Amusement parks are generally viewed as cheerful, happy places—but if you look below the bright and colorful surface, you’ll often find something a little spookier. For example, there are loads of haunted theme park attractions in the world—or at least, allegedly haunted attractions. Many of these ghost stories are just that—stories—but sometimes, there’s a kernel of truth to be found there, too.
Sometimes, ghost stories are how we process or make sense of traumatic, seemingly senseless tragedies. Sometimes, they’re just tales we tell ourselves to enhance an experience—an overnight stay at an old house, a visit to an allegedly haunted location. And sometimes, we swear up, down, left, and right that whatever we think we’ve experienced did actually happen—that we’ve truly brushed up against the unknown.
The juxtaposition of these kinds of stories with the brightness and lightness of a theme park or amusement park—a place we go to have fun—can make that shiver running down your spine all the more effective. They can also help us deal with the more unsavory aspects of something we enjoy—such as a terrible accident or another incident that actually occurred there some time ago, for example.
So, keep all that in mind as you read about these allegedly haunted attractions at amusement parks all over the country. They’re stories, yes—but maybe there’s something real there, too.
The Eiffel Tower: Kings Island, Mason, Ohio
About 24 miles northeast of Cincinnati is Kings Island. Taft Broadcasting Company originally opened the park in 1972, and theme park giant Cedar Fair owns and operates it today. Spread out over 364 acres, it functions as the biggest amusement park in the Midwest.
It’s also home to a number of ghosts—allegedly, at least.
One of the more infamous ghosts hangs around the one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower that stands at the center of the park. Weighing 450 tons and made of steel, it was completed in time for Kings Island’s original opening day; a second replica was also erected at Kings Island’s sister park, Kings Dominion in Virginia, in 1975.
But in 1983, something terrible happened at the Kings Island Eiffel Tower: A 17-year-old high school student, John Harter, fell to his death in the tower’s elevator shaft after climbing into a restricted area. His death was ruled an accident, but it remains a horrible tragedy.
Since then, employees of Kings Island speak of “Tower Johnny”—the apparition of a teenage boy they say is sometimes seen looking out from the top of the tower or lingering at the fountain on the ground out front. If a sensory trips, or the elevator doors begin opening or closing on their own, or a car starts moving up and down its track, some say that it’s Tower Johnny making his presence known. Not everyone believes the stories, of course—but those who do swear up, down, left, and right that Johnny is around somewhere, still lurking in the park.
Tom Sawyer Island: Disneyland, Anaheim, California
Tom Sawyer Island isn’t technically called Tom Sawyer Island anymore; since 2007, it’s been officially known as Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, in order to capitalize on the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. But when the attraction opened at Disneyland in 1956—just a year after the park’s grand opening in 1955—it was based solely on Mark Twain’s classic novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The only Disneyland attraction Walt Disney designed completely on his own, it featured a variety of outdoor activities, such as walking trails, a treehouse, and an artificial island pier.
It maintains much of the same charm today—but some cast members (aka Disneyland employees) know that spooky things happen on Tom Sawyer Island after the sun goes down. For example, you might hear children running around in the darkness even after the island has closed for the day. You might even see them flitting around the trails. And, if you look at the Rivers of America, you might see a few splashes with no discernible source.
It’s not known precisely who the spirits allegedly haunting the island might be, but some cast members point to a real-life incident from Disney parks history. In June of 1973, two brothers—one 18 years old, the other 10—had managed to stay on Tom Sawyer Island after its closing time by climbing a fence and hiding from cast members. But since the rafts were no longer running, they had no way to get across the Rivers of America back to the mainland—so they decided to swim, despite the fact that the younger boy did not actually know how to swim. His older brother attempted to ferry him across on his back but was unable to do so. The 10-year-old was rescued, but the older boy drowned.
The Midway Carousel: Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Having originally opened in 1870, Cedar Point is the second-oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States. Starting out as more of a watering hole than anything else, it expanded rapidly in the early 20th century, adding numerous rides, restaurants, and even hotel accommodations. Today, Cedar Fair operates it. The park welcomes more than 25 million guests per year.
The Midway Carousel is one of Cedar Point’s oldest rides; built in 1912, it arrived at Cedar Point in 1946, where it has remained ever since. Designed by Daniel Muller, whose finely carved horses are considered masterpieces of art, it’s one of the few Muller-designed carousels still operating today.
However, one particular carousel horse is special. According to legend, Muller’s wife loved this horse, which was designed to look like a military steed, so much that she would return to the park to ride it time and time again—even long after she had died. For some time, a ghostly woman could be seen circling the carousel on Muller’s Military Horse, as it was called, while faint music played in the background… even when the carousel wasn’t operating. Later, a story began circulating that any photograph visitors might attempt to take of that particular horse wouldn’t come out properly; Mrs. Muller, people said, wouldn’t allow it. The horse was hers and hers alone.
