14 Bizarre True Stories About Disneyland

Walt Disney in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the Fantasyland section of Disneyland on opening day of the amusement theme park in Anaheim, California on July 17, 1955.
Walt Disney in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the Fantasyland section of Disneyland on opening day of the amusement theme park in Anaheim, California on July 17, 1955.

Feral cats, humans remains and a ‘wizard of bras’ … How much do you know about the famous California theme park, which turns 60 this year?


1. The opening was a complete disaster

Poor Walt Disney. After visualising an inspirational yet educational wonderland – a “happy place … dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America” –  and watching it spend a year under construction, the animation entrepreneur was finally able to open Disneyland on July 17 1955.

He planned a select opening event, with 6000 tickets issued to members of the press, sponsors, and Disney studio and construction workers and their families, and a television crew from ABC on standby to capture the entire event (the construction of Disneyland itself had also been filmed, as part of an ABC series).

Unfortunately, the tickets in question, as you can see below, weren’t exactly counterfeit-proof. Thousands of additional guests (some sources suggest a total figure of 28,000) simply forged their own versions and turned up on the day, leading to traffic jams and overcrowding.disneyland press preview

Thanks to a plumbers strike, the park’s water fountains weren’t working (on one of the hottest days of the year) and vendors ended up running out of food. The park itself also wasn’t completely finished: in some areas paint was still wet, while women found their heels sinking into still soft asphalt. A gas leak also meant that one of the park’s main areas, Fantasyland, had to be closed for the day.

The initial press coverage, predictably enough, was disastrous, and Disneyland staff later began referring to the date as “Black Sunday”.

Luckily, the negative PR didn’t cause any long-term problems: Disneyland, which turns 60 this later year, went on to become a pretty considerable success.

2. There was a Wonderful Wizard of Bras

Picture the scene: you’re at Disneyland, with your family. The kids are eager to experience the rides, visit Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and meet Mickey Mouse. But instead, you enter a shop, on the park’s famous Main Street. Everywhere you look, there are displays of women’s undergarments … and, then, lurking in the shadows, you spot a strangely sinister mechanical figure. It’s a robot, dressed in stockings, a corset and an enormous ruff.

The robot slowly revolves, on a moving stage. He introduces himself (yes, it’s a male robot) as … “The Wonderful Wizard of bras”.

Unbelievably, this occurrence (well, something a lot like it) could in fact have happened during the first six months of Disneyland.  The  Hollywood-Maxwell Intimate Apparel shop, run by the Hollywood-Maxwell Brassiere company, consisted of a sort of sartorial journey through time: there was an exhibition of women’s under clothing from the nineteenth century through to the 1950s, and a shop where women could purchase “modern-day” bras.

However, the strangest aspect of the whole experience was definitely the mascot, described above, who spoke via a pre-recorded tape.

Just in case your mind’s eye isn’t quite up to the task, here’s a rare picture of the wizard, with Disney vice president CV Wood, and Hollywood-Maxwell’s Herndon J Norris. (Understandably, they both appear to be doing their best to ignore the robot.)

wizard of bras

3. Beards (and moustaches) were banned

Walt Disney himself may have been famed for his moustache (obviously, not just for his moustache) but, from 1957 onwards, taches, as well as beards and long hair on males, were banned for Disneyland employees.

The rule was relaxed in 2000, but only for hair and moustaches –  beards are apparently still a big no-no.

In this fascinating “behind the scenes” confession in LA Mag, one of Disneyland’s former cast members, who played the character Captain Jack Sparrow in the park, reveals how, upon joining, he was made to remove his authentic Sparrow-esque own beard, and don a false one to play the pirate.

Jack Sparrow
Credit: Peter Mountain

4. And so was Khruschev 

Children across the world dream of visiting Disneyland – and so, apparently do Soviet leaders.

In September 1959, the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khruschev was on an official visit to the US. A trip to Hollywood and a meeting with the passionately anti-communist 20th Century Fox President Spyros P Skouras didn’t go too well, after Skouras decided to challenge the politician’s anti-capitalist views, provoking an angry outburst.

But the trip really took a turn for the worse when Khruschev found out that he wouldn’t be visiting Disneyland, due to concerns about his safety among the crowds.

