My dearest hitchhiking ghosts:

Welcome to January! The dreariest time of year! How people get through it by denying themselves alcohol for a month is absolutely the fuck beyond me. I feel like we need a light, cheerful lil newsletter right about now, so I skipped body brokers this week and we’re going to the Happiest Place on Earth: DISNEYLAND!

Today we’re going to cover my absolute favorite Disney urban-legend-that’s-actually-true: people spreading the cremated ashes of their loved ones in the parks. OBVIOUSLY I love this story. This is slightly off-brand, but I really enjoy Disney parks. I’m not a Disney adult, I don’t collect pins or have a season pass, but I genuinely love spending time there. I will happily pay thousands of dollars to cruise around that massive, crowded, hot hellhole full of tiny pageant princesses with a pretzel and some kind of light up jewelry. Plus California Adventure serves beer!!!

People fucking love Disney! It’s not surprising that they want their ashes scattered at Disneyland or Disneyworld. For lots of Americans, Disney means happy times with family. We want our ashes to go to places we love, and places we can imagine spending eternity. My aunt had hers (illegally) scattered at the Eiffel Tower. Decisions about where to scatter ashes are about identity, where you want to be, what you like to do. And A LOT of people want to spend eternity riding the Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Wall Street Journal did an investigation into the practice in 2018*, and their reporting confirms what Disney bloggers have long known: this shit happens all the time. It’s not legal and it’s certainly not allowed by the parks, but Americans will always find a way (see Eiffel Tower). The paper reports that guests smuggle ashes into Disney using pill bottles, ziplock baggies (what if you just told them it was dirty old coke when you got caught???), and makeup compacts (maybe it’s Maybelline, maybe it’s Aunt Jo’s corporeal form!!)

A photo of the exterior of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland, with an overlay of the "hitchhiking ghost" characters from the ride

Once they get the ashes in, people scatter them in bushes, on flowers, in ponds, and especially on rides. It’s a Small World and Pirate of the Caribbean are popular, but MOST of the ashes go to the Haunted Mansion. BECAUSE DUH. That ride has 999 happy haunts and room for one more! YOUR GRANDMA!!! WSJ quotes one custodian as saying “The Haunted Mansion probably has so much human ashes in it that it’s not even funny.” Checks out.

In 2002, employees caught a guest “throwing a powdery substance off her ‘Doom Buggy.’” Then, “after the ride was shut down, the employee discovered “a smattering of dust, ‘gray, like ash.’” FUCKING YIKES but on a lighter note, there have also been false alarms, including one that turned out to be powdered sugar from a funnel cake. You’re never eating funnel cake again, are you?

This happens so often – reportedly once a month – that Disney has a code word for it: “HEPA cleanup.” That’s because they use vacuums with HEPA filters to clean up the ashes, and then they go straight into the trash. Might wanna think about that part before you take the risk – Grandpa could end up with old popcorn boxes and used baby wipes in the maw of the Disney dumpsters, instead of floating among the creepy, multi-ethnic children’s empire of Small World.

A photo of the entrance gate of Disneyland

Disney is a place people go to feel young again. It’s called the MAGIC KINGDOM for a reason: the whole experience is designed to give you a break from the crushing reality of the world around you. Yes, there are crowds. Yes, it’s hot as balls. BUT ALSO MICKEY MOUSE IS RIGHT THERE!! Disney’s commodification of dark shit, like a ride about sea-criminals full of skeletons and animatronic rapists, or a giant haunted house complete with grave diggers and a dead bride, makes death that much more soft focus and palatable. I mean, if you had to pick a place to be a ghost, the Haunted Mansion has a fucking ballroom and that party looks lit. For eternity.

I hope you loved reading about this as much as I loved writing it, friends.

* This article is behind a paywall but you can bypass it with this one neat trick.