A Spooky Tour Through Haunted Disneyland
In the world of strange hauntings and scary places there is sometimes a place that seems like it couldn’t be more different from what one might imagine such a place should be. Perhaps nowhere else could be further from the typical impression of a haunted place than the world famous Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. This is a place of good times, bright characters, and happy, smiling people. How could it possibly be haunted? However, it seems that beyond the frolicking crowds and colorful characters there lurk other things of a more ghostly and frightening nature, and besides being a place of happiness and joy Disneyland seems to also be a place with its fair share of ghosts.
Originally opened in opened on July 17, 1955, Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, was one of two theme parks built as part of the Disneyland Resort and is the only of the many Disney parks that have sprouted up around the world where the construction and planning was personally supervised by Walt Disney himself. It is a sprawling expanse of a mind boggling array of shops, restaurants, rides, attractions, and shows to the point where it almost makes one’s head spin, and with over 20,000 employees working in the park itself it is more like a small city than a theme park, and it just keeps getting more expansions. Considering that the park still has the largest total guest attendance of any other theme park in the world, it is safe to say that its popularity has never waned. Yet what many of the laughing, playing guests who flock here to enjoy the many forms of entertainment on offer do not realize is that there is a darker, scarier underbelly to all of the cheery facade, and that it is actually one of the more haunted places in Southern California. Here we will take a tour of the many haunted locations to be found throughout the self proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth.”
It is perhaps not surprising at all that one of the most supposedly intensely haunted places in the park is the adequately titled Haunted Mansion, which is the one of the most visited rides the park has ever seen. For all of its manufactured spooky demeanor and fake ghosts, it is perhaps fitting that it is also said to be inhabited by a few real ones. The ride itself was first proposed way back in the 1950s, when animator turned “Imagineer,” Ken Anderson, began pitching the idea to Walt Disney of a haunted house that could be walked through by the masses, based on an idea he had gotten by a cartoon about the Headless Horseman. The idea eventually evolved into the notion of having visitors ride a buggy through the attraction as ghosts and ghouls frolic about all around them, with the whole thing culminating in a grand graveyard scene, and the ride was officially opened in 1969.
The Haunted Mansion’s reputation for being an actually haunted place harkens all the way back to the ride’s construction, back in the 1960s. It is said that one of the sound designers was working in the so-called “seance room” when he allegedly heard what he at first took to be a radio, but which turned out to be just music inexplicably coming from the walls, which he would continue to hear for several days. The engineer could never quite figure out where the ethereal music was coming from, and supposedly set up a music speaker near the source to mask the strange phantom music that emanated from there. Interestingly, there were some staff who claimed that the spell book used in the exhibit was real, and that it would be moved from day to day, with no one knowing who had done it.
This initial spooky tale would be followed by various rumors and stories of darkness surrounding the ride. One tale was that back in the 1940s a man piloting a small plane had crashed into a lake on the property where the theme park would eventually been built. The spirit of this man is said to have settled into the Haunted Mansion ride, where it appears as a shadowy man with a cane, which is supposedly seen to this day in the ride, particularly by staff after closing hours. Since then, the Haunted Mansion ride has gathered about itself a virtual rogue’s gallery of phantoms and ghosts. One infamous story is that of a grieving mother who paid a visit to the ride with the ashes of her young, dead son, a practice that is technically illegal but surprisingly not that uncommon in the park. The woman allegedly entered the ride and covertly sprinkled the ashes around the ride, which has led to hauntings ever since. There have been many a visitor who have claimed to have encountered the ghostly form of a young boy on the ride, who sits next to passengers of the buggies and near the exit, and who seems to be crying, earning the spirit the name of “The Crying Boy.”
