Home » The Truth Behind 3 Theme Park Myths and Legends

    The Truth Behind 3 Theme Park Myths and Legends

    Kong Dropoff

    The Orlando theme parks completely changed the landscape of Central Florida. Once known for cattle and citrus, the area developed rapidly in the years following Walt Disney World’s 1971 debut. In the bustle and excitement of a land now built on dreams, many myths and legends were enshrined in the region’s lore. Here’s the truth behind 3 of the most common stories.

    1. Kongfrontation Death: Status—False

    Kong Dropoff

    While it is true that a handful of people have passed away while riding theme park attractions, it is an exceptionally rare event. Yet when humans interact on a regular basis with massive, complicated machinery, it is easy for imaginations to run rampant. Even employees are not immune.

    In the early years, Universal Orlando’s standalone attractions pushed the limits of technology nearly to their breaking point. As a Kongfrontation team member, I never quite knew what would happen from day to day. One day, I was standing up in my tram at the Load point talking to my guests, who had just boarded. Another tram came into the Unload station, which was on the same platform. Normally, the computer-controlled system stopped trams in just the right position at Unload, several inches behind the tram at Load.

    On this particular day, however, the system failed. The Unload tram did not stop, and it rear-ended my tram. Barely moving at all, it made a faint tapping sound and caused a very slight shudder in my tram. There was no damage at all, and no one was hurt, but naturally the higher-ups came running. Everyone had to fill out incident reports, the guests on both trams were given compensation in the form of backdoor passes that allowed them to experience one attraction of their choice with no wait, and the ride immediately closed for inspection. It was a rather exciting day, but no big deal in the great scheme of things.

    I left Universal a few weeks later to go back to school. When I returned several years later, many things had changed. One of the biggest changes was that tram drivers were now required to wear safety harnesses. As my trainer demonstrated how the harness worked, she began relaying a story about why they were required. As she told the tale, I realized she was describing my incident! Was I ever surprised when she finished up with, “and then the young female tram driver was thrown out of the front, plummeting 39 feet to her death on the concrete below!”

    That’s when I informed her that I was the girl in question. She turned pale white, as if she had seen a ghost, causing me to burst into uncontrollable laughter. It’s amazing how even the tallest tales can become enshrined in a ride’s lore.

    2. Epcot Sinkhole: Status—True

    Epcot Sinkhole

    Have you ever wondered why Future World and the World Showcase are so far apart? It is true that they were designed to highlight two very different areas of human achievement—science and technology versus culture. Yet the physical spacing between the two is not part of a grand plan designed to highlight their differences. Instead, it is a nod to the fact that Mother Nature trumps all.

    Shortly after workers began prepping the site that would become Epcot, they noticed a major problem. Right in the center of the site, parked cars and trucks began to sink, according to John Tishman, owner of Tishman Realty & Construction, in his Building Tall memoir. After consulting with numerous experts and specialists, the contractors and Imagineers came to the realization that filling in the massive, incredibly deep sinkhole, one of the largest in Florida, simply was not an option.

    Rather than attaching the Odyssey restaurant to CommuniCore East and building the small World Showcase River next to it, they eventually decided to dredge the muck out of the sinkhole, drop massive concrete pilings to support a bridge, place the Odyssey along that bridge, and create the World Showcase Lagoon on the other side of the sinkhole. Next time you’re walking that bridge, take a moment to peer down into the lake beside you. Who knew it was actually a sinkhole?

    3. Frozen Walt: Status—False

    Walt Disney

    Everyone knows that Walt Disney was obsessed with the possibilities of futuristic technology. It is also true that cryogenics, or the process of freezing the human body immediately after death for reanimation at some point in the future, was high-tech science news in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1964, two years before Disney’s death, Robert C.W. Ettinger published his seminal work on cryogenics, The Prospect of Immortality. While it is unknown whether Walt had ever heard of the process, it certainly seems reasonable that he would have.

    To the general public, the death of Walt Disney came as a major shock. Although he had been ill with lung cancer for quite some time, he hid the seriousness of his condition from the media, instead claiming to be seeking treatment for a polo injury. Consequently, no reporters were standing by in the hospital, and his death was not announced until several hours after it occurred. His funeral was likewise kept small, quiet, and private, which some fans found strange for such a public figure.

    When the first known cryogenic freezing occurred less than a month later, Disney fans began connecting the dots. Surely Walt would have been interested in cryogenics. Certainly he chose to downplay his illness because he “knew” he would be coming back. Of course the delay in the death announcement was crafted to provide enough time for the freezing to occur. There was no public funeral because he wasn’t buried (or cremated) at all! The location of his frozen body changes in every retelling, from below Pirates of the Caribbean to inside his private apartment at Disneyland.

    It is only natural for grieving friends, relatives, and fans to concoct stories that help them deal with their grief. In the case of the Frozen Walt story, all the details seem to hang together. Nonetheless, the story simply is not true. According to numerous Disney family members, they honored his wishes for a quick, private funeral followed by cremation, and his ashes were interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery. All of the available documentation, including his death certificate and records of the cemetery plot purchase, supports the family’s version of events.