Death in the Tragic Kingdom

An Unauthorized Walking Tour Through the Haunted and Fatal History of Disney Parks

by Keaton Moll | Release Date: September 1, 2014 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Mickey Mouse Hates This Book

No one goes to Disney to die. But some do die there, and more frequently than Disney wants you to know. Keaton Moll has their stories, including the after-stories of the vengeful park spirits and menacing ghosts who do not wish you to have a magical day.

In Death in the Tragic Kingdom, you will come face to face with the real dark side of Disney, where guests are welcomed not with a spray of pixie dust but with a shovelful of grave dirt.

Among the foolish mortals, unhappy haunts, and tragic events you'll encounter:

  • A Samoan gang fight at California Adventure, a knife fight at Disneyland, and a shotgun-wielding lunatic at Epcot
  • The fatal crash of the I.M Brave at Disneyland's Big Thunder Railroad and the deadly docking of the Sailing Ship Columbia
  • Radio Nick, the original inhabitant of Discovery Island who may still be there
  • The Black-Eyed Kids who haunt the Magic Kingdom parking lot, hoping yours will be the last car in the lot at night
  • The high body count of River Country, and the cryptozoid and undead conductor rumored to walk its deserted trails after dark
  • Plus, maps of the Disney parks with the site of each major haunt and death marked for those morbidly inclined

Stay together, keep your hands on the book at all times, and most definitely watch your step as you come in search of the lost souls and malevolent spirits that call the Disney theme parks home.

Table of Contents


Part 1: Disneyland

Disneyland Park Area

California Adventure

Part 2: Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom Area

Epcot Area

Hollywood Studios

Animal Kingdom

Outside the Parks

Part 3: Other Disney Parks

Disneyland Paris

Disney Cruise Lines


Appendix: Walking Tour Maps

“I know death hath ten thousand several doors for men to take their exits.”
— John Webster, Duchess of Malfi

I love Disney. This may seem like a strange way to begin a travel guide documenting the many horrors which have occurred within the company’s theme parks, but it’s the truth. I’ve had annual passes to Walt Disney World for thirty years and am a stock holder in the company. I go to their movies. I wear their T-shirts (I’m wearing an Epcot shirt as I write this). I buy their products. When I go on vacation, it’s almost always to a Disney park somewhere in the world, despite the fact that I live fifteen minutes from one.

This book is a reflection of that same love. It’s an acknowledgment that no matter how safe the company makes the parks or how hard they try, people will still get hurt there. It’s unavoidable. Disney properties are the size of cities in some cases and when you have millions of people moving around in them, something is bound to happen, eventually. Mix in complicated machinery and stressed, hot, overtired visitors, and those odds go up dramatically. Hour after hour, decade after decade, year after year. Accidents are inevitable. They will happen wherever there are people, because people don’t always do logical things or make good choices.

They get impatient.

They get tired.

They get cranky and drunk and they don’t want to wait in line or obey some stupid park rule which makes no sense to them.

They want to take that shortcut home. They want to have some fun on the ride despite the signs warning them to remain seated. They want to skip a step in the operating procedure so that their work can be completed a few seconds faster.

In short…people are people. They make tragic mistakes and miscalculations because they’re only human. And humans die all too easily, no matter how loved they are.

Perhaps the biggest surprise you should take from this book is that there aren’t more fatalities in the parks. That’s one of the things that amazes me the most and it’s a testament to how good Disney is at protecting their guests and Cast Members.

Well, most of the time, anyway.

This book isn’t an attempt to embarrass or disparage the company or their parks. I’m not trying to give you reasons to avoid the parks or convince you to stop buying Disney products. I’ve spent years researching this issue and I still love going to the parks, so I encourage you to go as well. Besides, as I said, I’m a stockholder, so telling you to stop going would be an exceptionally stupid thing for me to do. On the contrary, this book is meant to share an aspect of the parks which isn’t widely known and which I find interesting.

