Monday, July 31, 2006
Elemental Losses: Air
The sudden closure of Disneyland’s famous Skyway became the stuff of urban legend almost immediately after it closed in 1994. For 38 years it had carried guests between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland high above the air in gleaming colorful buckets. And then, suddenly and without so much as a press release, it was gone.
For the Disney faithful it just didn’t make sense. How could an attraction that had become such a staple of the Disneyland experience be shut down so unceremoniously; every last pylon uprooted and carried away in the dark of a single night.
It must have been because the attraction had become too litiginous they figured. Only a few months earlier a 30 year old man had fallen from one of the cabins and suffered severe neck and back injuries. Certainly Disney was right to assume that any additional accidents might tarnish the company name and ultimately the guest experience.
But for those more willing to face the darker side of Disney the truth could be found in the spreadsheets and pie charts floating around the executive offices of Disney Enterprises well before the accident. Cost cutters had dismissed the attraction as too little bang for the buck, with staffing expenses, maintenance costs and necessary safety upgrades demanding more capital than they felt appropriate. Randle Charles’ fortuitous fall from the Skyway became the perfect smokescreen for the purely economic decision that quickly followed.
Eventually Randle’s lawsuit was dismissed. Seems the 30 year old nutball had jumped, not fallen, and had he stayed inside his cabin the Skyway would have enjoyed a perfect safety record.
If Disney executives were waiting for another bogus excuse to shutter Walt Disney World’s Skyway they only had to wait five more years. In February of 1999 65 year old custodial host Raymond Barlow was accidentally scooped up and dropped 40 feet from a moving gondola when cast members started up the ride in the morning without checking the exit platform. Nine months later and The Magic Kingdom saw the last of its own Skyway; Disney executives smiling all the way to the bank.
And so the magical flights through mountains, past rocket ships and over lands of fantasy came to an end and all because the top Disney brass merely wanted to save some money.
The Disney Guest, they figured, just wasn’t worth it.