13 Freaky Facts About Disney's Tower of Terror Ride

Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0
Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

On October 31, 1939, five people met their fates when lightning struck the elevator shaft of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

At least, that's what Disney would have you believe. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a drop ride at four Disney theme parks, takes guests on a terrifying trip through time to discover what happened to those unsuspecting passengers in 1939. It has since become a cult hit, even making famous guests like Mariah Carey scream for more. Here are 13 facts about Disney's Tower of Terror. 

1. IT COULD HAVE BEEN BASED ON THE WORKS OF STEPHEN KING.

After Disney’s movie-themed MGM Studios opened in 1989, Imagineers made plans to add an attraction that would appeal to fans of horror movies. They kicked around a variety of ideas, including a ride based around Stephen King’s many terrifying tales. Also considered was a faux ghost tour featuring Vincent Price, an amusingly horrifying ride hosted by Mel Brooks, or an actual hotel inside of the park that would have had a haunted theme.

2. CREATING THE RIDE INVOLVED A LOT OF TWILIGHT ZONE RESEARCH.

Known for their immersive research, Disney Imagineers watched 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone in order to perfect the ride's aesthetic and tone. Fans of the Rod Serling classic have picked up on the many references to classic episodes, including an appearance from the infamous Talky Tina doll.

3. THERE ARE ALSO SUBTLE DISNEY REFERENCES.

In addition to the many nods to The Twilight Zone, there are plenty of sly references to Disney as well. For starters, there’s sheet music in the library titled “What! No Mickey Mouse?” and a Photoplay magazine featuring a four-page spread of Walt Disney-designed caricatures in the lobby.

4. THERE WAS ONCE A SECRET MESSAGE IN ONE OF THE NOTICE BOARDS.

Michael Gray via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

The spirits at the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror sometimes try to help guests avoid their fates. Inquisitive guests who peer inside an old notice board in the lobby may find that the fallen letters accumulated at the bottom spell out a warning: “EVIL TOWER UR DOOMED.” The warning has come and gone over the years.

5. GREMLINS DIRECTOR JOE DANTE DIRECTED THE PRE-RIDE VIDEO.

Before guests board the ride, they’re taken into a dusty old library, where Rod Serling tells the tale of the tragedy that changed the hotel on October 31, 1939. That’s really Rod Serling, by the way; Imagineers were able to take clips from The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” that matched up with the story they wanted to tell. That pre-ride video was directed by Joe Dante, who also directed Gremlins.

6. ROD SERLING'S WIFE CHOSE THE VOICEOVER ARTIST.

Though it’s Rod Serling’s image in the video, it’s not all his voice. Voice impersonator Mark Silverman’s ability to match Serling’s famous cadence was so impressive that he was chosen for the job by Rod’s widow, Carol Serling.

7. GUESTS DON’T ACTUALLY DROP.

Tower of Terror guests may feel like they're free-falling, but they're not—they’re being pulled. Ride technology pulls the elevator car down faster than gravity, which is what results in that amazing butts-off-the-seat levitation effect. (Don’t forego the seat belts on this one, kids.)

8. THE DROPS ARE RANDOMIZED.

Guests can't prepare themselves for the exact level of terror they'll experience on the ride. In 2002, Disney upgraded the Tower of Terror with computer-randomized drop sequences for each individual experience, so riders don't know how many times they'll drop or from what heights. 

9. THE EXTERIOR WAS DESIGNED TO BLEND IN WITH MOROCCO.

The Florida ride is the second-tallest attraction at the resort, second only to the Expedition Everest roller coaster and the Animal Kingdom. In fact, it's so tall that the upper half of it is visible from Epcot—it can be seen just behind the Morocco pavilion. Because Disney is so invested in making guest experiences completely immersive, they designed the exterior of the fake hotel to blend right into the Morocco skyline. Check it out:

10. OTIS ELEVATORS WAS INVOLVED IN THE RIDE'S CREATION.

Disney called in the elevator experts to help create the attraction. Otis Elevators has been outfitting buildings across the world since 1853—and with a price tag of $8 million, the Tower of Terror is the company's most expensive sale ever.

