Everyone knows Disneyland as the happiest place on Earth (and Tae would agree because she absolutely LOVES it) but not every day at Disney is a chipper one. On this episode, The Lady Dicks dick-tect stories about the Dark Side of Disney, specifically we’re talking about deadly incidents at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
This three-episode mini-series will cover Disneyland Deaths, Ghosts at Disney and, for our Patreon-Only crowd, incidents at Disney International and conspiracy theories.
Listen to the Episode
Join The Lady Dicks as they dick-tect the tragedy at Disneyland. You can listen to this episode on your favourite podcast player or you can stream it below. If you want MORE of The Lady Dicks, join us on Patreon for bonus episodes (including the Disney episode dropping this May).
While Disneyland isn’t currently open, we’re sure it will be soon. So, it’s time to start planning your 2021 trip (we know Tae is). If you’re headed to Disneyland, Tae says that you have to put the following rides on your list or you’re really going to miss out:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Splash Mountain
- Mark Twain Riverboat
We also fully believe that you should ? get a park hopper pass (preferably multi-day) so that you can also check out California Adventure Park. Tae’s favourites there include:
- Grizzly River Run
- Soarin’ Around The World
- Guardians Of The Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! (though admittedly it was better as the Tower of Terror)
And while you’re there, don’t forget to go see whatever’s at the live theatre there.
For a cheap hotel that’s within walking distance, Tae stayed at the Kings Inn Anaheim. While it’s a motel, it’s affordable, clean and has a pool. Plus it’s about a 10-15 minute walk right to the Disney gate.
Ready to book your flight to Anaheim?
The Dark Side of Disney: Disneyland Stories
Please note that the following is derived from The Lady Dicks “Dark Side of Disney: Disneyland Deaths” script and is not 100% accurate to the episode transcript.
The first official death of a Disneyland Park guest while on a ride took place on May 15, 1964, on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The Matterhorn Bobsleds is a coaster-type ride that sees riders weave in and around the mountain at speeds as high as 27 mph. The idea grew from Disney’s “extended vacation in Switzerland while filming Third Man on the Mountain.”
The ride is modeled after the Alps mountain Matterhorn, and was “the first known tubular steel continuous track roller coaster.” If you head to Disneyland you’ll find the Matterhorn Bobsleds between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Construction on the ride began in 1958, and it opened on June 14, 1959.
On May 15, 1964, 15-year-old Mark Mapes was riding the Matterhorn with his friends when he attempted to stand up near the top of the ride. Allegedly, unknown to Mark, one of his friends had unbuckled his belt, so when he stood up he lost his balance and fell onto a concrete pad below.
Mark miraculously survived the initial fall but ended up with broken ribs and a number of ruptured organs and died from his injuries three days later. Mark’s family attempted to sue Disneyland, but lost the suit.
A few years later in 1971 there was a second accident on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. A fire broke out in a tunnel just as a car filled with a family flew through it, pushing through 5-foot flames. The couple, presumably the parents of the family, were somehow “doused with a greasy substance that caused burns and stung their eyes.”
The fire was immediately put out by sprinklers, but the family successfully sued Disney $1,000 for medical expenses.
Also during the 70s, on an unknown date, Disneyland Cast Member Cathy Davis was on the ride, leaning out of a car with a coat hanger retrieving a guest’s lost wig—which was standard practice at the time—but she leaned too far out of the sled and when it took a sharp turn around the corner, Cathy fell out of the back.
Cathy fell 50 feet to a dirt pile below. She amazingly didn’t hit anything and survived the ordeal with two broken shoulders, ribs and pelvis.
The ninth guest death to occur at Disneyland also took place on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. On January 3, 1984, 48-year-old Regina Young, most commonly known as Dolly was sitting alone in the backseat of an 8-passenger car. When she fell out of her sled and approximately halfway down the mountain onto another track in front of an oncoming bobsled. Dolly was killed instantly when the oncoming bobsled struck her at approximately 20 mph.
At the time, Dolly was with 4 friends, none of which saw her leave the sled as they were all in front of her. There were no mechanical issues, no ride breakdown and Dolly’s seatbelt was unbuckled, but not broken in her seat. One story suggested that she might have had a child with her and had undone her seatbelt to attend to said child.
