Everyone knows Disneyland is the “happiest place on earth.” But many call it the “happiest haunted place on earth.” Yes, even the ghosts at Disneyland are said to be harmless – even helpful. As a Los Angeles native, I have been going to Disneyland since I was a baby, and never experienced anything creepy, but others have. A lot of others. Here are some of the scariest and strangest ghost stories and urban legends to come out of the Magic Kingdom.
It is said that Walt Disney himself haunts the park. He kept an apartment over the fire station on Main Street, where he and his family would stay to enjoy the park, or where Walt himself would go to get some work done. Patrons would often see a light in the window, meaning Walt was working at his desk. After his death in 1966, the apartment remained empty, but employees still went up to dust it. One night, a woman went up, did her usual cleaning routine, shut off the desk lamp, and went downstairs. On Main Street, she noticed the light was still on. Thinking she had forgotten to turn it off, she went back to the apartment, shut off the light, and came back downstairs. Again, she looked back and saw the light was on. Thinking there was a short in the lamp, she went back into the apartment, unplugged the lamp, and left. Down on Main Street, she looked up again and saw the light blink on, and the drapes pull back, as if someone was looking down at her.
The light remains on every night, to remind people that Walt’s spirit lives on in the park.
Mr. One-Way haunts Space Mountain. He is most often described as a “friendly ghost” who appears in the line as a living person, chatting and enjoying the day. Sometimes he is described as a grown man with reddish hair; sometimes as a child. The child interacts with other guests, but it soon becomes obvious he is “not from our time.” The spirit will board the ride next to a single rider, but disappear by the end of the ride. Another ghost haunts Space Mountain with less frequency. This ghost is called Disco Debbie, allegedly the ghost of a former Cast Member who died while working on Space Mountain. She is characterized by a phosphorescent green glow.
When I was a kid, my best friend’s father was an Imagineer and he helped build Space Mountain. He told us that on one of the test runs of the coaster, before it opened to the public, an Imagineer stood up on the ride and was beheaded. I don’t know if that is true, but it was certainly a good way to keep us from misbehaving.
The Haunted Mansion
There have long been tales of people trying to surreptitiously sneak the ashes of loved ones into this ride. I know my mother-in-law has made this request (don’t worry; we told her it wasn’t going to happen). One woman sneaked in her son’s ashes, but the boy didn’t want the Haunted Mansion to be his final resting place. You can now hear him sobbing as you exit the ride.
Not quite as spooky, but as your Doom Buggy travels by the ghostly ballroom scene, you may notice a large spider on the glass just before you pass into the attic. In the 1970s, a man fired his gun at the glass. The glass was bulletproof, so it punctured the glass but did not shatter it. Imagineers found it too costly and time consuming to replace the glass, so they covered it with a spider.
Pirates of the Caribbean
It is no secret that decades ago, it was cheaper to use real skeletons as movie and amusement park props than to fabricate false ones. It is said that several of the skeletons on display in the ride when it opened in 1967 were real skeletons, donated when Imagineers had a hard time replicating the skeletons. The bodies were eventually replaced by props, but rumors persist that at least one skull and crossbone set (the one over the dead captain’s bed) is still the real deal.
As with any large public place, the threat of kidnapping is always present. But there has never been a kidnapping at Disneyland, despite all sorts of crazy rumors. In the 1980s, at the height of the “Satanic Panic,” rumors circulated that a kidnapping ring operated out of Disneyland. I don’t know how credible these rumors were taken at the time, but I know it sure didn’t stop me and my family from visiting. Nowadays it seems obvious that this was just mass hysteria, as the same story has been told about virtually every amusement park, shopping mall, and grocery store in America.
As the story would go, a child would be snatched from a stroller while the mother’s attention was elsewhere. The child was drugged to keep it quiet, then taken to a bathroom where its hair was either cut or dyed, then changed into different clothes and wrapped in a tattered blanket before the kidnapper would try to leave the park. The mother, meanwhile, would notice their child missing after only a few minutes, alert security, and search frantically for the child. At the front gate she would see the kidnapper and snatch the child out of her arms, recognizing the child by its shoe, which had not been changed.
It is possible that an actual incident that took place in the mid-eighties instigated the panic, but its details were very different. A teenage boy was accosted in the parking lot by members of a rival gang, who forced him into his car at gunpoint. They eventually dropped off the teenager, unharmed, in a neighboring city and drove off. They were arrested two days later.
Not a ghost story, but apparently industrial-horror band Skinny Puppy (shown above) came up with their name after becoming obsessed with the shivering, malnourished dog that belongs to the cemetery groundskeeper in the Haunted Mansion.
Scared to Death
Before the Haunted Mansion opened in 1969, it has been said that a guest went on an early test ride, had a heart attack on the ride, and died of fright. This delayed the opening by an unknown amount of time. Disney denies the story, but rumors persist.
Lady in White
A ghostly apparition wearing white Victorian clothing is said to wander Main Street, helping lost children find their way to the baby care center. This is said to be the spirit of a woman who died at the site in the 1900s, before the park was built, but still connected to the land. Some have theorized that the old-timey feel of Main Street may have been why she remained.
Grad Nite Ghost
Grad Nite is an annual tradition in Los Angeles where, immediately following your high school graduation, you are bussed out to Disneyland and given free reign over the park until 6am the next morning. I went, and frankly, I found it far more crowded than it normally is, with a bunch of idiot teenagers doing idiot things. In 1966 one of those idiots was a teen named Thomas Cleveland. He decided to sneak into the park by climbing across the Monorail track. Despite warnings from security guards, he tried to avoid the oncoming train by hiding beneath the track. There was only a few inches of clearance, and the train ran right over Cleveland, and he got sucked up into the mechanics. The story goes that, late at night (though not necessarily on Grad Nite) a ghost can be seen running along the Monorail track, and disappearing at the very spot where Cleveland died.
In 1984, a woman named Dolly Young was vacationing at Disneyland. It is unknown what caused her accident, though it seems most likely that she unbuckled her seatbelt to check on her children. While riding the Matterhorn, she was thrown from her bobsled onto the track, and another bobsled rode over her, causing the entire ride to shut down. When Cast Members investigated, they reported seeing no blood, only her feet and legs sticking out from under the bobsled like the witch in Wizard of Oz. Ever since then, that section of the track is called Dolly’s Dip by Cast Members, who sometimes report hearing her voice, feeling cold spots, or the feeling of being watched while walking the track after closing.
Another family was caught sprinkling the ashes of a loved one inside the Haunted Mansion, but Cast Members were unable to figure out who was doing it. That night at closing, one of the Cast Members found some of the dirt in the queue graveyard disturbed. Upon closer inspection, the Cast Member discovered an empty urn, engraved with “Rest in peace our dearest grandma Joyce.” Allegedly the urn spent several months sitting in the video surveillance room in the ride, until a couple Cast Members took it up into the catwalk and set up a makeshift shrine to Grandma Joyce.
It’s a Small World
According to an account on Imgur, a twelve-year-old guest was visiting Disneyland with her family. They were enjoying their ride on It’s a Small World when the ride stopped, the lights came on, and Cast Members helped guests off the ride. On the way out, the guest’s mother snapped a few behind-the-scenes photos to finish off the camera roll. Outside, there was an ambulance and police car. When the family developed the film later that day, the last photo on the roll appeared to be a figure hanged from the ceiling. A child? An animatronic? a Cast Member? Who knows….