Deep beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, lies a secret.

The ride, which has brought joy to the visitors of the park for more than half a century, opened three months after the passing of animation legend Walt Disney, who died on this day in 1966.

The cartoon mogul undoubtedly lives on through the legacy of the beloved feature films and theme parks, of which Anaheim is one, comprising much of his life's work.

But, in the depths below that Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, which was the last ride Disney oversaw the construction of before his death, he's rumoured to live on in a more literal sense.

Advertisement

For years it's been said that below the attraction's rickety boats and singing pirates lies Disney's body – or maybe just his head – suspended in a cryogenically frozen state and awaiting the day when medical technology will be advanced enough to reanimate the animator.

Part of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Photo / Supplied
Part of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Photo / Supplied

Disney, who dedicated his life to the creation of children's entertainment, was a pack-a-day smoker and died 34 days after undergoing surgery for complications of lung cancer.

He may have been the world's most beloved storyteller, but the 65-year-old was notoriously private.

While television and radio broadcasts shared the news that he'd died, the secrecy surrounding his burial was the first of many factors to give rise to the rumour.

Supporters of the absurd rumour claimed the news of Disney's passing was intentionally delayed to give scientists time to place his body in cryonic suspension.

They also argued that both his funeral and the actual location of his burial plot had been kept secret as a means of further concealing the truth of his interment.

Disney's lifelong fascination with the future further stoked the fire.

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths," he once said.

Advertisement
Walt Disney with a plush puppet of Mickey Mouse, 1950s. Photo / Getty Images
Walt Disney with a plush puppet of Mickey Mouse, 1950s. Photo / Getty Images

Along with his creation of characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, he was renowned for technical innovations and projects such as the EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) Centre. Located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida, the centre was conceived by Disney to celebrate human achievement, international culture and technological innovation.

Two separate biographies of Disney – Leonard Mosely's Disney's World (1986) and Marc Eliot's Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince (1993) – claimed he was obsessed with death and this led to an interest in cryonics.

And in a 1972 interview, California Cryogenics Society president Bob Nelson told the Los Angeles Times Disney had wanted to be frozen upon his death, though "he never specified it in writing".

That same year, Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, was the first member of the Disney family to poke holes in the rumour her father had been cryogenically frozen, saying she doubted he had even heard of cryonics.

Disney lounges while reading a script. Photo / Getty Images
Disney lounges while reading a script. Photo / Getty Images

The story persisted, however, and in 2012, Disney Miller was forced to address it again, this time in an interview with Britain's Daily Mail while discussing the opening of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Part of the reason the family had wanted to open the museum, she said, was to combat some of the ridiculous rumours about her father's life.

"Other little kids would say to my kids, 'Your grandfather is frozen, isn't he?'" she said.

"And I couldn't let that stand."

Mr Nelson said of the creator's wish to be cryogenically frozen: "The truth is, Walt missed out.

"When he died, the family didn't go for it."

A private funeral was reportedly held for Disney the day after his passing and, on December 17, "they had him cremated. I personally have seen his ashes", Mr Nelson said.

A Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue at Disneyland California. Photo / Getty Images
A Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue at Disneyland California. Photo / Getty Images

Signed legal documents indicate Disney's remains are interred in a marked plot – for which his estate paid more than $50,000 – at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, the exact location of which is a matter of public record.

Despite the apparent lack of any credible evidence supporting a connection between cryogenic freezing and Disney, the existence of the science is very much a reality.

A significant cryonics industry developed in the United States after the publication of a piece by "father of cryonics" Robert Ettinger in 1964, discussing the plausibility of freezing human beings for the purpose of bringing them back to life.

Multiple companies in the US now offer clients the opportunity to have their bodies frozen inside a thermal sleeping bag, which is then immersed in liquid nitrogen in an aluminium pod, within a giant vacuum flask known as a Dewar.

Those who shell out the tens of thousands of dollars are doing so in the hope of being restored to life – and complete physical and mental health – at a theoretical point in the future, when medical science is advanced enough to do so.

According to reports, hundreds of people around America are now kept in a cryogenically frozen state, and thousands more have already arranged for their own preservation.

Some opt for just their head or brain to be stored; others elect to freeze their entire body.

After his death in 2004, baseball legend Ted Williams became the highest-profile person to date to have his remains frozen cryogenically. Other celebrities, from Muhammad Ali to Paris Hilton, have also been linked to the science.

While the technology has vastly improved, cryogenic preservation has been largely dismissed as fantastical. There have also been some spectacular failures, when people who were inadequately frozen started to decompose.

Still, it's the kind of futuristic innovation that Walt Disney would have appreciated.