Disney is so good at maintaining its image of total safety that the idea of something terrible happening in their parks is an utterly foreign concept to most people. They simply can’t conceive of ever not being perfectly safe inside a Disney park. There’s an aura of security within its gates, like all the troubles of the real world will be kept out by a turnstile and some fiberglass castle walls. But just because a park has an excellent safety record doesn’t mean that its guests shouldn’t be careful about what they’re doing. They should obey the rules and be mindful of what’s going on around them or risk ending up in later editions of this book.

On the flip side, some people believe only the worst about the Disney Company. They tell urban legends about deaths and horrible ride mutilations which the company supposedly covers up, even though the storytellers offer no evidence or details of these alleged events. This book is an attempt to answer these critics, demystifying events by listing every death to ever take place in the parks and the circumstances which led to each (discounting most of the people who dropped dead from natural causes while touring the parks, although, there are a surprising number of them every year. People have died from natural causes on almost every ride you can name.) I’m tired of listening to people tell me about deaths which didn’t happen and tragedies which they’d realize would be physically impossible if they knew anything about the nature of the ride system in question.

I’m interested in the real stories of death and dismemberment on Disney rides. The dichotomy of pristine magic kingdoms and bloody tragedies has always appealed to me.

I’m not entirely sure when my lifelong fascination with this idea started, but I’d place it in my early childhood when I enjoyed going to River Country at Walt Disney World. I learned to swim in its murky waters and spent untold hours exploring that quiet corner of Disney’s property in Orlando. Even as a kid, though, I was aware of a series of incidents which marred the water park’s safety record and worried some local parents. It was a place which felt…wild. Dangerous, even. Everyone I know who had ever gone there could tell you a story about almost drowning in one of the park’s deep pools.

As a boy, that just made the place all the more exciting. It was like being an explorer and standing on the edge of the world; treacherous and exhilarating. I tried to gather every strange tale about the place I could, collecting them in order to tell them to my friends as we waited in line for the slides or while we were swimming in River Country’s opaque water. This fascination with tragedies in the park quickly spilled over into supernatural stories about the Disney property itself. The woman across the street from my childhood home was a Cast Member who worked at Epcot, and she would spin me fantastical tales of ghosts which supposedly haunted the attractions I knew so well. She was probably making them up on the spot, but it didn’t matter. The stories sparked my imagination and made me love the parks even more.

Or perhaps my interest in the subject started when I was 8 and enjoying a meal at Top of the World (now California Grill) high atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort. I remember walking out onto the observation deck and my mother pulling me back from the edge, explaining how someone had recently fallen from that very spot and how she didn’t want me to suffer a similar fate. And I stood there, looking down at the twinkling lights of the Magic Kingdom below and the colorful exploding fireworks above, and thought about how bizarre it was that someone could die in such an amazing place. The notion was tragic, but also rather poetic It stuck in my young mind and has been with me all these years.

Whatever the impetus for my interest in this macabre topic, I’ve spent the last decade giving what some of my friends call my “Disney Tour of Death” when they come to town. Several squeamish visitors have told me NOT to give them the tour, since it freaks them out, but I always do anyway. I feel compelled to share these stories, whether they want to hear them or not. I’m not sure why. I think I just find the stories interesting. I find them important.

The company does its level best to pretend that none of these incidents happened, and in doing so, I sometimes feel that they are trying to pretend that the people themselves never existed. I fully understand the business strategy behind this decision and by no means fault them for it, but it’s still sad. You won’t find any memorial markers in the parks for those who died there. You won’t hear Disney tour guides tell you their names or relay any of the details which led to their tragic deaths. Some newspapers even stopped printing the particulars of the accidents in question. In a sense, the people involved in these stories exist now only in the memories of their loved ones and in the tragic circumstances which surround their deaths.

I should also point out that my purpose in this endeavor is also in no way to defame or decry the victims or the dead. As you might imagine, this is a difficult kind of book to write, both in terms of the emotional impact it’s taken on me and in terms of not wanting it to seem like I’m trying to capitalize on tragedy. I’m not trying to reopen old wounds for the loved ones of the people involved in these tragedies or to identify parties responsible for the events. I’m not trying to ascribe blame to anyone by including them in this book, either by actually accusing them or implying responsibility. Just because I include the person in this book doesn’t necessarily mean that I think Disney or anyone else is somehow responsible or not responsible.

