Murphy’s Law – The happiest place on earth

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

Disney World might be the largest and most visited resort in the world, but there is a reason its redheaded cousin, Disneyland, is “the happiest place on earth” and it’s not.

Sure, Disney World has a lot going for it, including four theme parks, two water parks and better attractions, but it also has one huge strike against it – namely, if you work there, there is a fairly decent chance you will be killed.

In the past seven weeks, three workers have died at Disney World. Three people may not sound like a lot, but that’s an average of one death every 2.3 weeks. I mean, that’s not quite “2009 celebrity death toll” numbers, but if you had to choose between working at a place where three people have died in the past seven weeks and a place where no people have died in the past seven weeks, I’m pretty sure you’d take Option B. (Especially if Option B didn’t involve getting paid minimum wage to listen to a bunch of kids scream over top of “It’s A Small World” for eight hours.)

The first death occurred when two monorails collided following a Fourth of July fireworks show. The accident occurred when one monorail driver backed into a second train. The 21-year-old driver of the second train was killed and five passengers were treated for injuries at the scene.

The second death occurred last week when a 47-year-old stuntman died of complications from a head injury. He was injured four days earlier during a swordfight in “Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial” at the Magic Kingdom. The stuntman slipped and hit his head on a wall during the show.

The most recent death happened yesterday during a rehearsal for the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A 30-year-old former gymnast and acrobat fractured his neck while attempting to jump into the air, dive over another performer and land in a tuck and roll on a mat. He had only been with the show for a week.

(I feel it is worth noting that the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” is a 30-minute show that recreates scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not much of a silver lining, but it’s better to die doing a show based on Raiders of the Lost Ark than dying while recreating scenes from that awful refrigerator-nuking, alien-centric Crystal Skull abomination.)

So when three people die in less than two months at the same place, the obvious question becomes – what is the common thread?

According to Disney spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez: “The only common thread is the sense of loss we feel for these valued cast members.”

It’s a nice sentiment, but it seems a little too generic and easy. I mean, obviously Suarez isn’t going to come out and say, “The common thread is that this park is a death trap,” but she could have come up with a flashier answer. Is it really too much to ask for her to shift the blame to a kooky theory? Blame it on a voodoo curse or sacrifices to the all-powerful mouse god that rules over the Magical Kingdom. Give me something juicy.

Of course, Saurez at least managed to sound compassionate. Another spokeswoman was a bit more cavalier in her response.

“They’ve just been freak accidents,” said Donna-Lynne Dalton, secretary-treasurer of Service Trades Council, which is a coalition of Disney’s labor unions. “You also have to consider that Walt Disney World is the size of a small city. When you look at the size of Walt Disney World — and I’m not dismissing the tragedy of any of these events — but I’m just thankful it’s not worse.”

It’s always good when your statement is basically: “Only three deaths? Shit, considering how large and unsafe that place is, I would have expected hundreds.”

Of course, others have their own theories about contributing factors to these deaths. Typically, the resort hires more employees for the summer, but they didn’t hire any additional workers this year. So the 50,000 regular employees are forced to handle the summertime rush.

“The parks are open later and there are longer lines,” said Eric Clinton, who represents United HERE! Local 362, the union covering custodians, ticket takers and ride operators at Disney World. “They need the staff to cover that and that hasn’t been the case this summer.”

So could a smaller workforce be to blame? Well, it stands to reason that if you overwork your employees, accidents can happen, but it’s tough to say whether or not that is the cause. Besides, my money is still on a voodoo curse. Of course, we won’t know for sure if that’s the case until the animatronic characters at the park start trying to kill everyone a la Itchy & Scratchy Land.

Honestly, as much as I would like to blame Disney for these deaths (since they have become an evil, soulless corporation), these deaths do all seem like unfortunate coincidences. Really, like all of the countless celebrity deaths thus far, I just chalk it up to 2009 being a shitty year.

Still, if you have your heart set on putting on a giant dog costume and entertaining a bunch of dirty, screaming little kids, I suggest you stick with “the happiest place on earth.” At least until the all-powerful mouse god has been appeased.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at

Comments (1)
  1. Don Quixote August 20, 2009

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