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Disneyland Article
Pirates Of The Caribbean Ride Once Had Real Human Bones And Maybe Still Does

Pirates Of The Caribbean
ID:
TMS-4724
Source:
SFGate
Author:
Julie Tremaine
Dateline:
March 28, 2021
Posted:
April 02, 2021
Status:
Current
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Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s afterlife for me.

That’s probably not what the people who willed their remains to UCLA’s Medical Center imagined would be their final repose, but for some, it actually was. Maybe even still is — the jury is out on that. But one thing is absolutely certain: When Pirates of the Caribbean opened at Disneyland in 1967, all of the skeletons on the attraction were actual human bones.

The ride was originally envisioned as a walk-through wax museum. Walt Disney rethought that after the runaway success of the 1964 World’s Fair, where the company debuted “audio-animatronic” people in the Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. It’s a Small World, which also debuted at the World’s Fair, was able to move large numbers of people through quickly on boats, and Walt decided to employ the same technique at Disneyland for its new pirate attraction.

“The iconic attraction’s runaway success and ability to move enormous numbers of guests through the experience motivated Walt to incorporate a similar ride system for Pirates,” Arthur Levine wrote for TripSavvy in 2019. “Besides, the boats worked well with the theme, and they allowed the story to unfold in a more controlled and linear fashion.”

The ride opened just months after Walt Disney’s passing, and was the last that he personally oversaw.

“Building the ride involved close collaboration between the machine shop, the animatronics team, and the sculpting and wardrobe departments,” Cara Giaimo wrote for Atlas Obscura in 2015. “The whole thing cost $15 million, about $106 million in today's currency and as much as the rest of the park combined.”

One thing the Imagineers couldn’t recreate was skeletons. The technology of the time wasn’t sophisticated enough to make skeletons that the company felt met their standards of realism. So instead of faking it, the Imagineers went to find the real thing — straight to UCLA, where they procured real human skeletons for the ride.

It didn’t last forever, though. Giaimo quotes Jason Surrell’s book “Pirates of the Caribbean: From Magic Kingdom to Movies” as saying, “Eventually, as fake skeleton technology improved, ‘a new generation of Imagineers’ replaced the real ones, which ‘were later returned to their countries of origin and given a proper burial.’”

Today, Disneyland says that there are no longer any human remains on the ride, and the internet is rife with accounts from people who have taken VIP tours, which often provide a deep history of the parks. They report that their cast member guide assured them there were no more real skeletons in place.

But some people remain unconvinced. Jason Petros of the "EarzUp!" Disney podcast has a blog post detailing where he believes there are four remaining instances of, well, remains. Two are on the small islands just after the boat drops down to the lower level, one is in the bed chamber mounted on the headboard, and another lies in the jail scene, trapped under a flaming timber.

The bed chamber skull, in particular, seems to have the most speculation around it. A cast member confirmed that it was real, and others have said that that skull in particular, which some believe to be the only actual remaining human bones, was donated by a former Imagineer.

If you’re surprised about this chapter of Pirates of the Caribbean’s history, well, it gets darker. The original ride had a much more problematic story line, which had kidnapped women being sold in a “Bride Auction,” with fat-shaming dialogue about purchasing “by the pound” and other women attempting to look their best as though they’re happy about being sold. Just afterward, a pirate has lost the woman he just bought, who is hiding in a barrel behind him, and is asking his friends for help, using her as the reward. “I be willing to share, I be,” he says, chuckling.

Even the full lyrics to the song “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” includes the lyrics, “We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot.” While it’s unclear whether those lyrics have been changed for the current iteration of the ride, there’s no moment where that line is clearly comprehensible the way it was in 1967. Much of the overtly misogynistic theming was changed, starting in 1997, according to the Los Angeles Times, and parts of the Johnny Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie’s storyline were incorporated in 2006, including Jack Sparrow.

A YouTube recreation of the full 1967 ride exists online, with the creator explaining that he made it, “so this original version can live on as a historical document and we can have an educated discussion” about it. There’s also a parody calling out some of the most cringe-worthy parts of the original ride.

“Even Walt had some doubts about the scene,” Todd Martens wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2017 of the most recent Pirates reimagining. In that article, Martens quoted original Pirates Imagineer Claude Coats, who was there when Walt Disney first saw the auction scene.

“He came in one time and even said, ‘This will be all right, won’t it?’ He was just a little doubtful of auctioning off the girls. Was that quite ‘Disney’ or not?” Coats told the paper.
 
Attractions Referenced

Carousel Of Progress

Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln

It's A Small World

Pirates Of The Caribbean

 
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