In a sense, I find that these stories (no matter how personally difficult they are to research and write about sometimes) are part of the history of the parks. They are part of our popular culture. They actually happened. The people involved in them were real people, who stood where you’re stand when you visit the parks. They had thoughts and dreams and desires of their own, but all of that was tragically cut short. I think we owe it to them to spend a moment to hear about how they died and learn a little about ourselves in the process. I view the stories of their deaths as a memorial; proof that they were once here and that they mattered to someone. For the briefest of moments, we can look at the stories and they live again. We can stand where they stood and see what they saw. We can bear witness to it all playing out in front of us. It becomes real.

It humanizes them. And the company. And ourselves. I find the stories entertaining, true, but more than that, they should make us thankful for what we have and sorry for what we’ve lost.

As such, I have made every effort to provide only the unembellished facts of these incidents and not give any of my personal commentary on why things might have happened the way they did. True, some of the people involved did foolhearty (in some cases almost comically stupid) things, but after a lifetime of visiting theme parks, I can assure you that many people have done similar things and walked away safely. I know I have and I’d be willing to bet that most of you have, as well. We have all almost been the victim of entirely preventable tragedies at some point in our lives. But we walked away. Sadly, these people didn’t. The people involved in the misfortunes I’m about to relate were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had things gone a little differently, many of us could have been entries in this book or ones like it over the years.

We were lucky. They weren’t.

No one is perfect and no one can do the right thing every moment of every day. Sometimes accidents happen. They happen to the old and they happen to the young. They happen to theme park companies and they happen to people who visit theme parks. Accidents happen to people obeying the rules and accidents happen to people who are breaking them in the most unbelievably reckless ways imaginable.

You never know where and you never know when. Accidents happened to these people and they could happen to you, whether you’re in a Disney park or sitting in your own home.

As such, I advise anyone reading this to take a moment right now to sit back and enjoy life. Just pause for a moment and really think about all the fun you’ve had and all the people you love. Be thankful for what you have and enjoy it, just in case it’s all taken away from you unexpectedly and you don’t get the chance again.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

You won’t miss anything.


Good. I’m glad we had that moment. (Honestly, that was far quicker than I anticipated.)

Contemplating the mortality of the readership is not something most authors would attempt in their introduction, but given the dark nature of this book, I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’re all going to die someday. These people did and I bet they would have loved to have one last chance to be thankful for what they had and to tell their families that they loved them. An opportunity which I just gave all of you. Think of it as an insurance policy against unanticipated disaster, whether that disaster happens while you’re innocently standing on the sidewalk or doing something so asinine that random strangers will talk about it for decades. Now, if you’re crushed by a ride vehicle or shot in a parking lot someplace, you won’t have to worry, because that moment of self-reflection you’d want before dying is already taken care.

I should also add a caveat about the supernatural stories included in this book. Where possible, I have provided the details of the fatal accidents in question and those facts are entirely accurate, to the best of my knowledge. The deaths in this book are all real. I’ve researched them quite a bit, and if there are any inaccuracies in my accountings, the fault most likely lies with the eyewitnesses, the public records I’ve reviewed, or the original newspaper reports I’ve collected. Or maybe I’m just an idiot. In any event, if my accountings are incorrect in any way, I apologize. The oversight or misstatement of fact was not deliberate and was not the result of any ill intent on my part towards the parties.

However, the park related ghost stories you’ll find scattered throughout this book are unproven and their veracity is entirely left to the readers’ own judgment. They are based on my own experiences, tales told to me by Cast Members and other fans over the years, or simply urban legends I’ve heard while living in the Orlando area my entire life. The story about the haunted ferry boat at Walt Disney World, for instance, was told to me by a Cast Member I met at a toy show, of all places. I was there looking for something entirely unrelated, and a friend of mine came running over all excited because one of the sellers at the show had apparently been a Disney ferry pilot. This man recalled all kinds of weird stuff about hauntings and tragedies related to his job. I ended up talking to the Cast Member for about an hour. Cool guy. In any case, I will record his ghost stories here, and all others like it, as they were told to me, for better or worse

I think that most of these stories, like all supernatural stories, should be taken with a big grain of salt and viewed more as campfire stories than anything else. If the tales are all to be believed, then everything in the park is apparently haunted. The stories can’t all be true, so it’s probably for the best that the reader decides which ones to accept and which ones to dismiss outright.