A witness said that Dolly was “completely covered by the sled with only her legs protruding from beneath.” She was described as looking like “the Wicked Witch under Dorothy’s house.”
While no one knows what happened, it was said that had she been properly buckled in and there had been a seatbelt break or malfunction, the ride would have stopped within 30 seconds, presumably avoiding the accident.
Dolly’s family sued Disneyland for $5-million, the case was settled minutes before the trial for an undisclosed amount. Dolly was the 5th guest to die on a ride at Disneyland, and the 9th to die in the park.
The most recent incident on the Matterhorn did not result in a death, thankfully. In May 2014, a Disneyland employee fell from the platform area while working on the loading dock. She was transported to the hospital and received minor injuries. And while the ride was closed for a few hours, it opened up later that day.
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover no longer exists, but when it did it was an “elevated, leisurely ride” over tomorrowland. The ride had a maximum speed of 11 km/hr and was 16 minutes long—guests stepped onto a moving platform where they were directed onto one of its 62 4-car trains where they were instructed to quickly step down because the ride never stopped moving. It was closed on August 21, 1995, but I believe the remnants of it are still in the park.
Regardless of it’s slow, leisurely movement, guests were injured, one fatally, on the Peoplemover.
You can watch the PeopleMover ride yourself if you want:
The first Peoplemover death took place on August 21, 1967, when Ricky Lee Yama died after he “disregarded safety instructions.” While the car he was in was going through a tunnel, Ricky and his friends were said to be hopping from car-to-car when Ricky slipped and fell on the track. He was crushed to death by an oncoming car.
The security officer that responded to the incident said then when he looked under the second car, Ricky’s head was cut in two. Personnel had to dismantle the car to remove the body. Thankfully, no one else was hurt in this incident.
While the People mover didn’t claim any more lives before it’s closure, there were 5 more accidents. A year after Ricky’s tragic death in 1968 there was a malfunction on the ride. It was a particularly wet day and one of the car’s wheels began to slip. The car rolled backwards causing a chain reaction, throwing passengers from seats and into the surrounding poles bars and walls. Luckily, no one was killed, but Disneyland ended up settling suits with 23 injured parties. In the aftermath, Disneyland installed “non-skid pneumatic tires.”
Four years after that, in 1972, a gust of wind blew a mickey ears hat off the head of one of the four teenager girl’s heads in a car on the Peoplemover. Two girls jumped out of the car to retrieve the hat, running along the track to jump into the next car. One made it, but the second, a 14 year old girl, hit the railing. She ended up spending the next 3 months in a full-body cast. She tried to sue the park saying there should have been guardrails at the end of the tunnel, presumably this would have helped? But she lost the suit.
Then in 1979, a 4-year-old boy was sitting in the car in front of his parents. He tried to crawl into his parents car but fell, landing 30 feet below on the pavement. He survived, but had a double skull fracture.
And during a grad night celebration on June 7, 1980, Gerardo Gonzales’ foot was crushed under the rides’ wheel after he was dragged “hundreds of feet.” He had been attempting to jump between the cars.
The final incident, and the only one that wasn’t the result of user error, occurred in 1993. An electrical fire broke out as the ride passed through a tunnel. It was put out by ride operators and automatic sprinklers before any guests could get hurt, but several staff suffered minor smoke inhalation.
The Monorail runs around the outside of Disneyland giving you a view of the whole place. It was opened on June 14, 1959, and was the “first operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere.” And while you can use the monorail to gain access to Disneyland, some tried an unconventional method and died.
On June 17, 1966, 19 year old Thomas Guy Cleveland decided to skip the line to get into Disneyland. He scaled the 16-foot-fence in an attempt to gain undetected access and planned to walk along the monorail until he was in the Autopia area of the park and jump down.
Unbeknownst to him, a train was coming down the line. While Guy didn’t hear it coming right away, a security guard spotted him and encouraged him to jump down off the track. Guy did not heed the advice, instead he “ducked down into a fibreglass canopy” situated between the track, hoping the train would pass over. Unfortunately, he wasn’t low enough, and the bottom of the train struck him, dragging him 40-some feet.
His body was found in pieces. And the unknowing driver never saw him, he was only alerted to an issue when the train came to an unscheduled stop due Guy’s body.
