Is Disneyland haunted?

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Not so long ago, I took the Happiest Haunts tour at Disneyland. The Halloween-only walking tour, which was a three-hour experience that cost an additional $80 on top of a park-hopper ticket, promised to divulge the eeriest legends of the parks. Great, I thought at the time, I’m going to hear some really good ghost stories.

Spoiler alert: I did not.

Don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed the tour. You get Halloween snacks, walk onto Haunted Mansion with no wait at all, get a really cool explainer on the Halloween makeover at Cars Land, and learn about Walt’s fascination with the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and why the Headless Horseman starts the Halloween parade every night (back before the pandemic when Disney offered parades). At the end, you even get a photo op with the Hitchhiking Ghosts who are some of the “999 happy haunts” in the Haunted Mansion, who get kicked out for the season by Oogie Boogie when the ride becomes the Nightmare Before Christmas-themed Haunted Mansion Holiday for the fall.

But the whole thing left me wondering … what are the real ghost stories of Disneyland?

It turns out there are a lot.

Everyone from paranormal investigators to park guests not even looking for a scary experience have reported seeing and hearing eerie things at Disneyland — and no, dad jokes about how it’s a ghost town right now don’t count.

Haunted Mansion Holiday in Disneyland Park.

Haunted Mansion Holiday in Disneyland Park.

Julie Tremaine

Ashley Marie Castro, a former cast member at Disneyland, says that “a lot of weird stuff” happened to her while she worked at the park. One morning, while the park was closed, she experienced something she couldn’t explain: “I was alone in the store and I heard the stockroom door open and close, but there was no one there,” she says. “Then I heard a loud crash. One of the items in the stockroom broke by itself. There was no way it could have fallen off the shelf. It was empty in the park and no one else was in the store with me. It definitely spooked me.”

Another former cast member, Darrold Wagner, has two ghost stories. The first one, he says, is about Walt Disney’s love of trains and, in particular, the Disneyland Railroad that circles the park. “The train command center has a board that shows where the trains are on the track,” he says. “Late at night, in the far corner, a train would show on the board, and the whistle would blow, even though there was no train out there. The old guys used to say ‘That’s Walt’s train.’”

His second, he says, has to do with Walt Disney’s famous smoking habit. “Lillian Disney [his wife] made sure that Walt wasn’t seen smoking in public areas around kids, so he used to go out to the staircase behind his apartment to smoke,” Wagner says. “After Walt died, my security supervisor used to smell cigarette smoke back there almost every night. He used to hide to try to catch the smoker. He never did, and never found cigarette butts, but he always smelled fresh smoke. He finally concluded it was Walt sneaking a last smoke.”

Haunted performers in Downtown Disney.

Haunted performers in Downtown Disney.

Julie Tremaine

Amy Bruni, a paranormal investigator who co-hosts “Kindred Spirits” on The Travel Channel, says that objects can “fly” all the time, caused by the HVAC system going on and blowing forceful air, the mechanics of the building shaking the shelves, or, especially in California, a tiny earthquake. The cigarette smoke, too, is explainable.

“The thing about smoke, especially cigarette smoke, is that it can permeate wood,” Bruni says. “The smell can come out when it rains, or gets humid, or the temperature changes. That could be why the smoke smell comes out at certain times of day.”

The train, though, she finds harder to explain, having once encountered a “ghost train” of her own on an episode of Kindred Spirits. “We were on a track where no trains were running at that time of year, and all of a sudden, for no reason at all, the train crossing signals went off as though there were one approaching,” Bruni says.

“We’ll never know without investigating that particular train at Disneyland,” she adds, pointing out that it’s very hard to truly evaluate paranormal claims without witnessing them in person, “but that’s really interesting.”

Disneyland at Halloween.

Disneyland at Halloween.

Julie Tremaine

Guests claim to see ghosts all the time, especially of Walt Disney himself. One amateur paranormal investigator, who asked to remain nameless to avoid getting a cast member in trouble, said that she was once in the park after hours when she saw something in Fantasyland. “We saw a man standing just outside the castle, on the drawbridge. He smiled and waved,” she says, recognizing him as Walt. “He stayed for about 20 seconds then slowly disappeared. It was the second time the cast member friend [who had let her into the park after hours] had seen Walt at the park.”