This won’t be one of those books where the author tries to debunk something or is so desperate to believe something that he will literally believe anything. I have a degree in cultural anthropology and I try not to make judgments about people’s beliefs. I accept the story they’re telling me as their individual “truth”, present them to you, and move on.

Well, most of the time. Some of them are clearly delusional.

(Forget I said that.)

Some strange stuff is rumored to have happened around these parks, though, and in all honesty, supernatural explanations for these events sometimes make more sense than anything offered by mainstream science. And even if the stories are all entirely made up or the product of delusional minds, at least they’re entertaining. I know I always ask about them whenever I meet a Cast Member at a party or while attending classes in school. Ghosts and monsters are awesome, even if you don’t believe in them.

If you do believe in ghosts, though, there’s really no question that they would exist within Disney’s gates. Tens of millions of people have visited the parks from all over the world. These places are the sites of untold amounts of joy and numerous painful deaths. They seemingly represent humanity itself: the wonderful things we’re capable of dreaming and the terrible things we’re capable of doing to each other in our darker moments. They are our imagination run wild and brought into the real world; fantasy places where we wish we lived and nightmarish visions of places where we’re glad we don’t. The parks are filled with things which seem impossible, so perhaps in that regard, the ghost stories aren’t so far-fetched after all. In a world of fantasy, what’s one more thing which seems to defy belief?

Now, let’s begin our tour…

Keaton Moll

Keaton Moll is a thirty-year-old grad student, Orlando resident, and originator of the Disney Death Tour. He has been researching deaths and haunted occurrences in the Disney theme parks and resort hotels for years. This is his first book.

A Chat with Keaton Moll

If you have a question for Keaton Moll that you would like to see answered here, please ask it here.

What drew you to research death in the Disney theme parks?

One of my favorite places to hang out growing up was River Country, the now defunct Disney water park just east of Wilderness Lodge. Sitting around its beaches, you could literally spend the day watching people get into trouble in its murky waters. Everyone I knew almost drowned there at one time or another, most often because of other guests panicking in the deep water. If you spend enough time watching that with your friends, it’s only natural that you begin to wonder how many people didn’t make it out of the water. You start to ask around to see if anyone knew any Disney horror stories. As I grew older, the topic only interested me more. I’ve always been fascinated by the mix of magic and carnage the parks can provide.

I’m also the kind of person who’s interested in the stories that I’m not supposed to know. The times that the magician actually cuts the woman in half, rather than the thousands of times it only appears that he does. I like knowing what went wrong and why. Not only because it’s interesting in a macabre sort of way, but also because I find it important. It’s a reminder that bad things can happen even in the happiest of places and that we should treasure what we have while we can. Disney is a place for the imagination to run wild, and mine has taken that idea to a darker place.

Which is the deadlier park: Disneyland or Disney World?

Disney World is far bigger than Disneyland, so it naturally has more deaths associated with it, especially since it has more hotels. As you can probably tell from the book, people die in hotels a lot. If you’re comparing the Disneyland park to the Magic Kingdom park, than Disneyland has killed more people in accidents. If you’re comparing the Disneyland resort to the Walt Disney World Resort, then Disney World has killed many more people in general.

How does Universal compare to Disney World in terms of deaths and accidents?

Universal typically has fewer fatal accidents, due in part to the fact that it hasn’t been around as long and, until recently, did not feature the same level of ride system complexity. That said, despite the thousands of times I’ve been to Disney, the only time I was ever injured on a ride in my life was at Universal. My face got smashed up pretty badly on the Jurassic Park ride. We hit the bottom of the final drop and the boat stopped dead for some reason. My head didn’t, and I smashed face first into the rail. There was a lot of blood. I still have a scar. My mother was also hurt pretty seriously on the Back to the Future ride and required months of rehabilitative therapy on her shoulder as a result.

