Myths and Legends about Disney at A Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts”

Part 2 of 4

In Part 1 of this 4-part series, I looked at the first ten claims in an MSN (Microsoft Network) list, “41 Insane Facts You Definitely Don’t Know About Disneyland.” Supposedly, “There’s some mind-blowing facts out there that even the ultimate Disney fan doesn’t know.”

Today, I’ll take a closer look at the next 10 “Insane Facts.”

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, April 3, 2015

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo © Disney: Sleeping Beauty Castle, two months before she “awoke” to opening day visitors

Claim 11: “Disneyland was built in one year.”

Status: True (close enough)

On Sunday, July 17, 1955—the day of Disneyland’s televised International Press Preview (the date now celebrated for anniversaries of Disneyland)—a Los Angeles Times article (“Dream Comes True in Orange Grove: Disneyland, Multimillion Dollar Magic Kingdom, to Open Tomorrow,”) began like this:

A dream comes true tomorrow—Disneyland opens.

It has been exactly a year and a day since ground was broken for the multimillion dollar magic kingdom which Walt Disney has created on what used to be a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim.

There is some disagreement about the actual groundbreaking. Publications and websites have listed various dates in July 1954. In any case, the park opened approximately a year later. The transformation of groves of orange and walnut trees into Disneyland was amazingly fast.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo taken at Disney’s California Adventure by Werner Weiss, 2006

Claim 12: “Michelle Pfeiffer worked at Disneyland as Alice from Alice in Wonderland in the 1970s.”

Status: True

Pfeiffer was born in Santa Ana in 1958, attended Newport Harbor High School and Fountain Valley High School, and won the Miss Orange County beauty contest. It has been widely reported (and not refuted) that Pfeiffer’s first job as a performer was playing the title character from Alice In Wonderland in Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade in the mid-1970s.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Claim 13: “There’s a secret apartment hidden in Disneyland’s fire station. The light in the window is supposed to symbolise Walt’s presence.”

Status: True

Walt Disney had an apartment on the second floor of the Fire Station building on Town Square. But it certainly isn’t a secret that “even the ultimate Disney fan doesn’t know.”

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Claim 14: “About 200 feral cats live in Disneyland to keep rodents away. Many of them are nocturnal, so a sighting during the day is rare.”

Status: True

The Los Angeles Times published an article (“After dark, the dirty work at Disneyland begins” by Hugo Martín, May 2, 2010) that included the cats.

Park workers have also found a resourceful way to remove other unwanted guests — rodents.

Years ago — no one seems to know when — feral cats began to sneak into the park, living among the park’s trees and shrubs during the day. At night, they venture out, and an estimated 200 cats now prowl through Disneyland and neighboring California Adventure Park.

But instead of evicting the cats, Disneyland’s animal wranglers work to control the feline population by spaying and neutering the adult cats and finding homes for all kittens born in the resort. The cats eat at five permanent feeding stations installed throughout the two parks.

“We are not trying to get rid of them,” said Gina Mayberry, manager of Disneyland’s Circle D ranch, where the park’s animals are housed. “They keep the rodent population down.”

In a blog entry, reporter Martín observed, “The cats, apparently, don’t mess with Mickey or Minnie.”

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Claim 15: “When it opened in 1959, the Disneyland Monorail was the first daily operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere.”

Status: True

This claim paraphrases the recorded narration on the Disneyland Railroad after it leaves the Toontown Train Depot: “If you look overhead, you might catch a glimpse of a Monorail. When Disneyland introduced the Monorail back in 1959, it was the first daily operating monorail system in the entire Western Hemisphere.”

Apparently, somebody at MSN thinks “the ultimate Disney fan” never takes the Disneyland Railroad and will thus find this “insane fact” to be “mind-blowing.”

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Claim 16: “The water features in Disneyland are green or brown to hide the vehicle tracks and filtration systems.”

Status: True, but overstated

Over the years, Disneyland has dyed the water of the Rivers of America, Jungle Cruise, and Fantasyland waterways. The color has changed from brown to green to bluish-green. The dye prevents guests from seeing the shallow bottom and the guideways for ride vessels.

