The Dark Side of Disney Katherine Welles /

The Dark Side of Disney

It’s the land of dreams, a fantasy land where everyone can unleash their inner kid. Walt Disney World and Disneyland are popular vacation destinations for many people, young and old, who are attracted by the magic of the theme parks. Whether you love rides or just want to meet your favorite Disney character “in the flesh,” Disney has embedded itself in our minds and our hearts as a sort of utopia, where everything and anything is possible—as Disney himself once said, the Happiest Place on Earth. But we often forget that if anything and everything is possible, then so are things that are less savory. The House of Mouse has long been plagued by rumors and urban legends about some of the goings-on in the parks, some of which are nothing more than hearsay. Other stories, however, have more than a grain of truth to them—it’s more a matter that the powers that be have gone to great lengths to sweep some of these stories under the rug. Of course, persistent talk of cover ups has only served to fuel rumors about shady happenings inside the park gates, which are often levied alongside accusations of corporate corruption on the part of Disney top brass. After all, if there really are immoral things going on inside Disney theme parks, the public ought to hear about them—if only for our own safety.

Not everything gets covered up and some of the urban legends that have cropped up around Disney are based in truth. Many of the incidents were widely reported in the news media and, with the advent of the Internet, stopping such stories has become even more difficult, even for Disney’s highly skilled legal and public relations teams.

There are hundreds of stories about people being injured or dying while at a Disney park. Some of the deaths aren’t too far-fetched; after all, the parks are full of rides and machinery that can easily malfunction, just the same as any other theme park with roller coasters. Similarly, many people have died after undetected health issues are aggravated by thrilling rides much the same as those in any other theme park. Disney seems to have earned a special spot in people’s consciousness however, as people love to gossip about someone dying a grisly death in the Happiest Place on Earth. Maybe we just love the contrast, but stories that we heard from “a friend of a friend” spread faster than a wildfire.


Of course, not all of those stories are simply rumors. Some of the more infamous tales of death in a Disney park are completely true. In June 1973 and June 1983, some teenagers died in the River of the Americas attraction, both after violating the rules. In the first incident, an 18-year-old and his brother stayed in the park after closing; the teenager drowned when they attempted to cross the river. Ten years later, a boy stole a rubber emergency raft from a cast-only area of the park, only to capsize and drown. A year later, in 1984, Dollie Young was riding the Matterhorn Bobsleds when her seatbelt was unfastened. Young plummeted to the track below, only to be hit by another car and dragged along the rails before the ride was stopped. Even now, we can only speculate on how her seatbelt failed. More recently, in 2007, a teenager died on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disneyland Paris. When the ride stopped, her friends noticed she was unconscious. Park medics rushed to the scene and an ambulance was called, but it was too late. Cast members aren’t immune to the dangers of the park either; in 1974, an employee named Debbi Stone was crushed to death between a rotating wall and a permanent theater wall in the “America Sings” attraction.

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