As far as fatal accidents go, in 2004 thirty-nine-year-old Jose Valadez was trying to board the front row of the Mummy’s Revenge rollercoaster and tripped. He fell about four feet and hit his head on the tracks. He died a day later.

In 2003, thirty-four-year-old Leslie Killer was in town on business and was visiting Universal. She rode the Incredible Hulk rollercoaster and suffered a fatal heart attack.

Other than that, a couple of people have died from run-ins with the police in Universal City Walk in both Orlando and California.

This is a good example of urban legends that people believe without cause. You tend to see Facebook posts every year or two about some rollercoaster crash at Universal which supposedly killed scores of people, but all of that is just made up. People like to tell stories, and anyone interested in this field needs to understand that rumors and speculation about park deaths shouldn’t be considered fact without independent corroboration.

In the book you don't touch upon crime or non-lethal violence. Is there much of that occurring in the Disney theme parks and resorts as well?

Disney has a lot of what’s usually called “Line Rage”. It’s like Road Rage, only it happens when people have been waiting in line for too long and begin to become irritated. They get into fights and cause all kinds of mischief. I think we’ve all experienced it to some degree or another while standing in line for hours. That’s one of the reasons why Disney has been altering the layout and design of many of their attraction queue areas of late. They’re providing guests with other things to look at and do, so that they don’t get angry with one another so quickly.

Other than that, you see shoplifting and pickpockets (obviously) and a few armed robberies. Generally, I think most of the serious criminals know that Disney’s political power in the state will mean heavy sentences and lots of media attention for any major crimes they might commit. The one exception would probably be International Drive, the tourist area just outside Disney property. That strip has always had a bad reputation in Orlando, particularly in the 1990s. There was a lot of property crime, assaults, and even a few murders of tourists there. More recently, the city stepped in and really cracked down on the area. It’s much cleaner now.

Some Disney guests have killed themselves at the resorts. Have there been any suicides inside the parks themselves?

In 1992, a thirty-seven-year-old man took a shotgun to Epcot in an attempt to confront his ex-girlfriend. It turned out she wasn’t there since the park was closed, so he took two security guards hostage in a bathroom inside the park. The standoff with police lasted about ten minutes, then the man exited the bathroom and shot himself in the chest with the weapon. He died on the way to the hospital. As far as I’ve been able to find, that’s the only suicide inside the gates of a park.

Other than that, you hear a lot of rumors, but I’ve never heard of anything confirmed, no. The closest would probably be in 1994, when a man threw himself from the Skyway at Disneyland. He fell about twenty feet, but hit a tree and lived. I don’t believe he ever said if he was trying to kill himself or not. In fact, he actually sued Disney over the incident, but dropped the case before trial after admitting that he jumped.

You relate a lot of stories about the ghosts and spirits that some believe haunt Disney property. Assuming those stories are true, what areas in Disneyland and Disney World would you most NOT want to visit by yourself, after dark, when everyone else has left?

Well, the back of the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot is always kind of unnerving if you’re alone late at night. It’s so big and empty out there. I’ve never particularly liked making that walk. Other than that, I wouldn’t want to be on Tom Sawyer’s Island, late at night and alone. At Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom. I’ve always found that place kind of creepy. There’s a feeling that people are around, even though they obviously aren’t. You start to hear weird stuff in those cramped caves. Like I say in the book, I don’t know if I necessarily believe or don’t believe in ghosts, but either way, I wouldn’t want to be there alone after dark. And I’m not alone in that feeling. Many guests report similar unease on the island.

Cast Members like telling guests about Hidden Mickeys, but I've never heard of them telling guests about "hidden haunts", such as those in your book. Where do you get you information?

I’ve spent my whole life in Orlando and have always had yearly passes to the parks. You spend enough time there and you start to see some strange stuff. And it isn’t difficult to overhear other people talking about the same kinds of things. Generally, people are only too willing to tell you their story if you ask them. Half of the students I went to college with were Cast Members at the parks, and they could always be counted on to relate some weird tale which happened to them or some legend they had heard. In fact, one of my professors was a lifeguard at River Country back when it first opened, and he had all sorts of memories. I’m always interested in hearing new ghost stories and legends, so if someone has one, please send it to me.

