It is fair to argue that the very foundation of Disneyland was built on its realism. Walt Disney’s wish was to transport guests to a time and place, and in so doing, allow them to leave the real world behind. To best achieve this, Walt and his design team worked to completely immerse guests in the setting.
Everywhere you look in Disneyland, you see infinite amounts of detail. So much detail that it often goes unrecognized. A prime example of this immersive experience is Pirates of the Caribbean. And that is where this Disneyland secret takes place. You see, at one point, those cool skeletons you see in the grotto scenes…were real.
When the attraction was being developed, it was determined that the technology available at the time for creating faux skeletons just weren’t up to snuff. They were thought to be too obvious and fake looking. It was decided then that they would use real skeletons! Where these skeletons came from are up for debate, even to this day, as Disney has not spoken on it. Most stories seem to suggest that they were donated to Disney by the UCLA medical center.
There is no historical evidence to indicate specifically when, but the real skeletons were eventually replaced with fake ones once they were able to re-create them convincingly. It is generally agreed that this much of the story is true. Where the story begins to morph in to legend is that there are still some real skeletons, or rather a part of a skeleton, still present today. The scene where the pirate captain is laying on his bed, looking at a map through a magnifying glass is home to this legend.
The pirate skeleton in bed is fake, but the skull and crossbones above him on the head board are believed to be real. This legend is of course anecdotal in nature only, but has been reported by cast members who conduct private tours of the parks. It may be thought that this gives credence to the legend, but cast members are also known to go “off script” from time to time.
Meanwhile, others have suggested that the skeleton was donated…personally…by an imagineer. I find this legend to be harder to believe for obvious reasons. Most notably, how does one go about donating a skull…while they’re still using it? I’ll save the rest of the debate for another time perhaps.
Disneyland Secret #4 | Skeletons of the Caribbean
Interesting stuff, right? It’s amazing how free companies were to act back then. The park was built in a year. Goodness knows how many corners had to be cut to achieve that. And Walt had the guts (and bones!) to use real skeletons on an attraction, just to add to the effect. How awesome is that!?
See Also: Disneyland Secret #3 | The Secret Path