Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean Ride Was Once Decorated with Real-Life Human Remains

Disneyland is perhaps the best theme park in the world thanks to its wide variety of activities and theme park rides. For avid Disney fans, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride remains to be the gold standard of amusement attractions. The ride lent inspiration to almost every experienced-based Disneyland ride, including Jurassic Park.

Once ahead of its time, the theme park is considered standard today. While its main attractions are numerous, the skulls stand out. Interestingly, the ride was once decorated with real-life human remains.

The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was the last ride Walt Disney supervised

Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride was built in 1967 and was the last ride under Walt Disney’s supervision. Before they completed work on the passenger boats, the park’s creative employees, called Imagineers, pushed Disney on a dolly at approximately the same speed the boats would pass, soliciting feedback from him.

Imagineers is a portmanteau of the words Imagine and Engineer. Although the Imagineers thought Disney would be upset that the riders wouldn’t be able to hear what the Pirates were saying, he was impressed.

He likened it to being at a cocktail party and was delighted that guests would be able to pick out something new every time they rode the attraction. Designing and building the Pirates of the Caribbean ride required all of the park teams to collaborate — from animatronics to the sculpting and wardrobe departments.

The entire ride cost approximately $15 million, which translates to $106 million today. Unfortunately, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was the last ride Disney participated in. He died while it was under construction. The ride opened in March 1967, three months after Disney’s passing in December 1966.

Before his death, Disney recruited performer Wally Boag to disrupt the press night. He understood that launching a ride of that magnitude with a typical ribbon-cutting ceremony would be a wasted PR opportunity.

Boag was hired to hijack the Sailing Ship to Columbia and steer the crowd to the new ride. Once there, he and his pirate crew busted through the fake front doors as an opening ceremony.

A skeleton pirate rests on the deck of a replica pirate ship from Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride | Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

When creating the ride, the design team wanted it to be as realistic as possible. However, the fake skeletons of the era looked too unconvincing, wrote Jason Surrell, a former Disney producer in the book Pirates of the Caribbean: From The Magic Kingdom to the Movies.

As Mental Floss reports, Surrell said the design team decided to contact the UCLA Medical Center to obtain real skeletons. They ended up getting the grisly props — actually real-life human remains — from the anatomy departments.

Eventually, the technology used to make fake skeletons improved. So the new team of Imagineers replaced the real skeletons with fakes. The real skulls and bones were then returned to their source and provided a proper send-off.

Some fans aren’t convinced Disneyland got rid of all the human remains

Although Surrell assured Disneyland fans that the human remains were sent back, some visitors have never bought this claim. According to Mental Floss, rumors have swirled for a long time that Disneyland never replaced any of the real skeletons.

These speculations also note that the skeletons have been in the community for a while. The rumors have fueled many conversations on fan blogs in the past and even today. 

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