Personally, I’ve always found the ghosts and deaths to be far more interesting than Hidden Mickeys, because they’re the stuff the company won’t tell you about. There’s no special pin for finding all of them, and the Cast Members won’t include the sites of the fatal accidents or hauntings on any backstage tour. To me, that makes learning about them more challenging, but also more rewarding. In order to understand the full stories of these sites, you sometimes need to understand how the attractions work, what the standard Cast Member procedure is, and in some cases even the history of the land before the parks were built. Thus, at the end, you gain a much better understanding of what makes the park tick than you ever would get by simply trying to spot three circles in the shape of Mickey scattered around the park. Not to say that the subject is difficult to understand, just that it leaves you with a greater appreciation for the parks.

Don't you think it strange that there are few if any sightings of Walt's spirit in Disneyland? I'm surprised more people haven't come up with stories about encountering his ghost there. Is he off-limits for this sort of speculation?

People report seeing Walt’s spirit on Main Street fairly often—probably more so than most of the other apparitions around the parks. I don’t think Walt's spirit is an off-limits topic any more than any other spirit. In fact, probably less so, since people typically find the notion of his ghost watching over the area enchanting, rather than something like the spirit which is said to haunt Splash Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, which typically terrifies people.

You also have to remember that Walt was dead by the time Disney World opened, so there’s really no reason why he would be seen there. That significantly cuts down on sightings, since a lot of the most well-known Disney spirits seem to be bi-coastal and appear at both Disneyland and Disney World.

I think it could also be argued that a lot of people have more personal feelings about Walt and might prefer to keep their encounters with his ghost private rather than announcing them. With something like Mr. One Way, the ghost which is said to haunt Space Mountain, there’s really little chance that the person who spots him will feel that it somehow altered their life to that extent.

People occasionally attempt to scatter their loved one's ashes in the Disney parks (if they're caught, I think Cast Members call it a "Code White"). Do you have any stories about the more imaginative places they've tried to do so?

I’m told it’s a fairly frequent occurrence, yes. I’ve personally never witnessed it and have never talked to anyone who saw it firsthand. Generally, you tend to hear the same sorts of stories from Cast Members, usually from “a friend of a friend” who supposedly saw it. The company’s official position is that it’s never happened and it’s simply an urban legend. I guess it comes down to who you want to believe. Disney has a pretty strong reason to not tell the whole truth about it, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone presented a Disney legend as the truth. Personally, like most things of this nature, I keep an open mind. I’m sure it’s happened, it’s just a matter of how often.

From what I hear, the Haunted Mansion is the favorite place for the scattering of ashes. Pirates of the Caribbean is also said to be popular. Generally, I think any ride which seemingly transports people to some other world is going to be a more popular spot to want to spend eternity than a ride which is basically just a theater, like the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor.

Any desire to have your own ashes scattered like that? What would be your ideal Disney final resting place?

Not on a ride, that’s for sure. Honestly, if you scatter the ashes on a ride, some poor custodian is just going to have to come in and clean it up. If you HAVE to scatter the ashes inside the park, at least do it some place which provides a more permanent home for the deceased, like Tom Sawyer’s Island or the World Showcase Lagoon.

My ideal final resting place at Disney? Stuffed and put on stage with the Country Bears or in the Hall of Presidents.

In this excerpt, Keaton Moll recounts the events leading up to the fatal train wreck on Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland.

Twenty-two-year-old Marcelo Torres takes his seat on Big Thunder Railroad, directly behind the train’s engine. This particular train, the I.M. Brave (train 2), has been giving Cast Members trouble today. Half an hour ago, they began to hear a strange sound from it. Again and again the train pulls into the station making this noise, twelve times in all, and it’s not getting any better.

The Cast Members have no standard procedure to follow in this situation. They’ve never been given any instruction on what to do when a ride is making odd noises. The decision is made to remove the train from service and have it checked, but operators wait to make that judgment until they’ve already sent it through the ride one final time. In order to send the train backstage, the train needs to be in the right position to enter the spur line to the maintenance area, which means it needs to go through the ride again. Some critics also argue that they have delayed in doing this because losing a train on the attraction will affect their rider capacity until another train can be called into service, a situation referred to as 105 in Cast Member radio code.

