Deaths at Disneyland
I am the type of girl who appreciates sophisticated pairings. I particularly love combinations like good and evil, cute and morbid, and innocent and deranged. Therefore, in addition to harboring a lifelong love of Martha Stewart, collections of both aprons and knives, and an appreciation for Gloomy Bear, I have a very special place in my heart for Disneyland.
Anyone who knows the park somewhat well understands that beneath the magic is an even more fascinating network of underground tunnels (both literal and metaphorical) stuffed with dark secrets and twisted undertones.
One could fill an encyclopedia with all of Disneyland’s hidden worlds and histories, but for now, I shall focus on something simple and morbid: famous deaths in the park.
Let’s have a look at the most famous ones, shall we? Let the magic begin!
The People Killer
Though the People Mover no longer exists at Disneyland, it claimed several victims. The first was a 17-year-old boy who left his car just as it was passing through a tunnel in 1967. The young man fell and was crushed beneath oncoming cars.
In 1980, the People Mover killed again, crushing another young park visitor in the SuperSpeed tunnel as the recent high school grad attempted to move from one car to another. His body was dragged for more than 100 feet before an operator stopped the ride.
Beware the Monorail
In June of 1966, a 19-year-old attempted to sneak into Disneyland by scaling the Monorail track. Though a guard attempted to warn him of an oncoming train, the young man was not able to get out of the way fast enough and was hit by the train and dragged about 30 feet along the track. He died on site.
In the summer of 1973, an 18-year-old park visitor and his 10-year-old brother managed to achieve the common dream of hiding out in the park past closing time by stowing away on Tom Sawyer Island. Instead of asking cast members for help off the island several hours later, they decided to swim off the island across the Rivers of America to avoid detection. Being an accommodating older brother, the soon-to-be drowning victim pulled his younger brother along on his back through the river but grew exhausted and drowned. His brother managed to stay afloat by dog paddling and was eventually rescued by cast members, but by then, his older brother was nowhere to be seen and was found dead the next morning.
In 1984, another drowning took place in the Rivers of America when an 18-year-old parkgoer and a friend (both somewhat drunk) stole a maintenance motorboat for a nighttime joy ride. After hitting a rock, the young man was tossed overboard and drowned before his friend was able to get help.
While most of Disneyland’s deaths are a result of recklessness on behalf of park attendees, one tragic 1998 event was caused by negligence on behalf of the park. On Christmas eve of this year, three people (two guests and one cast member) were killed after being struck by a cleat on the sailing ship Columbia (which can be found on the Rivers of America) that was set loose after the rope to which it was attached tore loose. This event caused Disneyland to rethink its operations and safety procedures, which are now more rigorous than ever.
In May 1964, a 15-year-old boy died three days after sustaining injuries to his head and torso on the Matterhorn Bobsleds after being thrown from his car onto the tracks below. Either this teen or his friend unbuckled his seatbelt, and he had attempted to stand near the peak of the mountain.
20 years later, the first female Disneyland death took place in a very similar fashion, as a 48-year-old park visitor was thrown from her seat as her car went full throttle down the mountain, and she was run over by an oncoming bobsled. The woman's seatbelt was not fastened, but because she was alone in her car, nobody knows if she had deliberately freed herself.
A Violent Future
Some Disneyland deaths are more situational than ride or feature-related. In 1981, a park guest who was only 18 years old, died from injuries sustained in a knife fight that took place in Tomorrowland.
The Wall of Death
In 1974, a hostess responsible for greeting audiences at America Sings (a refurbished version of the Carousel of Progress) was crushed between the rotating theater wall and the stationary stage.
The walls have since been changed to prevent an accident like this from ever taking place again.
Lesson: Follow the Rules!
In writing this article, I by no means wish to make light of these tragic deaths. My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and I regret that any of these events took place. Rather than mock these violent deaths, I hope to point out that every seemingly perfect place has more depth and complexity than one might expect.
Having worked as a ride operator at a theme park for children, I understand full well how dangerous rides can be, and I want to point out that most of these tragedies could have been prevented. When visiting a park, follow the rules and instructions of park officials and rider operators. They have your safety and happiness in mind.
Though most Disney deaths are consequences of park attendees' failure to follow park rules and guidelines, the most recent Disneyland death (and several injuries) was not a result of visitor recklessness.
One 22-year-old visitor bled to death from blunt force trauma to the chest after the cars separated from the locomotive in one of the roller coaster’s tunnels and crashed into the locomotive’s underside. It was found that the accident was a result of improper maintenance.
The Happiest Place on Earth
Perhaps you came into this article thinking that Disney was all smiles and laughs. I hope that I have allowed you to see that the park is much more sophisticated than that- that all magical places have dark secrets.
These dark historical details only scratch the surface of all the strange things that happen not only in Disney parks and resorts, but with Disney employees, business ventures, and branding.
I treasure these anecdotes because they illustrate how nothing in this world is all dark or all light. Though for all its sugar-coated magic, Disney illustrates exceedingly well that a story is dreadfully flat without conflict, villains, and evil plots.
Let us acknowledge the dark along with the light! It allows us to appreciate the world for what it is.