There are countless ghost stories about Disneyland, like the one about a worker who died during construction of Pirates of the Caribbean who haunts it to this day. There’s talk of real ghosts being linked to people dropping the ashes of loved ones at Haunted Mansion, and of Walt Disney keeping vigil at the window in his old apartment above the fire station where there is always a lamp on in memory of him.

Anna Bees, who says that she feels connected to spirits and has seen ghosts since childhood, believes she’s seen Walt many times at Disneyland. “I’ve seen Walt in the window with the lamp in his apartment,” she says, “but most frequently I see him leaning against a lamppost by Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and he’s smoking.”

Cars Land in Disney's California Adventure gets a festive makeover in the fall.

Cars Land in Disney’s California Adventure gets a festive makeover in the fall.

Julie Tremaine

Adam Berry, the other paranormal researcher co-host of “Kindred Spirits,” believes that ghosts have the ability to choose where they go when they stay behind on this plane. “Of course he would stay at his park if he could,” Berry says. “If ghosts can be where they want to be, why wouldn’t you be at the happiest place on earth, especially if you built it?”

Disney historian Jim Korkis has written 30 books about all things Disney, the latest of which is “Vault of Walt 9: Halloween Edition.” He says that the unexplained things many guests and cast members have could be related to deaths at the park.

“In 1984, a woman named Dolly Young who was riding the famous Disneyland Matterhorn roller coaster was thrown from her bobsled and killed by an oncoming bobsled,” Korkis says. “Cast members who work on the ride claim her ghost still lingers in a section where she died (that they call Dolly’s Dip) and can hear strange sounds at night.”

Young wasn’t the only person who has died at Disneyland.

A boy was struck and killed by the Monorail train that connects the park to the Disneyland Hotel in 1966, while another boy drowned in 1973, when he and his brother attempted to swim off Tom Sawyer’s Island after staying behind after the park closed. Korkis says that the two are still seen in the water and by the train.

A mummy macaron at Disneyland.

A mummy macaron at Disneyland.

Julie Tremaine

One of the most macabre stories is of Deborah Stone, a cast member who was crushed to death in 1974. She was caught between the walls of America Sings, the attraction that replaced Carousel of Progress, where seats rotate around a stationary show. Neither attraction is still at Disneyland. Today, according to Korkis, she may still be there.

“Stone reportedly roams the area,” he said, “and while the attraction was still in operation, sometimes gently warned fellow cast members who got too close to the rotating walls.”

There’s also Mr. One Way, a Disneyland legend that supposedly appears next to single riders on Space Mountains. “He will appear in an empty seat on a ride vehicle,” Korkis says, “but disappears before the final tunnel at the end of the ride.”

The Headless Horseman statue in Disney's California Adventure.

The Headless Horseman statue in Disney’s California Adventure.

Julie Tremaine

Parkgoer Vanessa Purcella believes she may have encountered Mr. One Way on a trip to Disneyland. She felt a hard tug on her hair when there was no one behind her to have done it. (Both Bruni and Berry say hair-pulling is common with entities trying to make contact with the living.)

If you’re inclined, you can “see” Mr. One Way on the video below:

Of the five ghosts on this video, paranormal researcher Adam Berry says the first (at 0:14) is likely pareidolia, the phenomenon in which people see faces in inanimate objects, like when you see a potato and think it’s shaped like Abraham Lincoln. The second (at 1:13) is probably a real person standing on the castle, the third (at 2:00) is likely just a shadow, and the fourth (at 2:45), which people think could be Mr. One Way, could be a weird camera reflection of the person in the seat next to the empty one.

The fifth, though, at 3:13, is harder to explain. It shows a shadow figure crossing the property on multiple cameras. People say it’s Walt Disney, and because it appears from so many different perspectives that sync up across video feeds, Berry thinks it may be possible.

“That one,” he says, “is right out of the Haunted Mansion.”

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