In the old days, this would not have been an issue. The malfunctioning train would have been pulled from service and a new one brought up immediately. In fact, under the traditional system of maintenance used at Disneyland, the train arguably would never have been cleared for service in the first place.

But these are not the old days.

Disneyland is tightening budgets. Park officials’ wages have become based on how far under budget they can get their department and some say this gives everyone an incentive to slash costs as much as possible.

The race to the bottom is on.

The tradition of having an almost obsessive dedication to preventative maintenance and safety redundancies is coming to an end. Consultants have been hired who show management that it can save millions of dollars a year if it switches over to something called “reliability-centered maintenance”. Instead of rigorous nightly inspections and immediate repairs, this system relies on failure statistics and the history of the ride. To perhaps oversimplify it, the difference between the systems can be boiled down by its detractors as something like the following: the traditional system would mandate having experts check the air pressure in your car’s tires before going on a long trip and force you to bring along a spare, just in case. Reliability-centered maintenance seems to say that you don’t need to check the tire pressure at all, because you’ll know if the tire needs air or not after it blows. And once it blows, you’ll know exactly the number of miles you can go before checking the other tires.

Critics argue that the new mantra at the company is that if it’s not broke, run it until it is. Then fix it as cheaply as possible and pocket the savings.

It’s the dawn of a new era in the park and the system has devastated the ranks of the maintenance people. Many of them have quit, been laid off, or retired early.

Additionally, management cutbacks have also eliminated the position of attraction lead, the experienced Cast Member on a ride who oversees the others and acts as the ride’s de-facto manager. The lead would know what the attraction is supposed to sound like and know what to do when it’s making weird noises. Now, instead of one person making the decisions, many people are seemingly in charge. The employees operating many of the attractions now have little or no experience with them. They don’t even know what they don’t know. And now they’re in charge of making split-second decisions involving multi-million dollar pieces of heavy machinery which can mean life or death for the park’s guests.

As such, the decision on when to remove this malfunctioning train on Big Thunder Mountain is an important one for the Cast Members on the ride. They are acting without guidance from anyone on what to do, with no standard procedure to follow, and any downtime will be charged against their ride. Even going 105 reduced capacity for a short period can have consequences for them. Thus, the train is kept in service as long as possible. Even their eventual decision to remove it from service is going out on a limb given the current climate in the park’s management.

None of this is known to Marcelo. As far as he knows, the company is continuing its five-decade long commitment to prevention. He simply woke up this morning and decided on the spur of the moment to go to Disneyland with some friends, so he did. Maintenance theories are probably the last thing on his mind as he prepares to enjoy himself on Big Thunder Railroad.

Also unbeknownst to Marcelo, moments before he took his place in the right-hand seat of the first car in the train, as the engine finished up its twelfth trip through the ride, something happened. The train engine’s left guide wheel assembly, the part which was causing the train to make such strange noises all morning, comes loose. This piece is a little wheel which runs underneath the track and holds the train’s main wheels to the rails. Imagine a clothes pin; two pieces which squeeze together, holding something. In this case, the two wheels squeeze together to hold the wheels onto the track and make sure they don’t derail. Without the wheel guide providing the bottom half of our metaphorical clothespin, there is going to be a very serious problem.

The bolts on the piece in question were improperly tightened and the cutbacks in the maintenance staff means that the manager who declared it safe for operation hadn’t reviewed it. The department was shorthanded and the mechanics working on the train did not entirely understand the new tagging system on what needed to be looked at and what was ready to be put back into service. Their manager didn’t inspect the ride at all; he merely signed off on the report without reviewing it, which, amazingly, wasn’t against procedure at the time. The part is designed to have a safety line attached to it, making sure that it doesn’t come off the train, but the mechanic never hooked up the line.

But again, Marcelo has no idea about any of this as he takes his seat this morning.

The Cast Members send the train through one last time, the audio spiel warns guests about it being the “wildest ride in the wilderness”, and, as the train clears the station for its thirteenth and final trip this morning, the tragedy is inescapable for the twenty-four guests on board.