Muller’s Military Horse isn’t actually on the carousel anymore; it’s been moved to the Cedar Point Town Hall, where it’s on display with other memorabilia from the park’s history. A replica of it is also on display at the Merry-Go-Round Museum elsewhere in Sandusky. Mrs. Muller’s ghost has been reported as appearing at each of these locations—the carousel, the Town Hall, and the museum—from time to time. This spirit certainly gets around!
The Simpsons Ride (Formerly Back to the Future: The Ride): Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando, California and Florida
From the 1990s through the mid-2000s, a ride based on the Back to the Future franchise allowed visitors to both Universal Studios Orlando in Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood in California to travel through time—sort of. The motion-simulator ride opened in Florida first, firing up the DeLorean in 1991; Hollywood’s version followed a few years later, opening up in 1993. Both rides later closed in 2007 to make way for a ride based on The Simpsons, which in turn opened up at both parks in 2008.
Apparently, though, there was a ghost haunting the space when it contained the Back to the Future ride—and that same ghost is still there today, haunting The Simpsons ride instead.
At both parks.
Theme park journalist Carlye Wisel recently spoke to a number of Universal Studios team members, both past and present and from both parks, in an attempt to unravel the story for an episode of her podcast, Very Amusing. According to these team members, the ghost allegedly haunts the uppermost level of the ride, which isn’t always in use. (Whether the vehicles on this level are operating depends on how big the crowds are and how many people the park needs to move through the attraction at any given time.) Team members have experienced everything from flickering lights to strange noises and from sudden ride stops with no identifiable cause to mysterious figures appearing on the ride’s security cameras only to walk off-screen and never reappear when the next camera’s sightlines were meant to kick in.
The ghost allegedly belongs to a person who supposedly died on the ride back when it was Back to the Future-themed, but no incidents of this nature are reported to have occurred on this ride at either park. Park officials that Wisel reached out to for comment didn’t respond, either—and for what it’s worth, the fact that pretty much the same story exists at both ride locations in two different parks suggests it’s the stuff of legend more than anything else.
Still, though—the stories persist, handed down from team member to team member, with Wisel now having numerous first-hand accounts of ghostly experiences. Spoooooky. (Very Amusing is terrific, by the way, especially if you’re into the nuts and bolts of how theme parks work. Episodes drop every Wednesday.)
Yesterday’s Royal: Sylvan Beach Amusement Park, Sylvan Beach, New York
Sylvan Beach Amusement Park is more of a boardwalk than a theme park; built on the shores of Oneida Lake about 30 miles northeast of Syracuse, it’s got the same kind of charm that, say, Wildwood on the Jersey Shore or Coney Island in Brooklyn does. It’s also got quite a history—it grew piecemeal, with some of its earliest attractions arriving in the 1870s. These days, it’s home to a number of carnival classics, including bumper cars, a Tilt-a-Whirl, a carousel, and midway games.
On the park’s south end lies Yesterday’s Royal, a restaurant which, when the building originally opened circa 1912, was once a hotel. The restaurant has actually been closed for several years while restoration efforts are undertaken—but in the years prior to its closure, stories abounded of Yesterday’s Royal’s former restaurant patrons and employees hanging out in the eatery—long after they’d shuffled off their mortal coils. Indeed, when Ghost Hunters filmed an episode at Sylvan Beach in 2012, the team reported experiencing what they considered “significant” paranormal activity.
Two spirits in particular have been noted at Yesterday’s Royal. One, called “Abby,” is a classic Lady in White; believed to have been a guest back when the building was a hotel, she’s most often seen on the upper floors, although she does pop into the dining room from time to time. Meanwhile, Jack is said to have been a repeat guest at Yesterday’s Royal who still paces the hallways of his favorite watering hole.
Whether the ghosts will stick around after the renovations are complete remains to be seen—but maybe the historically accurate restoration will help them decide one way or the other.
The Yellow House: Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington, Texas
The very first amusement park in the Six Flags portfolio, Six Flags Over Texas, opened in Arlington, Texas in 1961. It’s therefore a lot younger than many of the other reportedly haunted amusement parks and attractions on this list—but just because the park is relatively young doesn’t mean everything within it is young.
For example, there’s a yellow house near the entrance to the New Texas Giant roller coaster in the Texas section of the park. (When the coaster first opened in 1990, it was simply called the Texas Giant; it became the New Texas Giant following a 2009-2011 refurbishment.) Some sources refer to this yellow house as the Candy Store; however, others point to E.G. Sugarwater’s, a snack shop serving treats like popcorn, churros, and ice cream. Regardless, a little girl likes to hang out in a room on the second floor in this house—but she’s not a mortal little girl. Not anymore.
Employees call her Annie. They believe her to be the spirit of a little girl who drowned in the nearby Johnson’s Creek in the early 20th century. And since the house is reportedly a historic building (that is, it’s older than, say, the Texas Giant), she seems to like to hang out in it. Maybe it reminds her of her own time.
