Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth, has a few dark tragedies, and the most ghastly, which was suspicious as well as fodder for urban legends belonged to Debbie Stone, a hostess, who tragically died in 1974.
When asked how he conceived the idea for Disneyland, Walt Disney once said he imagined there ought be an enchanting place for parents and children to have memorable times together, but this tangible tale is more complex. Enchantment can be a fatal job, and at Disneyland, the formula for making dreams come true includes not only pixie dust and fascinating props and rides, but the arduous work of very mortal beings performing in a risky world where sometimes, things go gravely wrong. And that is what happened to a promising young girl on the verge of having the world at her feet, her dreams were cut short on that fatal day, and no one will ever know what really happened whether it was a fatal mishap or sheer negligence. The death of Debbie Stone is the sole fatality of a Disney cast member till date.
Debbie Stone’s Life Story
Deborah Gail Stone was the first child of Bill and Marilyn Stone, and was born on June 18, 1956, in Santa Ana, California.
Beautiful and talented, she excelled in academics as well as athletics especially track and swimming. She graduated from the Santa Ana High School with top honors and received the Principal’s Award for her outstanding accomplishments.
She had just enrolled herself for freshman year at the Iowa State University and, as any excited teenager, longed to work in the land of dreams―Disneyland.
In order to save for her college tuition, she applied for a summer job at Disneyland and soon landed herself with the coveted job of being a Disneyland hostess.
How did Debbie Stone Die?
On June 28, 1974, a musical extravaganza debuted in ‘America Sings’, wherein the automated wall rotation was reversed; the walls moved towards each other on the left-hand side of the stage and closed in place to separate each theater from the other.
It is speculated that after the last show, around 10.30 pm, when the stages were shifting position, the hostess (who always stands on the left-hand side of the stage), Debbie Stone might have been crushed between the walls of the two theaters.
The Tragic Incident: In Detail
At Disneyland, a major ride called ‘Carousel of Progress’ was redesigned to become a new attraction, ‘America Sings’. On June 28, 1974, an automated musical extravaganza that paid tribute to the musical history of America debuted.
The ride featured six stages in the central nucleus of the building, these six theaters rotated around in sequence so as to allow the theater audience to experience each popular performance in sequence. The performance consisted of a 24-minute show featuring four big musical acts with a medley of period tunes sung by animated animals. During such a show, it was the job of the Disney hostess to stand on the left-hand side of each stage and greet the audience at the start of each show and bid them farewell at the end of each show.
The only glitch was that in the previous ride ‘Carousel of Progress’, the theaters moved around the nucleus in a clockwise direction. This meant that the walls on the left-hand side of the stage moved away from each other. But in ‘America Sings’, the rotation was reversed, which meant that the walls moved towards each other on the left-hand side of the stage and closed in place to separate each theater from the other.
On the fateful night of July 8, 1974, Debbie Stone had an evening shift at ‘America Sings’. Just before her shift, she called up her parents and exclaimed to them that she was in love and wanted their permission to get engaged, obviously her parents were happy for her.
A little later, at around 10.30 pm, when the last show got over and the stages were shifting position in between the 45-second interval, a guest from the adjacent theater heard a blood-chilling scream. When he and the operators rushed to the scene, they were horrified to see Debbie Stone crushed between the walls of the two theaters.
To this day, no one knows what exactly went wrong, there have been numerous theories. Some state that Debbie may have been inclining towards the adjacent stage to talk to a fellow cast member, or she may have attempted to jump from one stage to the other, or she may have been distracted and stepped backwards without noticing. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Debbie was crushed alive as the rotating wall closed against the stationary one.
After the gruesome incident, Disneyland closed the ride for two days and the stage on which Debbie died remained closed for a year. Later, the stages were installed with sensory lights to warn the operator if someone went too close to the walls and additional changes were made by fixing breakaway walls in case the sensors failed, the ride remained operative till 1988. Then it was shut down, and the building remained obsolete till it was refurbished in 1998 for a new attraction ‘Innoventions’.
Remembering Debbie Stone
Debbie Stone was known for her kindness and compassion and the people whose lives she had impacted were numerous, most prominent being a former classmate who claimed to have kicked his drug addiction because of her help. Over the years, her family received numerous letters from strangers and friends alike, who expressed their support and gratitude.
Her alma mater Santa Ana High School renamed a pool after her and raised a plaque honoring her. Her classmates funded for a ‘Deborah Stone Award’ to be given to the most outstanding student in her accolade.
The Ghost Rumors
There have been urban legends and Disney cast members claim that they have seen her spirit and can hear a voice warning ‘Be Careful’ at the unfortunate site. Whether these rumors are to be believed or not, one thing is for sure, Debbie is guiding and helping others even through her death.
Debbie Stone may have lived a short life, but her memories live on with the ones she loved.