Disneyland is known as “the happiest place on Earth,” and for good reason. Disney parks hold a special place in the hearts of millions, so much so that they celebrate major life events in them. Countless people have gotten engaged and married at Disney parks. They’ve celebrated birthdays, reunions, anniversaries, holidays, and more.
But there are some people who love Disney parks so much that they want them to be their final resting place. That’s right: if you’ve visited a Disney park at any point in your life, there’s a good chance someone was sprinkling their loved ones’ ashes.
It sounds like an urban legend, and for years that’s all it was. But now, in a report by The Wall Street Journal, Disney has confirmed that their parks are a regular dumping spot for human cremains. According to the report, which interviewed several park employees as well as guests who have scattered family members’ ashes, incidents like this aren’t uncommon. In fact, they happen about once a month, and the parks even have a special code word for dealing with them.
When a Disney employee discovers that ashes have been scattered, they call radio in for a “HEPA cleanup”–that’s a reference to a type of vacuum filter used to suck up ultrafine particles like ashes. If the ashes are sprinkled on a ride, employees must shut the ride down, telling guests that it’s experiencing “technical difficulties” and handing out Fast Passes for the inconvenience.
Popular spots where people scatter ashes include: the lawns of the Magic Kingdom, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the moat beneath the Dumbo ride, the flower beds and bushes around the park, and most of all, The Haunted Mansion.
“The Haunted Mansion probably has so much human ashes in it that it’s not even funny,” a custodian told the Journal.
The WSJ report also makes it clear that Disney would really, really, really like people to stop doing this. It’s illegal to scatter ashes on a property without the owner’s permission, and in California, remains cannot be visible to the public.
“This type of behavior is strictly prohibited and unlawful,” Disney told the Journal. “Guests who attempt to do so will be escorted off property.”
But despite Disney’s best efforts, people who have done it say it’s pretty easy to sneak ashes into the parks. One guest, Jodie Jackson Wells, smuggled in her mother’s ashes in a pill bottle. Others have used makeup compacts or Ziploc bags hidden inside their purses.
Most people the Wall Street Journal interviewed said that even though what they did is illegal, the experience was cathartic and helped them grieve. Shanin Himebrook of Missouri sprinkled her father’s ashes near Disney World’s gates to memorialize the trips they took together when she was a girl.
“[At Disney World,] he wasn’t my tired, graveyard-shift Dad,” she said. “He was, ‘Let’s get you the Mouse ears! Let’s get your name stitched in it!’ It’s like, ‘I love this dad! Can we stay forever?'”
Alex Parone, an actor from New York, was a bit more conflicted about the experience. He spread his mother’s ashes in a Disney World flower bed, and then went on the “It’s a Small World.” Not surprisingly, he was unable to fully enjoy the ride.
“I was still crying. That song is playing over and over again, and there are those happy little animatronic things,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is weird.'”
All these stories are sad, but the saddest story of all might be found in journalist David Koenig’s book Mouse Tales: A Behind-The-Ears Look At Disneyland. In 2002, a family tried to scatter the ashes of a 7-year-old boy.
“The group requested a little extra time for a quick memorial service for a 7-year-old boy who had died, the employee said, according to Koenig.
But later, ride operators spotted one of the guests throwing a powdery substance off her ‘Doom Buggy.’
After the ride was shut down, the employee discovered “a smattering of dust, ‘gray, like ash,’ Koenig wrote.”
There’s no way to know how many people’s remains have been laid to rest at a Disney Park. But even if it’s only been happening for a few decades, at one incident per month that would be well over 300 people. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of remains that were never even discovered by park employees. Basically, Disney parks are cemeteries, and thanks to the Wall Street Journal, we finally have proof.
Now if only we could get to the truth about Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen head. Sure, the story has been widely debunked. But I want to believe.