Monday, December 13, 2010

Graveyards at Disneyland? Weird Finds at the 'Happiest Place on Earth'


When you visit Disneyland this time of year, it's easy to get distracted by the abundance of Christmas lights, decorations, holiday parades and costumed characters.

But look carefully around the theme park and you just may discover a few hidden things that give Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom a little bit of a wacky edge.

Californian Christopher Strodder knows all about the "secrets" of Disneyland, as he's been to the amusement park dozens of times throughout his life.

He's such a regular, he's even written a book called "The Disneyland Encyclopedia" (Santa Monica Press), an unofficial guide to everything there is to know about the iconic playground.

Strodder told AOL News that one of his weirdest discoveries while researching Disneyland was finding out just how many graveyards are actually scattered throughout the park.

Yes, graveyards!

"There are six or seven graveyards at Disneyland that can be easily seen if you take the time to look around. Four at the Haunted Mansion, including a pet cemetery, and one in the Storybook Land canal boat ride during the 'Alice 'n Wonderland' part. There's also a graveyard on Tom Sawyer Island," Strodder explained. "It's really odd, if you think about it, that there are so many tombstones at 'The Happiest Place On Earth.' "

Strodder -- who often visits Disneyland just to walk around and check out the sights without going on a single ride -- said visitors might also be surprised to learn just how many "hidden Mickeys" lurk around theme park.

If you look closely, he said, you can see Mickey's head on just about everything -- from countertops at restaurants and walls and bushes around the park to even more subtle Mickey heads arranged in knots on ropes at lines for rides.

"Nothing at Disneyland is ever accidental. Everything, even the hidden stuff, is put there so that guests will take notice and enjoy the details. Almost everything in the park has a backstory," Strodder said.

For instance, if you're walking around Frontierland and you see a hanging tribute to something called the Mineral Hall, Strodder said that's a nod to an old gem that stood there when the park opened.

If you happen to notice a bunch of excess ramps around Tomorrowland, Strodder said those are the tracks for the old PeopleMover ride, which is rumored to make a comeback someday.

"They've left lots of visible markers from the past around the property for people to reminisce over, if you have the patience to look for them," he added.

Other wacky tidbits Strodder has found include fun features on the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the heart of the park. Turns out the castle's spouts are designed to look like cute little enchanted animals rather than your standard spooky castle gargoyles.

Also, Strodder said, there's a visible family crest hanging at the entrance of the castle, which is the real deal. It's the Disney clan's actual family crest.

Strodder confirmed that, as far as he knows, two bizarre urban legends surrounding Disneyland are true. There is a secret basketball court and a secret club hidden within the premises.

"The Matterhorn does have a small break area for the mountain staff that includes a basketball hoop. The famous Club 33 in New Orleans Square also definitely exists, and the door to it is clearly marked with the number 33. The waiting list for Club 33 extends for over a decade. There's a dress code, alcohol and amazing views of the park from inside," he explained.

But not every weird addition to Disneyland has panned out.

According to Strodder, there's a whole forgotten "Land" that most people don't know about.

"In 1957, Walt Disney decided to build an area to the left of Frontierland called Holidayland. It was built for corporate events and office picnics, and had its own entrance separate from the rest of the park. People could order picnic baskets and beer while overlooking Disneyland, but guests didn't really take to it. It closed in 1961 and is the only 'Land' ever to get shut down at Disneyland. Today, it's the area that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Haunted Mansion stretch into," he explained.

Strodder said there was also a circus at Disneyland in 1955 that was only open for six weeks before visitors were over it. He said admission cost an extra fee and the circus workers were a bit "rough around the edges" -- crass carnies instead of your typical wholesome Disneyland "cast members."

Now, if you're planning a trip to Disneyland for the holidays this month but don't have enough time to seek out certain secret spots, there are some pretty cool details in plain sight.

According to Disneyland media representatives, the first Christmas tree Walt Disney ever placed in the park back in 1955 can still be found in Town Square, near the Main Street Disneyland Railroad Station.

Clearly, the park keeps its Christmas decorations in a really good storage closet.

Then there's the massive artificial Christmas tree smack dab in the middle of Town Square that stands 60 feet tall and has 280,000 pine-tip branches molded from actual tree branches.

It's decorated with more than 2,000 ornaments -- not to mention a 3-foot star on top and 4,800 LED lights.

In addition to that, there are 100 other artificial Christmas trees -- fully lit and decorated -- throughout the Disneyland Resort and California Adventure. There is also 8,000 feet of decked-out holiday garland installed throughout the parks.

Reps told AOL News that the smallest Christmas ornaments can be spotted in the Storybook Land attraction, while 50,000 lights adorn the outside of It's a Small World Holiday, with an additional 200,000 mini-lights in the surrounding trees.

Pine tree and peppermint scents waft through the European scenes of It's a Small World, and a gingerbread house in the Haunted Mansion's Great Hall is made of real gingerbread and icing.

The candy house features a 12-inch gingerbread zombie rising from beneath a mound of chocolate cookie dirt, but no word on whether or not a hungry guest has taken a nibble yet.

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