Top 10 Creepy Urban Legends of Disneyland

Plus: The infamous ‘Suicide Mouse’

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The story behind the horror/fantasy movie Escape from Tomorrow is almost unbelievable: Filmed surreptitiously at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, it was a surprise hit with genre fans in 2013 and a brilliant example of guerrilla filmmaking. Everyone (including writer/director Randy Moore) expected The Walt Disney Company to move quickly to quash the final product; the company is known for being mercilessly litigious when it comes to protecting its brand name and image (and Escape from Tomorrow paints a very dark picture of “The Happiest Place on Earth”). But amazingly, Disney never took legal action, acknowledging the film’s existence but otherwise ignoring it.

The backstory sounds almost like an urban legend, and the film itself draws on many of the darker, sinister aspect of Disneyland mythology. As a Southern California native myself, urban legends associated with Disneyland were practically woven into the fabric of my childhood. Even though I’d gotten my fill of Disneyland before moving off to college, I recently revisited the park again after more than 20 years. The trip brought all of the old myths into the forefront of my memories, and I enjoyed recounting them for my friends. And now, I’m pleased to share these eerie little tidbits to you.

The list below consists of my 10 favorite urban legends associated with Disneyland. It is not my intension to attest to the validity of these myths, nor will I take pains to provide origin stories; you’re on your own with that. My intension is to poke the seedy underbelly and stoke the creepy mystique lingering below the surface of one of the most famous family destinations on the planet.

 

Walt Disney: Iceman of the Caribbean

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Illustration by Jason Raish

The first myth on the list is perhaps the most well-known; the tale of Walt Disney being cryogenically frozen is a well-known stich in our pop-cultural psyche. The man was clearly fascinated by technology and imagined a futuristic utopia epitomized in Tomorrow Land. They say it was his desire to see this world realized that persuaded him to ice his dead body (or, as some versions of the story claim, just his head, which he intends to attach to a superhuman cyborg body). He wanted to be stored in a lab beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride because it was his favorite and he wanted his spirit to frolic among those rum-drunk swashbucklers until resurrection day.

 

No One Dies at Disneyland

So it goes: The Walt Disney Company is so hell-bent on maintaining Disneyland’s immaculate image that death can’t even penetrate its gates. Should a worker or guest suffer a potentially fatal accident while on the property, they are attended to, but EMT’s and medical personnel are under strict orders to take them out of the park before declaring them dead. Even if there’s no pulse and the body has been bisected, they aren’t legally dead until and ambulance takes them off the property. The ironic thing about this pervasive myth is that it flies in the face of so many other legends about accidents and suicides inside Disneyland.

 

Today’s Tom Sawyer

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This one was popular when I was growing up: A couple of kids wanted to live the Huckleberry Finn Life when they ditched their parents and hid on Tom Sawyer’s Island (accessible only by boat) until after the park closed. The exact details are vague which allows for plenty of variation, but the story always ends with their bloated bodies being plucked from the water the next morning. Clearly there’s an allegorical component to this one: Kids, stay close to your parents and don’t wander; don’t be seduced by the “Peter Pan and the Lost Boys” fantasy. You may never want the day to end, but don’t push it; obey the rules and hit the road at closing time. On a more sinister level, it’s a punishment for attempting to peak behind the curtain—and overstaying your welcome.

 

It’s a Haunted Animatronic World

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Pretty Straight Forward: The animatronic children on the It’s a Small World ride are haunted and can move around at will—even without electricity. While I’ve never put much stock in the tales of supernatural phenomena at Disneyland, I’d still hate to be the guy mopping the floors in that place at midnight: Alone with those creepy dead eyes and artificial smiles, stray volts of electricity triggering random jerks and spins (not to mention the ghost of the kid who hung himself). Those who are part of the underground drug scene at Disneyland will tell you that going on It’s a Small World on acid or after eating a pot brownie can easily induce panic attacks. Others think the ride is just creepy—even stone sober. One way or another, that ride gets under your skin.

 

That’s Not Turkey!

