Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Even the Happiest Place on Earth has some bad days

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Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: List of incidents at Walt Disney World

What it’s about: Disney World! The Happiest Place on Earth! At least, until something goes wrong. From death and dismemberment to a critical shortage of “Bort” license plates in the gift shop, the park has hosted all manner of unfortunate incidents—though fewer than you might expect for a place that hosts over 50 million visitors a year.

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Biggest controversy: Disney’s run afoul of OSHA quite a few times over the years. The Occupational Safety And Health Administration has fined the park after a parade float ran over and killed an employee dressed as Pluto; after another employee fell and was hit by a ride because a handrail was missing; when a ride was accidentally turned on, killing the custodian who was cleaning it; and after numerous small injuries at the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.

Disney’s also reported hundreds of minor injuries to OSHA involving costumed characters. Most of them involved the weight of the costumes injuring the performers’ head, neck, or shoulders, prompting the park to use costumes no more than one-fourth of the performer’s body weight. The costumes have also caused rashes, sprains, and “heat-related issues.” A fair amount of injuries have also happened because park visitors attacked a character, as there will always be a certain amount of people buying their ticket to Disney World in order to enact their revenge against Donald Duck.

Strangest fact: The park’s famed monorail has had its share of fender benders. The Mark IV Monorail Red alone has collided with another monorail car, hit a maintenance tractor, and had its doors open unexpectedly while in mid-air, though those incidents were spread across 45 years, and the worst of them only resulted in minor injuries. Ten years ago, however, Monorail Pink accidentally backed into Monorail Purple, killing the latter’s driver. In 1985, the Mark IV Silver caught fire when a flat tire was dragged and caused one of the train cars to ignite. In those days there was no on-board fire detection or emergency exits, so passengers kicked out the windows and escaped with minor injuries.

Thing we were happiest to learn: Florida Man has a season pass. Drunk Disney guests have snuck backstage and tried to hijack a cargo cart; falsely reported an active shooter so he could film people’s reactions for his YouTube channel; and hit a taxi driver when he wouldn’t give her a cigarette.

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Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Death doesn’t take a holiday, even if you’re on vacation. While the park has had its share of accidents and alcohol-fueled mayhem, the most common incident to befall Walt Disney World’s patrons are simply health issues catching up with them. People with pre-existing heart conditions have died on the Downhill Double Dipper waterslide, the Dinosaur immersive ride, Star Tours, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Body Wars, Mission: Space, and in several instances, Space Mountain.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: People who are injured or become ill at Disney World are often taken to the nearest hospital, in Celebration, Florida. The unincorporated town is a planned community of roughly 7,500 people, built by Disney in 1996. As it’s not an official town, voting in city government is restricted to landowners, the largest of whom are all subsidiaries of Disney. While the community is solidly upper-middle-class, a 2016 lawsuit complained that condo owners in the town center “are battling leaky roofs, balconies that have become separated from the sides of buildings and mold spreading in their walls.”

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Further down the Wormhole: Disney has expanded its theme park empire beyond the original Land and World, with parks in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Paris. But there are also a number of parks that were planned but never built, including Riverfront Square in St. Louis, which was abandoned in favor of Disney World; WestCOT, Disneyland’s equivalent to EPCOT; DisneySea, a Sea World-type park in California; and Disney’s America, a “patriotic park” in Haymarket, Virginia. The list also includes individual attractions at the existing parks that were canceled, including Tomorrowland 2055, an update of the classic Disneyland neighborhood with a stronger extraterrestrial theme.

Alien life has been a preoccupation of looks to the future in both science and science fiction. And while science fiction’s grappling with alien intelligence often carries philosophical weight, and science’s search for alien life is a serious and lofty pursuit, the two can be difficult to separate from their disreputable cousin, the UFO sighting. While UFO sightings became frequent following the “foo fighter” sightings by WWII bomber crews, they in fact date back to antiquity, with Roman historian Livy reporting in the third century BC that “phantom ships had been seen gleaming in the sky.” One of the earliest sightings involving aliens happened in 1803 in Japan, and involved an object that washed ashore called Utsuro-bune. We’ll have a close encounter with that 19th-century Japanese phenomenon next week.

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About the author

Mike Vago

Author of five books, including Selfdestructible, his first novel. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.