What do people think of when the word “Disney” comes to mind? Some say the theme parks, some think of the nostalgia they had from watching the movies. Some even think about the company as a whole. No matter what the name “Disney” makes people think about, a majority of them won’t consider the constant motif of Death in the company and the overall branding it has. It may be surprising to think about. The company has branded itself as being happy and family-friendly. However, the topic of death in relation to Disney is a lot more common than you might think.
When it comes to Disney movies, a vast majority of people know how formulaic Disney movies can be. The beautiful princess is in trouble, there are some cute animal sidekicks, and there’s an evil bad guy. There’s always someone to save the day from the bad guy, receiving that Happily Ever After. There’s also a morbid trope that is present in these movies: the loss of a parental figure. A good chunk of the Disney Princesses (and main protagonists) are without a mother figure, thus making their stories more tragic and making the protagonists sympathetic. It has not been confirmed as fact, but many have speculated that these princesses do not have mother figures because Walt Disney himself lost his mother in an accident that he felt that he was responsible for.
Once he had started making money for himself, Walt had bought a new home for his parents to live in. Everything was fine until there was a gas leak in the home, resulting in the death of Flora Disney. According to those who knew Walt, “He never spoke about that time because he personally felt responsible because he had become so successful that he said, ‘Let me buy you a house.’”
Walt’s Frozen body
The death of Flora Disney wouldn’t be the last time a Disney family member had a weird tie into Walt’s work. In 1967, just after a few weeks after Walt’s death in December of 1966, a reporter from The National Spotlite claimed he had snuck into the exact hospital Walt died at and saw for himself, Walt Disney in a metal cryogenic cylinder.
This rumor had spread to Disney employees. They continued to add fuel to the fire and even made claims that Walt was frozen underneath The Pirates of the Caribbean ride. This implied that he may be brought back to life when the technology is advanced enough to let him do so. The rumor was also that the news of Walt’s death was intentionally delayed so that his body was prepared in “cryonic suspension”. The “actual” location of his burial plot would remain a secret.
This myth has long been debunked. Walt Disney was cremated two days after his death and his remains are ensured in a family mausoleum. It’s an understatement to call this rumor “odd”. Still, many people to this day claim this rumor is true. They often cite Walt’s real interest in advancing technology to the point where he wanted to build an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
People have also speculated that Walt had an interest in or at least heard of the 1964 book “The Prospect of Immortality” which did discuss cryonics. The rumor was finally put to rest when Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s daughter, wrote in 1972 “There is absolutely no truth that my father, Walt Disney, wished to be frozen. I doubt that my father had ever heard of cryonics.”
Haunted Rides and Human Skulls?
Thankfully, the rumor that Walt was frozen and hidden underneath Pirates of the Caribbean was debunked. Now the normal crowd can now breathe easy knowing that Disneyland isn’t creepy or morbid, right?
Well, that’s allegedly not the case! It has been said that Walt haunts Disneyland and that his spirit resides in the small apartment above the Main Street Firehouse, where Walt would actually stay in to overlook the park and spend the night. There have been instances of the lights of the apartment turning on after a cast member turned off the lights, even if the lamp overlooks Main Street is left unplugged. While this might seem creepy, in a way its kind of sweet to think that even in the afterlife, Good Old Uncle Walt is still thinking about his park and continues to overlook the only park he had personally overlooked when he was still alive.
Back in New Orleans Square, there have been rumors about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It supposedly used real-life skeletons in the ride to add more realism. According to reports from former Disney producer Jason Surrell, when the ride was being constructed there was criticism that the skeletons looked too fake. Therefore, the UCLA medical center was called and they provided “new props” for the ride. Eventually, the technology evolved to where there were no more uses for real skeletons. Respectfully, they were returned and given proper burials.
There is, however, supposedly a human skull that remains on the ride as part of the headboard on one pirate’s bed. It’s creepy to think The Happiest Place on Earth would inhabit the remains of real-life skeletons and a skull. As mentioned before, Death is a lot more common in Disney than you’d think.
Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean has the skull on the headboard. In Florida, it is another story. Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean doesn’t allegedly have a real human skull. Instead, it is allegedly the home of an “eternal guest” named George.
One variation of the myth details George as a construction worker who worked on building the ride back in the 1970s. He was killed when he fell; in other versions, he was crushed. Cast members have said to have seen George on the monitors riding the ride. They have even called him out by name and greeted him every morning or else he would break down the ride.
Back in Anaheim, there’s another spirit who is said to haunt a popular attraction. This time, it’s a lot more sinister. It’s not a surprise that The Haunted Mansion has had its fair share of ghost stories. One of the first rumors was that someone had died of fright while on the ride, forcing the delay of opening. In reality, The Haunted Mansion was delayed because of the death of Walt Disney.
According to Disneyland’s urban legends, there was a mother who scattered the ashes of her son on the ride. Despite warnings from psychics, she snuck past park officials to scatter the ashes on the ride in secret. However, that wasn’t the boy’s last wish and he cries for being stuck on the ride for all of eternity. This spirit is known as The Crying Boy. He has been seen by guests and cast members alike. He has even fooled patrons into thinking he was a ghost that was part of the ride. This is a sadder story compared to George in Walt Disney World, but it is a Haunted Mansion after all.
Underneath the whimsical and jovial branding of Disney lie so many dark secrets and stories. From the death of Flora Disney inspiring motherless characters, Walt haunting Mainstreet USA. With human skulls inside rides, it would be hard to ignore the ongoing Death motif. The popularity of all things paranormal will not be going away anytime soon. Moreover, neither will the list of all things spooky associated with the Disney name.
1 thought on “Disney and the ongoing Death Motif”
Ya know, just an aside here… whenever I visit Disney (World or Land) I LIVE at the Pirate of the Caribbean ride and store and food court. Always have.