Disney sells prepackaged dreams and fairytales. It’s billed as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” a wholesome, sunlit playground where tourists from around the world can wish upon a star and then watch those wishes come true… at least until closing time when the Electrical Parade rolls down Main Street USA, and Mickey once again locks the gates to the Magic Kingdom. According to Travel + Leisure, four of the world’s 20 most visited tourist attractions are Disney parks; Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, in Orlando, Florida, averages 53,000 guests per day. So much for it being a small world; 53,000 is roughly the population of Saint Kitts and Nevis, and 20,000 more than the population of Liechtenstein.
Disney is like the blood-red apple that the witch-queen gives Snow White. Beneath its shiny and innocent exterior lurk poisonous stories and disturbing urban legends. Suicides, ghost sightings (including Walt himself), groping employees, measles outbreaks, strange ride photos, tourists spreading the ashes of loved ones at the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean rides, the hippie occupation of Tom Sawyer Island –they’re all part of the Disney mythology. In Escape from Tomorrow, Randy Moore’s 2013 black and white fantasy horror film, there’s even a secret detention center underneath Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. While Disney’s brand of corporate totalitarianism is nightmarish to some people, the creepypasta-like rumors of its dark side are difficult to fact check. What we do know, however, is that several tourists who bought Disney day passes never made it out of the park alive.
10. Disney Parking Lots
Maybe it has something to do with all the excitement and the carelessness that goes hand-in-hand with that excitement. But not even Disney parking lots are safe. Still, what do you expect when you mix a mob of wide-eyed children, a labyrinth of traffic cones, and a fleet of large Disney tour buses? In 1985, 7-year old Jennifer Reid was struck and killed by a Disney tour bus as she and her uncle searched for their car. In 2010, a Florida boy was hit and killed by a shuttle bus at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort campground. And in 2013, a Disney Magic Express Bus crashed into a car on the Disney property, leaving a 63-year old woman dead.
9. The Monorail
Disney’s Monorail system is a smooth, efficient form of in-park transportation. Or at least that’s the idea. The Monorail debuted in 1959 -four years after Disneyland opened -and claimed its first victim in 1966. On his graduation night, 19-year old California resident Thomas Guy Cleveland attempted to sneak into Disneyland along the Monorail track. However, what started out as a harmless prank, a Grad Night bit of innocent tomfoolery, quickly turned deadly. Despite warnings from a security guard, Thomas was struck and killed by a Monorail train as he stood on the track waiting to jump down into the theme park.
8. Rivers of America
The Rivers of America is the name of the artificial waterway that surrounds Tom Sawyer Island in the Frontierland area of Disney theme parks. In 1973, an 18-year old man drowned in Rivers of America after he and his 10-year old brother stayed on Tom Sawyer’s Island past closing time. Apparently the younger brother didn’t know how to swim, so when the two boys decided to return to the mainland the 18-year old victim tried to carry his brother on his back. The 10-year old survived by dog paddling and was later rescued by a ride operator. In 1983, another 18-year old drowned in Rivers of America. After stealing a rubber emergency boat from an “Employees Only” shed on Tom Sawyer’s Island, he and a friend hit a rock in the river and capsized.
7. Space Mountain
Since 1955, “possibly” three people have died on Space Mountain. Contrary to a gruesome urban legend, however, no riders have been decapitated on the beloved attraction. In 1998, a 37-year old man was hit on the head by a falling object; he suffered short-term memory loss and a paralyzed left arm. In separate incidents, a 73-year old man and a 55-year old woman lost consciousness while riding Space Mountain; according to medical examiners, both guests died of natural causes due to pre-existing heart conditions. Finally, whether or not the ghost of Mr. One-Way actually haunts Space Mountain remains to be seen. A large man with red hair, who was apparently killed on the ride in the 1970s, is often seen getting into coaster cars that have only one rider.
6. Deadly Kiddy Rides
In 2015, two guests died after going on kiddy rides at Disney World in Florida. According to the Orlando Sentinel, a 54-year old woman lost consciousness after riding Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and a 22-year old woman with a pre-existing condition lost consciousness after riding It’s a Small World on Christmas Day. Both women later passed away. No cause of death is listed. Both rides are tame, moving at slow and gentle speeds. Still, it’s not the first time It’s a Small World has been the scene of an accident. In 1996, a six-year old girl was injured after falling out of a boat. She suffered a broken rib, arm, and collapsed lung.
5. The Stabbing of Mel Yorba
On March 7, 1981, an 18-year old high school student named Mel Yorba visited Disneyland with four friends as part of a Special Ticket Disney party. The boys were drunk and probably shouldn’t have been allowed into the park. Mel Yorba, intoxicated and joking around, pinched a woman’s butt as she walked by. The woman told her 28-year old boyfriend, James O’Driscoll, and a fight ensued. Yorba died from wounds inflicted by an 8.5-inch buck knife. O’Driscoll claimed that Yorba accidently fell on the knife as the two men scuffled. A Disney park nurse didn’t show up on the scene until 20 minutes after the stabbing. Yorba bled to death on the way to the hospital.
4. Sailing Ship Columbia
On Christmas Eve, a metal cleat fastened to the hull of the Sailing Ship Columbia tore loose hitting an employee and two visitors. Thirty-three year old Luan Phi Dawson was killed in the accident, and his wife permanently disfigured. The 1998 accident is the first death in Disneyland’s history not attributable to negligence on the part of a guest. An OSHA report later found that the cleat was not strong enough to stop the ship’s forward momentum; moreover, the employee in charge of the ship had not been properly trained on how to place the docking line on the cleat.
3. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin Ride
In September 2000, Brandon Zucker, age four, fell out of the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin Ride and became trapped underneath the following car. The 45-pound boy was stuck for ten minutes before paramedics freed him. Zucker had no pulse. The boy was resuscitated but suffered irreversible brain damage; he never spoke or walked again. The accident received widespread media coverage, leading to the first major investigation of amusement park regulations. In January 2009, Brandon Tucker died at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. He was 13.
2. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
In September 2003, a wheel assembly fell off a locomotive on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, causing the train to derail and crash. A twenty-two year old graphic artist named Marcello Torres was killed in the accident, and 11 other people were injured. The family of Mr. Torres settled a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company after an investigation found the derailment was caused by inadequate staff training. It’s not the only time Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has been at the center of an accident. In 2011, at Disneyland Paris, pieces of decorative faux rock fell during the ride’s simulated earthquake scene and struck guests riding the attraction; four people were treated at the park and one was sent to the hospital with serious head injuries.
1. Epcot’s Mission: Space
Epcot’s Mission: Space, a space-flight simulator ride, whirls and twirls riders in a centrifuge that subjects them to twice the normal force of gravity. The $100 million attraction has long been named Disney’s most dangerous ride, with more than twice as many people reporting illnesses and injuries than on other Disney rides. Between 2003 and 2006, two tourist died after riding Mission: Space and 10 people reported serious illnesses and injuries, while another 130 guests sought medical attention. Before entering the attraction, there are 13 signs warning guests of possible motion sickness. No word on whether or not Epcot’s gift shop sells “I Survived the Mission: Space Simulator” t-shirts.
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