11. PART OF THE RIDE IS A SELF-DRIVING CAR.

If you’ve been on the Florida version of the ride, you probably recall a moment where the elevator car seems to leave the shaft to take you through a very Twilight Zone-esque "Fifth Dimension." That’s because it does! The car is actually an AGV, or an autonomous-guided vehicle, that moves without tracks or rails.

If you don’t mind ruining some of the mystery, you can see exactly how it works on this clip from Modern Marvels:

12. THE VERSION AT DISNEY’S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE IS GETTING RE-THEMED.

Getty

The California Adventure version of the Tower of Terror opened on May 5, 2004, 10 years after the Orlando version made its debut. Unless fan petitions manage to get through to the powers that be, the elevator doors at the California Adventure Tower of Terror will close for the last time on January 2, 2017, to make way for a Guardians of the Galaxy makeover.

13. THERE MAY BE A MOVIE ON THE WAY.

The Tower of Terror first received a movie treatment in 1997, with a made-for-TV film starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst.

But there may be a big-budget revamp in the works as well. Big Fish screenwriter John August turned in a treatment in 2015. Stay tuned!

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

65 Years Later: 10 Fascinating Facts About the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted on February 22, 1956, by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey as one of the people indicted as leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott.
Rosa Parks being fingerprinted on February 22, 1956, by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey as one of the people indicted as leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott.
Associated Press // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Montgomery bus boycott is remembered as one of the earliest mass civil rights protests in American history. It's also the event that helped to make both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. household names when, enraged with the way Black Americans were treated, they helped organize and carry out the boycott, which lasted more than a year.

On December 1, 1955, a segregation-weary Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white rider, an action that led to her arrest. Her trial began just a few days later, on December 5, 1955, which marked the beginning of the 381-day boycott that led to the desegregation of public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama. On the 65th anniversary of this historic event, read on to learn more about the people behind the headlines and the unsung heroes of this revolutionary event.

1. Rosa Parks was a lifelong activist.

Rosa Parks is sometimes portrayed as someone who first stood up to power on December 1, 1955. Quite the contrary. “She was not a stranger to activism and civil rights,” Madeline Burkhardt, adult education coordinator at The Rosa Parks Museum and Library, tells Mental Floss. Parks and her husband Raymond were active in the local and state chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She had served as secretary of both branches, during which time she investigated sexual assault cases.

“She was an assertive Black woman against racism, though in a quiet way,” Dr. Dorothy Autrey, retired chair of the history department at Alabama State University, tells Mental Floss. “It’s a myth that she was physically tired that day [she was arrested on the bus], but she was tired of seeing racism against her people.”

After the Montgomery bus boycott, Parks participated in the 1963 March on Washington and went on to serve on the board of Planned Parenthood. She received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

2. Rosa Parks was arrested twice.

Parks was initially arrested on December 1, 1955, for violating bus segregation laws. However, this wasn’t her most photographed arrest. Her famous mugshot and those pictures of her being fingerprinted (including the one seen above) are from during her second arrest, in February 1956.

Local police issued warrants for the arrest of Parks along with 88 other boycott leaders for organizing to cause the bus company financial harm. The protests had a mighty financial impact; according to Burkhardt, the protest led to losses of approximately $3000 a day, which would be the equivalent of $28,000 a day in 2020. The organizers dressed in their Sunday best, took a photo in front of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, then turned themselves in.

3. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first—or only—person arrested for disrupting bus segregation.

On March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on the bus to a white woman in Montgomery, Alabama.The Visibility Project // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Nine months before Parks made headlines, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white woman. Civil rights organizers didn’t initially hold Colvin up as a movement figurehead because the unmarried teen became pregnant shortly after her arrest. However, leaders later revisited her case, and she became one of five plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the federal court case that ultimately overturned segregation laws on Montgomery buses and ended the boycott on December 20, 1956. Parks wasn’t one of the plaintiffs, but several other local women were, including Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith, and Jeanatta Reese (though Reese later withdrew).