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You know those big old scrumptious looking turkey legs you can buy from kiosks at Disneyland? They sure are tasty, but guess what: That isn’t turkey! Think about it, have you ever seen a turkey leg that big before? It’s not some genetic mutant farmed in the depths of Tomorrow Land, it’s emu! Those of us who hail from Southern California remember the brief but fascinating emu craze: Touted as an alternative to poultry and beef, the meaty avian was rolled out as hamburger and deli meats to a less than enthusiastic public. Turns out, people couldn’t shake the image of those creepy emus long enough to enjoy eating one. But since California ranchers had invested so much in emu farms, the potential economic consequences were ominous. That’s when Disney stepped in and saved the day; by buying all of the failing emu farms, they easily procured a cheap and plentiful supply of meat for hungry park patrons. False advertising? Not so fast: Notice how they’re sold as “Drumsticks”; the assumption that it’s turkey is on you.

 

Cinderella, Snow White, Even Ariel—If the Price is Right

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a more pristine portrayal of demure femininity than those embodies in the Disney Princesses. Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Jasmine: They’re all as enchanting as they are chaste—or are they? Back in the day, everyone knew that the young ladies who pose with the kids and blow kisses to the crowd, those real-life embodiments of unattainable animated beauty—they’re actually high priced escorts. Does Disney know about this? Hell yes! They run the damn operation. But before you drain your ATM and catch a bus to Anaheim, know this: The minimum for a date is $1 million dollars. While this means they are only available to the elite echelon, the possibilities are endless if you have the means. Just imagine: A menage a trois with Snow White and Tinkerbell—in Cinderella’s bed!

 

Scared to Death in The Haunted Mansion

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It’s an exciting ride, but even as a kid none of us ever really thought The Haunted Mansion was very scary, but there’s a reason for that: When the attraction first opened it was more than just intense, it was dangerous. One poor sap with high blood pressure even had a heart attack, which prompted park management to take measures to curb any potential lawsuits; anything deemed too frightening was removed and the loudest most startling scares were sanitized. While basically everyone is willing to believe in the guy who blew his aorta, folks are divided about the potential existence of his ghost and other actual apparitions. Some even believe the entire ride is a hotbed of spiritual activity, amplified by the human ashes people are always dumping; it’s apparently a popular final resting place for the cremated.

 

Don’t Get It in Your Eyes or Mouth

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Southern Californians of a certain age remember that grueling 9-year drought; water was so tight it became illegal to use a hose to wash your car. Even Disneyland was subjected to the extreme conservation measures necessary to keep California’s toilets flushing; regulations dictated that all water in rides had to be recycled, reused—but never replaced. In Pirates of the Caribbean, the abundant pools and constant darkness was the perfect environment for a potentially dangerous algae bloom. To keep the organisms at bay, park management dumped dangerous amounts of chlorine and bleach into the system, creating a potentially fatal toxic concoction. The final component of the death-stew is human remains, as Pirates of the Caribbean is also a popular tipping spot of hundreds of urns.

 

Get Wasted at Club 33

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Prohibition era mentalities persist at Disneyland, as the park is strictly alcohol-free—or is it? While the Mint Julips they sell by the steamboat docks are as virginal as Minnie Mouse, there’s a hidden bar called Club 33 hidden somewhere in the park (behind a green door or underground, depending on who you talk to) where all manner of adult refreshments flow copiously. Of course, the validity of this Disney myth is moot since California Adventure opened up next door, where you can drink real booze before going on a real rollercoaster (that can result in real vomiting). Even if you’re low on funds, there’s Downtown Disney: No entrance fee and plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from. Times are changing; maybe one day they’ll add some Northern California delicacies in the form of spliffs and brownies.

 

The One-Way Passenger

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“Please keep your head and arms inside the car at all times.” There’s a reason a reason you hear that pre-recorded voice dozens of times before getting on Space Mountain; growing up, no one argued about whether that kid died on the pitch dark thrill ride, only whether he plunged to the bottom or got decapitated by a steel beam. Only some believe that his ghost still haunts the ride, making his presence known with often audacious displays. They call him “The One Way Passenger” for his tendency to appear in cars beside solo riders, sometimes even showing up in the photos captured at the ride’s conclusion. Folks say he’s a ginger, which makes him even creepier to some, but at the very least makes him easier to see in the darkness.

