopen it if there is enough demand.

  1. No One Dies At Disney

Over the years, it has been said that Disney Parks are the happiest places on Earth. Some people say that Disney has claimed that no one has ever died at their parks because all bodies are removed from the park before they are declared dead.

This rumor is false. There have, in fact, been cases of people dying inside the parks. It’s unknown, though, if the company has a policy that prohibits guests from being declared dead on the property. However, if someone died while at the parks, it would be pretty hard to try and avoid people hearing about the death, especially in today’s age of technology and social media.

  1. Disney on Ice

One of the most well-known urban legends surrounding Walt Disney is the theory that when he died, his body was cryogenically frozen and buried in one of his parks. According to the legend, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1966, Disney had a sudden realization of his own mortality. Therefore, he made arrangements to be frozen in liquid nitrogen and left to wait until some time in the far future when his disease could be cured. According to popular belief, his capsule was buried somewhere in Disneyland, supposedly near or directly underneath Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion. 

As popular as this theory is, however, there is no evidence to support it. The rumor was started by a tabloid and Diane Disney, Walt’s daughter, stated in an interview that, “I doubt my father had even heard of cryonics.” Supposed close colleagues of Disney’s, who claimed to have spoken with him about the topic, were found to be Disneyland employees who had never spoken with Disney on the topic. Additionally,there are many publicly available documents that indicate Disney was cremated and interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California. There’s even a grave marker to prove it. So, as much as we like to fantasize about, or fear, the day when one of the world’s greatest storytellers is brought back to life, we must face the facts. It will never happen.

  1. Disney’s Underground City

One of the most popular stories surrounding Disney World is the idea of an underground city beneath the Magic Kingdom. It sounds ridiculous. What would even be the purpose of such a place? 

Well, as absurd as it may seem, there is a bit of truth to it. The Utilidors are a series of tunnels, pipes, and rooms that run under the Magic Kingdom. The most well-known use for this is for maintenance purposes such as plumbing, garbage disposal, moving construction materials, etc. But they have several other purposes as well. The tunnels are actually mostly used as a way for cast members and costume characters to quickly move throughout the often crowded park without drawing attention. There are even dressing rooms and offices lining the expansive hallways. The idea of a hidden city in Disney World may seem to contain sinister overtones, but in reality, it is an incredibly unique system for maximizing park efficiency in a way that doesn’t ruin the immersive experience for guests.

Forever A Disney Tale

Disney Studios is known for creating some of the greatest stories in media, but they’re also the subject of many creepy and horrifying rumors. The world loves to take something pure and make a version of it that’s unbelievably twisted. Maybe that’s part of the appeal of sweet and pure things, that there’s always a chance for it to go horribly wrong.

If you’re at one of the parks and you witness something strange or horrific, I’d advise keeping your head down. Disney has an image to maintain, and if you try to tell others of something not so family-friendly, they might try to silence you.

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