But a blanket statement about the “water features in Disneyland” is not correct. The Submarine lagoon is crystal clear so that guests can see the show scenes. Pirates of the Caribbean and “it’s a small world” also have clear water.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Claim 17: “The Haunted Mansion has 999 ghosts in it.”

Status: Either True or False, depending on how literally you take it

Disneyland has long boasted, “There are 999 haunts who are ‘dying’ to meet you—and they always have room for one more!”

As guests approach the loading area for the Doom Buggies, the voice of the Ghost Host intones, “Actually, we have 999 happy haunts here, but there’s room for a thousand. Do we have any volunteers? If you insist on lagging behind, you may not need to volunteer.”

These are clever and memorable lines. But they are not meant as an actual count of how many ghostly figures are in the ride’s show scenes.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo at Disney California Adveture (Mortimer’s Market) by Chris Bales, 2015

Claim 18: “Employees weren’t allowed to grow moustaches until 2000. Walt Disney wanted his employees to be clean shaven.”

Status: True

Here’s how the Orange County Register opened its article (“Disneyland lifts ban on mustaches” by Bernard J. Wolfson, March 28, 2000) about the policy change:

Disneyland’s clean-shaven image is about to get a little fuzzy.

The Anaheim theme park will amend its ban on facial hair as early as Wednesday, allowing male employees to sport “neatly trimmed” mustaches, spokesman Ray Gomez said.

The prohibition on facial hair was decreed in 1957 by founder Walt Disney, who thought that having smooth-faced employees would set Disneyland apart from other amusement parks of the day.

Now, 43 years later, “a neatly trimmed mustache is what our guests would consider to be consistent with the Disney look,” Gomez said.

The claim doesn’t mention that neatly trimmed beards were added to the “allowed” list, effective February 3, 2012. A Los Angeles Times article (“Disney changes dress code to allow employees to grow beards” by Rick Rojas, January 24, 2012) about the updated facial hair policy began with these paragraphs:

First, they could grow a mustache, just like Walt Disney. Now, they can grow a little more facial hair but not quite enough to be like most of the Seven Dwarfs.

Disneyland announced that it’s loosened up its legendary dress code — known as the Disney Look — to allow employees to grow more facial hair. But the rules still forbid visible tattoos, body piercings (other than the ears for women), “extreme” hairstyles or colors. (Shaved heads are OK for men, but a no-go for women.)

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Detail from “Dreaming“ in the 1961 edition of Walt Disney’s Guide to Disneyland

Claim 19: “Pirates of the Caribbean originally wasn’t supposed to be a ride - it was first planned to be a walk-through attraction. The same plan was made for the Haunted Mansion.”

Status: True

When the construction of New Orleans Square began in the early 1960s, The Rogues Gallery, as it was then called, was planned as a walk-through with wax figures. Work stopped when Walt Disney directed his resources to four attractions for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair—leading to new ways of handle high volumes of guests efficiently, while providing a great guest experience. The flat-bottomed “bateaux” boats for Pirates of the Caribbean were a variation of those developed for the “it’s a small world” ride in New York.

Photo for a Sanity Check on “41 Insane Facts” about Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2010

Claim 20: “Real human skeletons were used as props when Pirates of the Caribbean first opened. Today there is only one human skull left in the ride - the one attached to the headboard.”

Status: True about the skeletons; Undetermined about the headboard

In the wonderful book Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (Disney Editions, New York, 2005), author and Imagineer Jason Surrell writes:

Because the original Imagineering team felt that the faux skeletons of the period were just too unconvincing, the Grotto sequence originally featured real human remains obtained from the UCLA Medical Center. The skeletons were later returned to their countries of origin and given a proper burial when a new generation of Imagineers replaced them with equally convincing facsimiles.

The story that the skull and bones on the headboard are still the real thing is repeated on dozens of websites and blogs—but that’s not evidence that it’s true or false. It would seem odd that Disney would go to the effort of replacing all the other human remains, yet would leave these. But it’s also possible that they are such an integral part of the ornate headboard, that removing them would effectively destroy the headboard, with no real benefit to anyone.

If you missed it, take a look at Insane Facts Part 1 of this 4-part series. Insane Facts Part 3 and Insane Facts Part 4 are now available.`

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Insane Facts, Part 3
Insane Facts, Part 1

© 2015 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 24, 2015.