It’s a fair bet that many of us got a little upset as kids, after being told that a holiday to Disneyland wasn’t on the card. But Khruschev’s temper tantrum was much more impressive. Here’s his full rant:

“And I say, I would very much like to go and see Disneyland. But then, we cannot guarantee your security, they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me?”

5. There have been a fair few nasty deathsMatterhorn Disneyland

A persistent (but not very likely) rumour states that Disney won’t allow anyone to be declared medically dead in one of their parks, thereby avoiding the bad PR.

In fact, while accidents at the theme parks aren’t exactly common, there have been several unfortunate (and deadly) incidents across the years. The first death linked to Anaheim’s Disneyland took place in 1964, when a 15-year-old named Mark Maples decided to stand up during the Matterhorn ride: he lost his balance, fell from his seat to the concrete below, and sadly later died in hospital due to brain injuries.

One of the most disturbing incidents took place in 1973, when an 18-year-old named Bodgen Delaurot and his 10-year-old brother, decided to hide out in the Tom Sawyer’s island attraction, and stay there after dark. Later that night, the pair attempted to swim back to the mainland, with Delaurot carrying his younger brother on his back.

Halfway through the journey, Delaurot disappeared. His sibling stayed afloat by treading water, and was picked up by  a passing ride operator, but there was no sign of his elder brother  until the next morning, when a search uncovered  Delaurot’s body: he was found to have drowned.

The boy’s family later attempted to sue Disney, claiming that the name of the attraction itself (based on the Mark Twain adventure novel) had played a part in the tragedy, enticing the boys to mischief. They lost the case.

6. Leaving human remains in the park is a thing

First things first: before anyone gets carried away, we should make it clear that we’re talking about burnt human remains – as in, the ashes of cremated bodies – rather than full-sized corpses.

In 2007, Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction was closed, after a woman was spotted surreptitiously sprinkling an unknown powder into the ride’s water. While the substance was never officially identified, bloggers and news outlets across the world were later contacted by Disney employees, claiming that the case was just the latest example of a visitor scattering human ashes in the park, and  giving a loved-one a Disney-style send-off. Some bloggers even claimed that this is a widespread trend, with the Haunted Mansion and It’s A Small World attractions also being popular “ashi-ing” sites.

Rob Doughty, a Disneyland spokesman, told ABC News that there has never been a confirmed case  of human ashes being discovered in Disneyland.

7. There’s a secret, super-exclusive clubClub 33

The exciting news: there’s “secret” club inside Disneyland where you can escape the crowds, sip on fancy cocktails, eat at a five star restaurant, and hang out with celebrities (rumoured members include Elton John and Tom Hanks). It’s called Club 33, first opened in 1967, and is located inside the resort’s New Orleans Square. While it first opened six months after Walt Disney’s death, Club 33  was in fact originally planned by Disney himself, as a sort of VIP area for corporate sponsors and important guests.

The slightly less exciting news? Membership of the club costs $12,000 a year, on top of a $25,000 initiation fee, and there’s a 15 year waiting list.

8. They can control what you smell

The Disneyland park designers, also known as “imagineers”, knew that visiting a theme park should be  a multi-sensory, immersive experience. And there’s arguably no sense more evocative than smell.

Consequently,  imagineer Bob McCarthy developed and patented a device known as the Smellitzer. Essentially, the Smellitzer system uses a series of vents and atomizer-like sprays to ensure  that, wherever they may be in the park, guests are being exposed to the right scent.

If you’re walking down Main Street, you might encounter the aroma of freshly baked cookies (even if there aren’t any actual cookies being baked on site at the time). If you’re on the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride, you’ll be exposed to the tang of salty sea air. It’s a subtly effective way of creating atmosphere, even if it does sound a little creepy (and even akin to mind control).

The name itself is apparently a play on the military “howitzer”: rather than launching shells, the Smellitzer launches shells. (As puns go, it’s not really that funny. But we’ll let it slide.)

9.  The original water added to the It’s a Small World ride was pretty special

Disneyland’s famous It’s A Small World attraction was originally built to be displayed at the 1964 Paris World’s Fair (as seen in Brad Bird’s recent movie Tomorrowland, where it contains a secret “portal” into the future).

