8 Secrets From the Wonderful World of Disney

Manakin/iStock via Getty Images
Manakin/iStock via Getty Images

1. There Are Human Remains in the Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland is one of the scariest places in the park, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

In his 1994 book Mouse Tales, former Disney employee David Koenig tells the story of a tourist group that requested a little extra time on the ride so they could hold a quick memorial for a 7-year-old boy. Disney gave the family permission, but it turns out, the memorial was only half their plan. When the mourners were spotted sprinkling a powdery substance off their “doom buggies,” the Haunted Mansion was quickly shut down until all the remains could be cleaned up.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. Stealthy ash scatterings have occurred all over Disneyland. Not everyone tries to skirt the rules, though. Every year, several families ask for permission. According to one Disney spokesperson, the answer is always no.

2. The Cats Own the Night

Each night at Disneyland, after the sunburned families and exhausted cast members have made their way home, the park fills up again—this time, with hundreds of feral cats.

Park officials love the felines because they help control the mouse population. (After all, a park full of cartoon mice is more enticing than a park full of real ones.) But these cats aren’t a new addition to the Disney family. They first showed up at Disneyland shortly after it opened in 1955, and rather than spend time chasing them away, park officials decided to put the cats to work.

Today, there are plenty of benefits to being a Disney-employed mouser. When they’re not prowling the grounds, these corporate fat cats spend their days lounging at one of the park’s five permanent feeding stations. Of course, Disney also goes to great lengths to manage its feline population. Wranglers at the park work to spay and neuter adult cats, and any time kittens are found, they’re put up for adoption.

3. It’s a Good Place to Be a Flasher (Again)

Just before the final, five-story drop on Splash Mountain, Disney cameras take a snapshot of the riders to catch their facial expressions. The idea is to provide guests with a wholesome keepsake of the experience. But in the late 1990s, the photographs took a turn for the obscene after exhibitionists started baring their breasts for the camera. Soon, Splash Mountain had gained a reputation as “Flash Mountain,” and websites featuring the topless photos began cropping up.

In its effort to curb this Tourists Gone Wild phenomenon, Disney began hiring employees to monitor the photos, training them to pull anything offensive before it got displayed on the big screen. Since then, the number of flashers has dwindled. In fact, the countermeasure was so effective that in May 2009, Disneyland decided that it didn’t need employees to monitor the photographs anymore, putting an end to what must have been one of the strangest jobs in the park—watching for topless riders.

4. Fully Formed Mustaches Are Welcome

Even though Walt Disney had a mustache himself, he wanted his employees clean-shaven. The idea was to make sure they looked as different from the stereotypical image of a creepy carnival worker as possible. So, for 43 years, Disney theme park workers were forbidden from growing facial hair. But on a momentous day in March 2000, the company took a giant leap forward and decided to grant the park’s male employees the right to sport mustaches. (Beards, goatees, and Chester A. Arthur-style muttonchops were still off limits.)

There wasn’t much time for rejoicing, though. When several employees started to grow out their facial hair, management realized that they hated the stubbly look. The rule was quickly amended. Today, in order to have a mustache at the park, Disney employees must either have them when they’re hired or grow them during vacation.

5. Disney World Is Its Own City

Four years after opening Disneyland’s doors in 1955, Walt Disney became convinced that it was time to expand his franchise. After scouting several locations, he decided on a plot of land in Orlando, Fla. But there was a major obstacle standing in his way. The land spilled over into two counties, meaning the task of constructing Disney World would require navigating the bureaucracies of two local governments. To skirt the issue, Disney petitioned the Florida State legislature to let the company govern its own land, essentially making Disney World a separate city.

The request wasn’t as novel as it may seem, however. Governments often create special districts for private companies because the arrangement is mutually beneficial. The company wins by receiving more power over things such as building codes and tax-free bonds, while the local government saves money on providing infrastructure. In the end, the state gets an economy-boosting business that it paid little to help build.

So, that’s what Florida did. On May 12, 1967, the Reedy Creek Improvement District was born. Governed by a board of supervisors, the agency has powers typically reserved for city and county governments. It has the authority to open schools, create its own criminal justice system, and open a nuclear power plant—although it hasn’t chosen to do any of those things yet. The company also holds all of the seats on the board, and it can always count on its residents’ support. After all, they’re all Disney employees.

6. They Paint the Town Green

If you look beyond the fantasy of the Magic Kingdom, Disney hopes you won’t see anything at all. The less-than-magical parts of the park, such as fences, garbage bins, and administrative buildings, are all coated in a color known as “Go Away Green”—a shade that’s meant to help things blend in with the landscaping.

According to Disney officials, there’s no set formula for the color, but that hasn’t stopped die-hard fans from trying to recreate it. One enthusiast collected paint chips from the park and took them to The Home Depot, where he supposedly found an exact match—useful knowledge if you’re looking to fade into the background at Disneyland.

7. You Can Shoot Hoops Inside a Mountain

Disneyland’s Matterhorn is best known for its bobsled-like roller coaster that twists down the giant peak. But few people outside the park know that deep inside the 147-ft. mountain lurks a basketball court.

How did Disneyland become a place where your hoop dreams could come true? After construction of the Matterhorn was completed in 1959, the roller coaster occupied the bottom two-thirds of the mountain, while the top third remained empty. What to do with the extra space? Disney employees voted to put in a basketball court. Because a regulation court wouldn’t fit inside the mountaintop (sometimes magic can’t trump physics), only one goal was installed.

As for the story about the court being installed to skirt building ordinances, that’s just an urban legend.

8. There’s a Speakeasy

Hidden behind a dull green door in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square is one of the park’s most exclusive and mysterious attractions: a VIP lounge called Club 33. Walt Disney built the club as a secret hideaway for dignitaries and celebrities, and he even went to New Orleans to personally pick out the knickknacks for the interior.

During the 44 years that Club 33 has been operational, it’s served the likes of Johnny Depp, Elton John, and scads of executives from companies such as Boeing, Chevron, and AT&T. But if you’re hoping to join, you’ll have to be patient. It takes about 10 years to get off the waiting list, after which you’ll have to fork over $10,000 in initiation fees and another $3,500 each year that you’re a member. But it’s worth it; Club 33 is the only place at Disneyland where you can ditch the kids for a cocktail.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. 

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
iStock

Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
iStock

How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
iStock

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
iStock

In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
iStock

In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

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