 

BONUS ENTRY: Mickey Goes to Hell

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While the 10 urban legends above are all specific to Disneyland, the creepiest myth connected to the Disney Empire isn’t tied to a specific location, but it does involve its most iconic character: Mickey Mouse. It describes a haunted “lost” cartoon with potentially lethal demonic powers. Rather than paraphrase this relatively recent piece of dark mythology, I’m presented the story as it was first reported in a now closed chatroom in 2010:

Comment: So do any of you remember those Mickey Mouse cartoons from the 1930s? The ones that were just put out on DVD a few years ago? Well, I hear there is one that was unreleased to even the most avid classic disney fans. According to sources, it’s nothing special. It’s just a continuous loop (like flinstones) of mickey walking past 6 buildings that goes on for two or three minutes before fading out. Unlike the cutesy tunes put in though, the song on this cartoon was not a song at all, just a constant banging on a piano as if the keys for a minute and a half before going to white noise for the remainder of the film. It wasn’t the jolly old Mickey we’ve come to love either, Mickey wasn’t dancing, not even smiling, just kind of walking as if you or I were walking, with a normal facial expression, but for some reason his head tilted side to side as he kept this dismal look. Up until a year or two ago, everyone believed that after it cut to black and that was it. When Leonard Maltin was reviewing the cartoon to be put in the complete series, he decided it was too junk to be on the DVD, but wanted to have a digital copy due to the fact that it was a creation of Walt. When he had a digitized version up on his computer to look at the file, he noticed something.

The cartoon was 9 minutes and 4 seconds long.

After it cut to black, it stayed like that until the 6th minute, before going back into Mickey walking. The sound was different this time. It was a murmur. It wasn’t a language, but more like a gurgled cry. As the noise got more indistinguishable and loud over the next minute, the picture began to get weird. The sidewalk started to go in directions that seemed impossible based on the physics of Mickeys walking. And the dismal face of the mouse was slowly curling into a smirk. On the 7th minute, the murmur turned into a bloodcurdling scream (the kind of scream painful to hear) and the picture was getting more obscure. Colors were happening that shouldn’t have been possible at the time. Mickey face began to fall apart. his eyes rolled on the bottom of his chin like two marbles in a fishbowl, and his curled smile was pointing upward on the left side of his face. The buildings became rubble floating in midair and the sidewalk was still impossibly navigating in warped directions, a few seeming inconceivable with what we, as humans, know about direction. Mr. Maltin got disturbed and left the room, sending an employee to finish the video and take notes of everything happening up until the last second, and afterward immediately store the disc of the cartoon into the vault. This distorted screaming lasted until 8 minutes and a few seconds in, and then it abruptly cuts to the mickey mouse face at the credits of the end of every video with what sounded like a broken music box playing in the background. This happened for about 30 seconds. From a security guard working under me who was making rounds outside of that room, I was told that after the last frame, the employee stumbled out of the room with pale skin saying “Real suffering is not known” 7 times before speedily taking the guards pistol and offing himself on the spot. The thing I could get out of Leonard Maltin was that the last frame was a piece of russian text that roughly said “the sights of hell bring its viewers back in”. As far as I know, no one else has seen it.

The fact that the archivist is named “Leonard Martin” is a big red flag in my opinion (and the fact that some don’t even know who he is speaks to the myth’s contemporary origins: Definitely a product of the Creepypasta generation) but the truth is, there actually are videos on YouTube (sometimes referred to as “Mickey Goes to Hell“or “Suicide Mouse”) that claim to be this mysterious and dangerous cartoon. Comments range from: “That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” to, “It looks like a film school drop-out’s animation project.” Still, I have yet to watch the video myself; it’s a mixture of not tempting fate and reveling in the legend’s sinister mystique. But if you’re especially tantalized (and brave) then by all means: Investigate.

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue at Disneyland California. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

What are other Disney related urban legends? Let me know in the comments section!

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4 Comments on this post.

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  • Anne B
    1 February 2015 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    The way I heard it, Walt’s frozen remains were housed in Cinderella’s castle, rather than the Pirates of the Caribbean…

    This one isn’t creepy, but I also heard that the buildings in the Main Street USA area are actually only 75% of normal size, to make it seem somehow friendlier/cuter.

    • Josh Millican
      1 February 2015 at 9:20 pm - Reply

      That’s the great thing about urban legends: They’ve all got those variations which add layers to the mystery and keeps the stories feeling fresh. Thanks for reading!

  • Matthew Myers
    2 February 2015 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Emu? Wow, I thought it tasted weird. I wonder if that is what they selling at the Maryland Renaissance Festival because they are very similar.

  • Maya
    24 April 2016 at 7:51 am - Reply

    Those were some creepy urban legends!I’ve seen the Mickey goes to hell,and it almost made me throw myself off a cliff.Spooky.

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