Sponsored by Pepsi, the ride, which featured animatronic children singing the now-well-known  – and, to some people, intensely irritating  – It’s a Small World song, was designed to promote an idea of “togetherness”, and celebrate the United Nations Children’s Fund  (Unicef).

Fascinatingly, when the attraction was later moved to Disneyland itself, in 1966, Disney had children from “16 ethnic groups” pour water from the “seven seas and nine major lagoons”  into the ride’s waterway. It may sound like a gimmicky publicity stunt, but Disney made sure everything was done “for real”, with the water itself being flown in from around the world at considerable expense. (That said, given that water generally just looks like water, it’s unlikely that anyone would have been able to tell the difference had he cheated.)

While It’s  A Small World may have been popular with guests, its original sponsors, Pepsi, apparently couldn’t stand it;  consequently, when the ride finally found a home in Disneyland, the sponsor was changed from Pepsi to Bank of America.

10. But now they’ve had to add more water, because people are getting larger

In 2007, the LA Times reported that the boats used in Disneyland’s It’s A Small World attraction were unexpectedly coming to a stand-still at certain points during the ride, with passengers occasionally being asked to step out to “lighten the load”. According to the stories, Disneyland had to increase the amount of water used in the attraction, and take measures to improve the buoyancy of the boats themselves.

While the LA times was quick to link the problem to that of heavier guests, and the US’s expanding national waistline, a Disneyland  spokesperson instead claimed, somewhat unconvincingly, that the issue was being caused by  “layers and layers” of fibre glass, built up by maintenance teams across the years.

11. Walt really wanted alligators

Don’t we all, Walt? Don’t we all?

A diary by landscape designer Ruth Shellhorn, who worked on the construction of the park (and shared by the Disney History Institute) reveals that: “Disney had a wild idea about an alligator in a pen…. Disney wants a pond and less paving [near the front of Adventureland].”

The idea has been linked to reports that Disney wanted to make his Adventureland exhibit more authentic by incorporating the live reptiles. While the scheme might indeed seem “wild”, to borrow Shellhorn’s description, the Disney History Institute points out that it wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounds: when Disney was planning his park, one of Anaheim’s most popular tourist attractions was  the nearby Buena Park Alligator Farm, which used reptiles shipped in from Florida.

Meanwhile, over in Florida itself, at Disneyland’s sister attraction Disney World, the alligators have taken matters into their own hands. The video below, taken by a guest, shows a (very small, sweet-looking) ‘gator  in the water at the bottom of the resort’s Splash Mountain ride.

12.  But the killer cats and geese are probably quite enough to be getting on with

Alligators are one thing. But, according to an insider report from a Disneyland employee, the park is also home to some much, much nastier creatures: hordes of  cats, and geese.

“If a cat gets onstage, we’ve got to keep them from getting close to the guests for obvious reasons — getting clawed by a stray cat at Disneyland is a good way to get some kind of terrible infection and a great way to get Disney in a sh__load of trouble,” writes Cracked contributor Robert Evans in a 2014 post: 6 Hidden Sides of Disneyland Only Employees Get to See.

“But believe it or not, the geese are the real threats. If you’ve never been around geese, they’re kind of dangerous. They’re extremely territorial, they hiss, they bite, and they will chase you while hissing at you and biting you.”

13. Space  Mountain looks pretty different with the lights on 

Ever wanted to “ruin the mystery” and see what Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride looks like with the lights on? Writer John Frost, from The Disney Blog, was able to do just this in 2012, after he visited the park and found that the ride was out of operation. The video below was captured by Frost as he entered the Space Mountain attraction and rode alongside the track in a People Mover vehicle.

The website Mentalfloss has also shared a lights-on video taken by a somebody actually riding the rollercoaster: again, it’s a pretty exciting (if surreal) watch.

14. The paint has a purpose

If you’re walking through Disneyland (presumably in a state of Smellitzer induced bliss), one thing you probably won’t notice is … anything painted grey or green.

The company has apparently apparently created two deliberately  dull paint colours, known as “Go Away Green” and “No Seeum Gray”, to draw the eyes of guests away from any objects that they want to hide, or blend away. These can range from utility buildings, to fences and walls, to the door of the famous Club 33.



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