Annie is generally benign, although, like most children, she can get a little mischievous from time to time. Sometimes, employees say they have a hard time keeping the house’s door locked. Lights might turn on and off on their own, and the curtain in the window of the room upstairs sometimes opens and closes on its own, as well. Sometimes, she even travels a little bit; she has reportedly made appearances in the Mine Train attraction nearby as well. For a child, there are certainly worse places to spend eternity than a theme park.
The Matterhorn: Disneyland, California
Like many of the other stories on this list, this one stems from a real-life tragedy: In 1984, a woman died while riding the Matterhorn roller coaster at Disneyland. Her seatbelt was unbuckled at the time of the accident, which caused her to fall from the car; however, it’s never been determined whether she unfastened herself or whether something else happened. The type of seatbelt used on the Matterhorn has since been changed, although Disney officials have said that the change was unrelated to the incident.
Her name was Regena Young, but she was often known as Dolly. And, according to some cast members who have worked at the Matterhorn, Dolly still haunts the ride to this day.
Most of the activity is focused on the section of the ride cast members refer to as Dolly’s Dip. Here, cast members walking the track at the end of the night have felt like they were being watched, or have even reported hearing a disembodied voice from time to time. The work lights, too, tend to burn out or malfunction there, leaving the section in the dark. Dolly isn’t malicious, according to most reports; in fact, she appreciates it if you say hello to her as you walk by.
The Matterhorn and Tom Sawyer Island ghosts aren’t the only spirits allegedly haunting Disneyland, by the way; if you believe the stories, the park is full of ghosts. There’s Mr. One Way, who is said to haunt Space Mountain; there’s the ghost of a teenager who died after sneaking onto the Monorail track in 1966; heck, even Walt himself is sometimes said to stop by the apartment above the Fire Station on Main Street from time to time—the place that was his home away from home while Disneyland was under construction. And that’s just to name a few!
The Serengeti Overlook Pub and Restaurant (Formerly Crown Colony House): Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Florida
As of 2016, the sit-down restaurant in the Egypt section of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is called the Serengeti Overlook Pub and Restaurant. (The pub is downstairs; the restaurant is upstairs.) But when this dining locale first opened in 1964, about five years after the park itself held its grand opening, it was called Crown Colony House—and it was after the 1982 remodeling of the building under the Crown Colony House name and its reopening in 1990 that the strange activity reportedly began.
According to a report published by the University of South Florida’s newspaper, the Oracle, in 2008, all manner of paranormal activity has been observed at the restaurant by staff and visitors alike. Some of it encompasses what might be referred to as “the usual suspects”: Cold spots, flashing lights, trays falling on their own, the elevator stopping between floors for no reason, and the sound of children’s voices echoing through the building after hours have all been reported. Some say that they also feel a constant “presence” up on the fourth floor, especially while alone. A white lady has been spotted, too, as has the specter of a man playing the piano.
No one really knows who the spirits might be, why they’re there, or why they only emerged following the 1990 reopening—but maybe something about the remodeling spurred them into action. It’s not known whether they’ve remained after the 2016 renaming, but it could go either way: Either the renovations have quieted them back down… or maybe they’ve only served to kick things up a notch.
The Herschell–Spillman Noah’s Ark Carousel: Oaks Amusement Park, Portland, Oregon
Oaks Amusement Park, located along the Willamette River, originally opened in 1905, making it one of the oldest amusement parks still operating in the country. (Cedar Point has a few decades on it, but still.) And, like many amusement parks that have been around for that long, Oaks has seen some interesting things—and not all of them good.
According to Donna Stewart’s book Ghosthunting Oregon, a former employee who worked at the park in the 1950s and ’60s knew of several such stories—including one featuring the death of a young girl. According to this tale, the girl, who is estimated to have been no more than nine years old, tripped and fell heavily soon after entering the park’s gates—but when she landed, she hit her head and died instantly, never getting the chance to experience the park she was so excited to see. Now, the figure of a young girl dressed in clothing appropriate for the 1920s or ’30s with a large, white bow in her hair can sometimes be seen near the carousel—a carousel which, itself, is historically notable: Built in 1912, it was created by master carousel designers Herschell-Spillman to tell the story of Noah’s Ark.
For such a tiny park, though, Oaks has a surprising number of spooks residing onsite. In addition to the little girl who hangs around the carousel, a man who fell from the park’s streetcar and was crushed beneath its wheels in 1925 wanders the grounds as well; additionally, floating balls of light, children’s voices whispering “Let’s go,” and the touch of small hands on elbows have all been reported at Oaks Amusement Park over the years.
With all of that in mind, you might want to think twice the next time you ride that merry-go-round or hop on that roller coaster. There might be more waiting for you than just the excitement of a thrilling ride.