Yes, Walt Disney Worked With the CIA (and other things you probably don’t know about Disney World)

 

When someone mentions “Disney,” several things probably come to mind: comical, animated mice, fairytales full of princesses and happily ever afters and maybe even Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. More than likely though, CIA ops and shell corporations were not anywhere near the top of that list. From 1901 to 1966, entrepreneur Walt Disney made a lasting mark on the world, revolutionizing cartoons and introducing the world to Disney, which still lives on today as one of the most relevant entertainment companies in the nation. Also continuing Walt Disney’s legacy is theme park Walt Disney World, the product of efforts he was not alive to finish.

With its Magic Kingdom advertised as “the most magical place on Earth,” Disney World has served as a family destination for nearly fifty years, composed of four theme parks and hundreds of attractions, drawing in crowds from all over the world and racking up an average yearly attendance of 58 million people. The park’s cheerful forefront exists in contrast with its roots, a calculated effort by Walt Disney to accumulate the land needed to fulfill his vision for what was then referred to as the “Florida Project” and later, E.P.C.O.T. 

After opening Disneyland in California, Disney wanted to progress one step further and envisioned, not only another theme park, but an entire utopian city in Orlando, Florida. To purchase the land he would require for this massive project at the lowest price possible, Disney enlisted the help of … you guessed it: the CIA. 

No, Walt Disney did not actually hire the CIA to help him build Disney World. Well, not exactly. He did, however, hire two CIA members, Paul Helliwell and William Donavan to help him strategically acquire real estate under the names of numerous fake companies and maintain the utmost control over the property he acquired. Donavan’s law firm set up fake companies like the “Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation” to purchase the land, enabling Disney to buy the entirety of the property for an average of only a few hundred dollars an acre, making most of the purchases in cash. Disney wanted to be able to hold as much control as possible over legislation involving these properties to speed development, so with Helliwell’s help, he created phantom cities, selected employees as residents and used another fake company, Reedy Creek Improvement District, to maintain waste, fire control and other government responsibilities, making this massive property exempt from the typical land and zoning laws. This provided Disney with utter control over development. 

As previously mentioned, Disney World originally was envisioned including the E.P.C.O.T. project, or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt Disney desired to develop the perfect, futuristic community, but upon his death during planning for the project, the plans were abandoned, as the Disney corporation focused efforts on construction of the Walt Disney World Resort. However, the Walt Disney Corporation did end up building a smaller community in Florida in the 90s, coined Celebration, Florida. Advertised as the ideal town, complete with a school and movie theater, so many people wanted to live in Celebration upon its completion that a lottery was created to select residents. Under the picture perfect surface, however, the town holds eerie secrets. To live in the town, residents must abide by a lengthy rule book created to ensure conformity in many aspects. Included in these regulations is the number of cars one may park on the street, types of plants that may be gardened, and curtain and blind color. The eeriness continues with a sinister series of events that unfolded in 2010 in the picture perfect town when a teacher at the town’s school was found murdered in his home. The following police investigations uncovered that a teacher, Giovanditto, was killed by former student David Murillo, who claimed he was molested by his victim as a child. Numerous former pupils proceeded to second these allegations. 

The park, too, holds its own secrets, secrets that the Disney Corporation will go to extreme lengths to maintain the illusion of perfection and magic the park was created to project. Here’s five of my personal favorites:

  1. 1. The park multipurposes as a burial ground:

    As frequently as once a month, a guest will dump the ashes of their loved one at Disney World, causing whatever ride or area of the park to be shut down for intensive cleaning. This is so common employees refer to the situation as “white powder alert,” and is especially prevalent in the Haunted Mansion.

  2. 2. An elaborate tunnel system exists connecting different areas of the park:

    To preserve guests' perception of the park, a massive utility tunnel system serves as an out of sight means for characters to get to other areas of the park unseen, as well as assisting in waste removal, food services and even emergency services.

  3. 3. Disney goes to extreme lengths to eliminate the mosquito population:

    If you’ve visited Disney World, you might not have realized that there are hardly any mosquitoes in the park, despite being located in a traditionally swampy region. This is exactly the takeaway Disney wants you to have, selecting architecture, water flow and even certain foliage based on its ability to reduce the amount of stagnant water in the park, which mosquitoes lay their eggs in. In addition, garlic extract is sprayed throughout the park in undetectable quantities to naturally repel the pests so itchy bites won’t ruin the magic of your experience. 

  4. 4. The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction originally incorporated real bones:

    When the ride was being created, designers found fake skeleton decorations lackluster, and opted instead for genuine bones, courtesy of UCLA medical center. To this day, one of the skulls in the treasure room near the ride’s beginning is authentic, forever resting in the most magical place on Earth.

  5. 5. The property is home to an abandoned water park:

    Before Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Disney World had Disney’s River Country, the original center for water attractions, which opened in 1976. The park closed in November, 2001, and has remained abandoned since, seen only by the occasional trespassing explorer.

 

The next time you get the opportunity to take a trip to Florida’s Disney World, you might find yourself pausing while enjoying your mouse shaped soft pretzel to consider the roots of the park. While it may have its dark secrets, one still can’t deny that Walt Disney had talent for bringing dreams to life incomparable to practically any other, stopping at nothing to construct his visions (even if the CIA is needed for a little extra magic).