4. Rosa Parks had a previous run-in with bus driver James F. Blake.

In 1943, Parks got onto a bus James F. Blake was driving and paid her fare at the front. As she began walking down the aisle of the bus to make her way to the Black seating section at the back (instead of exiting the bus and re-entering through another door as was required), the driver forced her off the bus and pulled away before she could re-board. Blake was driving the bus Parks boarded on December 1, when she refused to give up her seat.

5. Although ministers are often celebrated as the boycott’s organizers, women were behind the initial protest.

Indoors at the National Civil Rights Museum stands a recreation of the bright yellow Montgomery city bus where Rosa Parks defied the city's segregated bus transport policy. Location: Location: memphis, Tennessee (35.135° N 90.058° W) Status: Courtesy of the National Civil Rights Museum // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson caught wind of Parks’s arrest, she and the Women’s Political Council (WPC) jumped into action. A bus driver had verbally assaulted Robinson shortly after she moved to Montgomery to teach, so when she became president of the WPC, a local Black women’s professional organization that fostered civic engagement, she made bus desegregation a priority.

They hand-cranked 52,000 mimeographed political flyers in one night to advertise the planned boycott. Robinson initially asked citizens to protest for one day, Dr. Autrey says. “They weren’t sure where the boycott would lead. They had no idea it would last over a year.” However, local ministers and the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that formed to oversee the protests, took up the mantle and helped the boycott last.

6. The turnout in Montgomery was massive.

More than 45,000 people, representing 90 percent of the Black community in Montgomery at the time, participated in the boycott. “Even with social media today, I don’t think we would ever have the level of organization they were able to get from flyers and church sermons,” Burkhardt says.

7. Initially, the protestors weren't looking for Montgomery to desegregate its public transportation system.

The boycott organizers' demands didn’t require changing segregation laws—at first. Initially, the group was demanding seemingly simple courtesies, such as hiring Black drivers and having the buses stop on every corner in Black neighborhoods (just as they did in white neighborhoods). The also asked that white passengers fill the bus from the front and Black passengers from the back, so that Black passengers weren’t forced into standing-room only sections while white sections remained sparsely seated. Those goals gradually changed as the boycott continued and Browder v. Gayle moved through the federal and supreme courts.

8. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 26 when he joined the movement.

John Goodwin/Getty Images

King was a relative newcomer when he was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), an organization founded on the same Christian principles of nonviolence that guided King throughout his career. His principles were put to an early test when an unknown white supremacist bombed his home on January 30, 1956. (Fortunately, no one was harmed.) King was chosen because he was largely unknown, unlike E.D. Nixon, the local NAACP leader, who was instrumental in organizing the community, but who also had a long history of confrontations with local politicians.

9. Carpools and underground food sales helped fund the boycott.

To help people avoid taking buses, Montgomery churches organized carpools. They purchased several station wagons to help with the operation, dubbing them “rolling churches.” However, local insurance companies wouldn’t provide coverage as they didn't want to support the protests, even indirectly. Instead, King found insurance through Lloyd’s of London, which, ironically, had once insured ships that carried enslaved people during 18th- and 19th-century ocean crossings.

Funding to buy these vehicles, insurance, and gas came from across the community, including from Georgia Gilmore, a cook who organized an informal diner called the Club from Nowhere to feed boycotters and raise money.

10. Working-class Black women were instrumental in the boycott’s success.

At the time of the boycott, Rosa Parks worked was a seamstress at the Montgomery Fair department store, and she was hardly the only working-class woman who made the boycott a success. “Were it not for maids, cooks, and nannies, the boycott would not have succeeded,” Dr. Autrey says. “They were the primary riders, and they also received the brunt of the hostile treatment. These women were fed up and were primed to take a role in the boycott.”

Many women walked miles to work instead of riding the bus or even carpooling. When a reporter asked one such woman, Mother Pollard, if she was tired, she responded, “My feet is tired, but my soul is rested.”

Though the Montgomery bus boycott ended more than 60 years ago, the effects of the movement are still felt—and honored—today. Beginning this month, a new initiative—spearheaded by Steven L. Reed, Montgomery’s first Black mayor—the city will be reserving one seat on every Montgomery bus in Rosa Parks’s honor.