There is also the apparition of a man who seems to be wearing a tuxedo, imaginatively nicknamed “The Man in the Tuxedo.” The entity was first seen by an employee who was working at the area where passengers get off of the ride. The woman claims that she noticed an indistinct shadow lurking in the mirror that she used to see if passengers had successfully disembarked. The phantom would continually appear in the mirror, always amorphous and wearing a tuxedo, until it one day supposedly approached her to lay a hand upon her shoulder. The terrified woman would then quit her job and never return to Disneyland again. Since then, the tuxedo clad ghost has been seen at various times all over the premises, and it is uncertain of who it could possibly be.
The Haunted Mansion ride has gathered other sinister lore around it as well. One tale says that a passenger on one of the earlier versions of the ride was so terrified that he suffered a heart attack on the spot and died. Another story tells the tale of a group of high school seniors who jumped off their buggy to take a look at the Seance Room section of the ride. When one of the boys stepped off the ride, he failed to realize that there was a drop between the car and the platform, and he apparently dropped 15 feet to break his neck. There is a rumor that Disney went through great lengths to cover-up such deaths in order to preserve the family friendly atmosphere they sought to provide, but the ominous legends remain. To this day these ghosts are seen, and there are other paranormal phenomena reported from the attraction as well. Some employees have spoken of disembodied hands that untie ribbons from hair or move props around when no one is looking, to the point that some frightened workers allegedly refuse to go into the attraction after dark.
Make no mistake, the Haunted Mansion is by far not the only supposedly haunted location in Disneyland. Another supposedly haunted attraction at Disneyland is the famous monorail that runs through the park. Envisioned as the transportation of the future, the ambitious Disney monorail was opened in June of 1959 in the Tomorrowland section of the park, and was the first fully operating monorail system in the United States or indeed the entire Western Hemisphere. Although the monorail as a widely used method of public transportation never really took off, it nevertheless became one of the most well-known and beloved attractions of Disneyland. It also seems to be a stubbornly haunted one, supposedly inhabited by the spirit of a young man who seems to be doomed to lurk about it forever.
The origins of this ghost go back to 1966, when a 19-year-old young man by the name of Thomas Cleveland supposedly snuck into the park for a June event called Grad Night, during which the park was open all night for high school graduates. After jumping the perimeter fence, Cleveland apparently found himself standing on the monorail track, and was quickly identified and warned to get down by a park security guard. The young man either didn’t hear him or wasn’t listening, because he did not get off the track, at least not in time to avoid the incoming monorail, which ran him over and allegedly dragged him 40 feet along the track before the monorail finally came to rest. It is said that his spirit still stalks about the monorail track in the evening hours, with witnesses reporting that the specter can be seen skulking about the track only to vanish into thin air when a monorail comes, or even running alongside the trains only to disappear.
Other attractions throughout the park are also said to be terrorized by various phantoms and specters, including another of the park’s most iconic rides, Space Mountain, which visitors and park staff alike have claimed is haunted by at least two different ghosts. One is described as a large, burly man with red hair and a reddish, ruddy face, who will squeeze into cars next to passengers riding alone. He is said to look totally alive and normal at this point, but will suddenly vanish at some point during the ride, to leave the single remaining rider pale and speechless when the coaster comes pulling in. This spirit is rumored to be that of a man who supposedly died on Space Mountain sometime in the 1970s, and has been cleverly and perhaps not so sensitively nicknamed “Mr. One Way.” Some Disney cast members working at Space Mountain have claimed that this same ghost will also occasionally wander around the locker rooms at night.
The other ghost of Space Mountain is a glowing green apparition of a young woman called “Disco Debbie,” who is said to be the spirit of a cast member who died there of an aneurysm while on the job. Debbie will apparently ride cars, appear in the middle of the ride on the track, or wander about the building. Interestingly, Tomorrowland is also purportedly prowled by a ghost that is said to be a teenager who died on the People Mover attraction in 1967. Although this particular attraction closed in 1995, the ghost of the boy is still said to prowl about, and that he has a particular tendency to yank or pull the hair of blonde park guests or staff members.
