Circle of life: Scattering cremated ashes is against Disney rules — but park guests still do it

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Oct 25, 2018, 4:49 PM EDT (Updated)

For those who carve out chunks of the annual calendar for a family trip to Walt Disney World and its theme park siblings, Disney’s happy places are sacred spots. To the most devoted of fans, the Disney Parks radiate a gravity that attracts the marking of life’s milestones: birthdays, weddings, reunions, and now — as it turns out — deaths.

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed people on both sides of a phenomenon that’s long been the stuff of anecdote: spreading the ashes of deceased loved ones at Disney's theme parks. It’s a way, say the relatives who do it, to return to the place where so many memories were forged, when the time finally comes to close the circle of life.

“Human ashes have been spread in flower beds, on bushes and on Magic Kingdom lawns; outside the park gates and during fireworks displays; on Pirates of the Caribbean and in the moat underneath the flying elephants of the Dumbo ride,” states the report, adding that The Haunted Mansion is by far the most popular.

The Haunted Mansion probably has so much human ashes in it that it’s not even funny,” a Disney custodian told WSJ.

Scattering cremated remains on the property reportedly is a huge Disney no-no, and can get offenders escorted out of the park. It’s also a misdemeanor offense in Disneyland’s host city of Anaheim, California — although a police spokesman said he could not recall anyone ever having been arrested for doing it.

The most common smuggling method appears to be via plastic zip bags, pill bottles, and makeup compacts. Whenever the staff suspects that someone’s scattered ashes at a location they can pinpoint, Disney reportedly issues a code-named “HEPA cleanup” alert, and evacuates the targeted attraction until cleanup staff can come along and vacuum the remains away.

While Disney has long capitalized on the happier personal milestones in park guests’ lives with a lengthy menu of wedding and party packages, the Mouse House balks at acknowledging death in any overt way beyond the tongue-in-cheek ghosts that provide the silly scares at The Haunted Mansion. But we're suspicious that Disney’s official stance presents any kind of deterrent to those determined, poor unfortunate souls who’ve recently lost a Mickey-loving family member.