Midway through the ride, the train makes a hard right-hand bank turn and then its brakes are automatically applied to go into the tunnel. Without the wheel guide to hold it in place, the movement of the train causes the axle of the larger front wheels of the train to shift to the left and drop. The remaining guide wheel on the now loose axle under the train’s engine begins to drag along the tracks.

The train enters the tunnel.

For what happens next, you'll have to buy the book

In this excerpt, Keaton Moll relates the chilling tale of the malevolent "younger guests" who may haunt the Magic Kingdom parking lot at night.

The vast, barren stretch of asphalt outside Disney World's Magic Kingdom is one of the biggest parking lots in the world, and is reported to be home to a phenomenon called the Black-Eyed Children. As with similar spirits, the typical story which involves them goes something like this:

Late one night, a man is leaving the Magic Kingdom. He stayed too long watching the fireworks (in some versions, he was eating at one of the nearby resorts and remained too long) and is now making his way through the deserted parking lot. The tram is not running and his is the only car in the sprawling lot. Unfortunately, he has parked in the Rapunzel or Peter Pan parking lot (in earlier versions of the story, it was always the Donald lot), which is basically the farthest and most isolated lot from the Transportation and Ticket Center. The man isn’t worried, though, and casually begins making his way to his car.

Halfway there, at the end of one of the aisles, he spots two children standing alone in the distance. The age of the kids changes depending on who is telling the tale, variously given from 6 to 12. No matter their age, the kids are always dressed the same, in black hoodies which are zipped up to cover their heads, and black pants. The children are barefoot. The man sees them standing alone in the distance and has the momentary thought that they might be in need of assistance. He starts towards them…then rethinks that plan. Something tells him not to go down that row of empty parking spaces. Instead, he hurries to his car. His panic builds. He dashes the last few yards, yanking the door open and all but throwing himself into his vehicle. He laughs at himself as he puts his seatbelt on, amazed that he could still be afraid of the dark.

He’s just about to put the key into the ignition when he hears a tapping on the passenger window. He whirls around to see those same two children silently staring back at him. There was no way they could have caught up with him so quickly. Their faces appear pale and lifeless under their hoods, their eyes black. The boy begins to speak: “We need to use your phone,” he says. (In earlier versions of the story, the boy asks for a ride somewhere.) The boy’s voice is devoid of all emotion. The man reaches for his phone, just out of instinct, but again feels that strange wariness about the children. Instead, he presses the door lock button and starts the engine. The car’s headlights illuminate the area, revealing that the children’s eyes aren’t just hidden in shadow; they are black.

The Black-Eyed Children open their mouths to reveal fangs and claw at the car window, attempting to get inside, but by that time the man is too frightened to care. He floors his accelerator and makes sure that he’s never again the last car in the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot.

About Theme Park Press

Theme Park Press is the world's leading independent publisher of books about the Disney company, its history, its films and animation, and its theme parks. We make the happiest books on earth!

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Theme Park Press Books

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion The Ride Delegate 501 Ways to Make the Most of Your Walt Disney World Vacation The Cotton Candy Road Trip The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney Disney Destinies Disney Melodies The Happiest Workplace on Earth Storm over the Bay A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World: Volume 1 Mouse in Transition Mouseketeers Down Under Murder in the Magic Kingdom Walt Disney and the Promise of Progress City Service with Character Son of Faster Cheaper A Tale of Two Resorts I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand The Adventures of Young Walt Disney Death in the Tragic Kingdom Two Girls and a Mouse Tale Ears & Bubbles The Easy Guide 2015 Who's the Leader of the Club? Disney's Hollywood Studios Funny Animals Life in the Mouse House The Book of Mouse Disney's Grand Tour The Accidental Mouseketeer The Vault of Walt: Volume 1 The Vault of Walt: Volume 2 The Vault of Walt: Volume 3 Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? Amber Earns Her Ears Ema Earns Her Ears Sara Earns Her Ears Katie Earns Her Ears Brittany Earns Her Ears Walt's People: Volume 1 Walt's People: Volume 2 Walt's People: Volume 13 Walt's People: Volume 14 Walt's People: Volume 15

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