Another haunted roller coaster in Tomorrowland is the Matterhorn. In 1984 a young woman named Dolly Young was riding the attraction when she at some point unbuckled her seat belt and stood up, presumably to help out a child who was sitting directly in front of her. This would prove to be unwise, as the bobsled then entered a sharp dip that had another track spanning over it. Dolly was thrown by the sudden drop and smashed her head on the other track, which sent her sprawling to the track she was on. Still alive but unconscious at this point, another sled came speeding along and ran her over, killing her and allegedly lodging her body into the structure so tightly that the track had to be taken apart to get it out. The deadly incident is so notorious that the place where she died is often referred to as “Dolly’s Dip” by staff. Since then Dolly’s ghost is said to be frequently seen or heard calling out around the ride, especially in a large cavern area in the center of the ride. One staff member said of the Matterhorn ghost:
I worked on that ride for several years, and I never saw her. But I sure did feel her. After the ride closes for the day, two people have to “walk the track”, one on each side of the mountain. You have to walk the ride, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. It is done to look for lost and found items. Every time I was (un)lucky enough to get a track walking shift I had an uneasy feeling, like someone was watching me. I was always convinced that it was Dolly and so I would often say “hi” to her. The feeling was always the worst in the big cavern in the middle of the ride, and at Dolly’s Dip (the spot where she died). In fact, the work lights in the tunnel near Dolly’s Dip always seemed to be burned out. In six years, I don’t think I ever saw those lights working. I hated running the track at the end of my shift and I usually tried to get someone else to do it for me.
It seems like Tomorrowland gets no breaks when it comes to hauntings, as yet another attraction here reportedly has specters as well. From 1974 to 1988 there was an attraction called America Sings located within a rather unique looking round, circular, rotating building that had one housed another attraction known as The Carousel of Progress. America Sings was set in an innovative rotating carousel theater and was a show in which animatronic puppets sang various songs from throughout America’s history, in a fashion similar to the Country Bear Jamboree exhibit. The opening of the attraction was meant as a joyous celebration of America’s Bicentennial, but tragedy would strike almost immediately to tarnish the positive attitude Disney was trying to promote.
On July 8, 1974, just over a week after America Sings opened, an 18-year-old Disneyland cast member working at the attraction by the name of Deborah Gail Stone was killed at approximately 10:35 PM when she was fatally crushed between the stationary stage and a rotating section which sat audience members. No one saw the actual gruesome accident happen, but allegedly some of the audience and cast members heard panicked screams at the time but thought they were part of the show. Rather morbidly, no one realized what had happened and the dead girl’s body would not be found until 11PM, when it was discovered as the stage was being reset for another show.
The accident led to the temporary closure of the ride and the installation of various safety measures such as safety lighting and break away walls. From just after the horrific accident all the way up until America Sings was closed cast members have persistently reported hearing a woman’s disembodied voice, thought to be that of Deborah, call out to them when no one else is around and typically saying the words “Be careful.” Joining her there at the America Sings building was the alleged ghost of a teenaged boy who was killed while trying to jump from one car of the People Mover to the other nearby the building. The boy was reportedly seen lurking in the shadows of the theater and startling people before vanishing.
Moving away from the apparently ghost infested Tomorrowland we come to another of the most famous rides in the park, if not the world, the famous Pirates of the Caribbean. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride has long had many macabre rumors swirling about it. One of the most popular is that when designing the ride in order to give it an added realism it was decided to use real human bones acquired from the UCLA Medical School in the parts of the attraction featuring menacing skeletal pirates. These real skeletons purportedly remained in the ride for years before they were finally removed and replaced with fake ones. Even so, it has been claimed by staff that the skull and crossbones on one of the walls is still made of real human bones. There are also the inevitable tales of people coming to the ride to spread the ashes of loved ones and more than a few tales of people dying on the ride.