Then 30 years later in 1996, there was a near miss. The orange monorail train stalled without notice. The driver of the train bailed onto a nearby catwalk below the rail and ran to an emergency callbox, knowing there was an oncoming train. He sent out an alert message and all the other trains were stopped immediately by their drivers.
The Rivers of America
The Rivers of America is in Frontierland and runs around Tom Sawyer Island. Within the river there are transport rides to the island, along with the Columbia steamboat ride operates on it. The Rivers of America has existed since the opening of Disneyland, but the rides have changed. It has also seen its fair share of deaths.
In June 1973, an 18 year old and his 10 year old brother stayed on Tom Sawyer Island past its dusk closing time by climbing a fence and hiding out. A few hours later, they decided to leave. However, the 10-year-old couldn’t swim so Bogden decided to swim across with his brother on his back. Unfortunately he “went down about half way across the river.”
The younger brother managed to dog paddle and stay afloat until a ride operator spotted him and “hauled him aboard a boat.” Bogden’s body was not found until the next morning.
Ten years later, on June 4, 1983, 18 year old Philip Straughan and a friend were celebrating their high school graduation and Philip’s birthday. The two were “drinking quite heavily that evening” and decided to sneak into a staff-only area and tried to take an inflatable rubber maintenance boat out for a joyride.
The two ran into some trouble on their joyride and struck a rock and Philip was thrown from the boat. The friend ran to get help, but when they came back and located his body an hour later, Philip had drowned.
Then on December 24,1998, one guest died and a second was hurt while waiting to board the Columbia boat ride. A rope that was used to secure the Columbia boat as it docked in the Rivers of America ended up tearing loose a metal cleat that sailed through the air striking two guests that were waiting to board.
Luan Phi Dawson, 33, and his wife Lieu Thuy Vuong, 43, were both hit by the metal cleat. Dawson was declared brain dead and died two days later when his life support system was removed.
This was the first guest death at Disneyland that was not attributed not to guest negligence. It was said to be a combination of poor ride maintenance and inexperienced staff, and the incident resulted in greater safety oversight.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Our last deadly Disney ride is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a rollercoaster-style attraction found in Frontierland that opened in 1979. The ride is “based on the idea of runaway mine train” and features the cars speeding through caverns, mineshafts and red rock bulks. Each train carries 32 people in 5 cars attached to a small engine.
On Friday, September 5, 2003, at around 1:20 pm, a train was rolling down the track in one of the dark tunnels when the locomotive separated from the cars it was pulling and derailed. While it wasn’t printed how many passengers were actually on the train at the time, the accident resulted in 10 injuries and one death.
Because of the crash location passengers who didn’t immediately crawl out of the ride and flee (some did) were stuck in the cavern for “up to an hour” before firefighters and paramedics could get them out.
Ten passengers ranging from 9 to 47 received injuries listed as “moderate to minor” with the exception of one, 22-year-old Vicente Gutierrez who was listed as in serious condition. However, 22-year-old Marcelo Torres died. The two had been sitting in the front car. While it’s unsure whether he died instantly, or later, he was extricated from the front passenger car.
A while before the incident, “Locomotive No 2 of the Big Thunder Railroad arrived at the station making an unusual sound.” While the engine was checked, nothing was revealed so ride operators decided to run it through again. It turned out that “a crucial guide wheel had fallen off the locomotive.”
This was the second major incident for Big Thunder Mountain Railway, in 1998, a 5-year-old boy was “badly hurt” after stepping off the ride. His foot was crushed against the curb when the train lurched forward.
The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for The Dark Side of Disney: Disneyland Deaths themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- 10 scary, legendary ghost tales of Disneyland haunts, The Orange County Register.
- Which Walt Disney World ride might actually be haunted? | Paranormal Corner, NJ.com.
- The Ghosts of Disney World, Mady and Kelsi.
- Ghosts at Disney World, TripAdvisor.
- The Most Horrifying Accidents and Deaths in Disney Theme Park History, Showbiz Cheatsheet.
- Disneyland Deaths, Snopes.com.
- Disneyland’s Most Famous Deaths, Wander Wisdom.
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “The Dark Side of Disney: Disneyland Deaths” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.
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