With such a dark rumor it is perhaps not a surprise that the ride is of course said to be haunted. The most notorious is apparently the ghost of a boy who can supposedly be seen getting on the ride and in the video monitors along the route, yet is mysteriously gone without a trace when the ride arrives back at its starting point. The ghost in question is reportedly not morose or malicious at all, and indeed seems to be laughing, smiling, and thoroughly enjoying himself on the ride before mysteriously vanishing. Other weird phenomena reported from the Pirates of the Caribbean are props or puppets that change position or are moved when no one is looking and strange sounds such as footsteps and breathing heard by maintenance crews coming from the dark after the park’s closing hours. In some of the spookier accounts the animatronic pirates and animals within the attraction have been observed to move or change poses on their own in the shadows after closing when the power was shut off.
Speaking of spooky animatronic dolls coming to life, there are paranormal phenomena going on in the It’s A Small World Ride that make the attraction even creepier than it already is. Not only do the lights apparently turn on and off by themselves in the ride, but workers have also said that the pattering of little footsteps can be heard as well as laughing coming from the dark and a profound sense of being watched even when they are alone. Even more terrifying still, a few of the many animatronic characters are said to suddenly spring to life to sing and dance even without the power on.
In addition to all of the rides seemingly swarming with spooks are other locations that are said to be haunted as well. Several ghosts are said to make their home on the famous Main Street USA after dark. One is the apparition of a woman wearing an old-fashioned flowing white gown from the 19th century, who allegedly walks down the street guiding lost children to the Disneyland Baby Care Center. Rumor has it that she is a woman who died on the premises long before the park was ever built, in the early 1900s. Another is supposed to be the spirit of Walt Disney himself. There is a very persistent story that Walt Disney kept a private apartment over Main Street in life, just over the fire station located there. Walt apparently used this as a private quarters while the park was being built, and would often host parties there. To let people know he was there, he would often light a lamp in the window to let people know he was in the house. After his death in 1966, A tradition that has long been carried on at the location is to leave a light on constantly in the window of the room, and this is where the ghostly phenomena come into play. Yet the lamp has been the source of ghostly tales from before this tradition started.
Not long after Walt died, a cleaning woman was apparently in the apartment when she noticed that the lamp was lit, even though no one had been there to light it. She went to turn the lamp off and went about her business, but not long after it would turn itself on again. She went to go turn it off yet again, and this time it relit itself right in front of her startled eyes. Not long after this a cast member had a similar experience, and this time claimed to have heard a voice that clearly pronounced “I am still here.” It is said that it is from this time that it was decided to keep the lamp eternally lit, and it has not gone out since. Even then, some employees have claimed that the light will turn off and on at a moment’s notice, or that they have heard footsteps or other noises coming from the apartment late at night when no one should be there.
There is also the haunted waters of Tom Sawyer Island, where a shadowy shape has been seen to dart about and make ripples on the water. Some park staff believe that this is the ghost of a boy who drowned here in 1973 when they got stuck on the island with his younger brother after closing hours and tried to swim across. There are also several shops that are haunted, such as the Star Trader, where items are often rearranged in the stockroom when no one is around and there are reported to be roving cold spots. Disneyland is even said to have a haunted ice cream cart, from which a woman’s voice can be heard emanating. Adding to all of this are the assorted entities and apparitions that are regularly sighted wandering over the park’s grounds, including the alleged ghost of Walt Disney himself, who seems to pop up all over the place and is often reported as looking rather joyous and happy, like he’s having the time of his life, even in death.
Disneyland Park is certainly a place for the whole family, where one can go to have a day of exhilarating entertainment. There can be no doubt that this is a place catered to providing a warm, happy experience. Yet as much as it exudes a radiance and ambiance of lively fun there is still that persistent undercurrent of eerie weirdness in such ghostly tales. This is the side of Disneyland that most may never be aware of, but it is there nevertheless, thrumming under the bright, happy surface. It seems at first glance like it couldn’t be any farther from a haunted place, yet haunted it apparently is. So if you’re ever in Disneyland Park in California just make sure you watch the surroundings carefully. You can never be too sure that something isn’t watching you back.