Ghosts of Disneyland: Tom Sawyer Island & Rivers of America

Things seemed relatively quiet in Disneyland after six years had passed since the last death in the park, but in June 1973, an 18-year-old from Brooklyn lost his life while attempting to swim across the Rivers of America. Bogden Delaurot and his 10-year-old decided to stay on Tom Sawyer Island beyond hours of operation. They were able to climb the fence that separated the island from a cabin display.


After a few hours, staying on the island alone wasn’t too hot and they decided to swim across the river without alerting anyone to their presence. A serious flaw in their plan was worked out too late before tragedy struck. The younger brother did not know how to swim, so his older sibling attempted to carry him on his back while swimming to shore. He made it only halfway across the river when he gave out and fell to into the depths of the water.


The younger brother managed to stay on top of the water by doggy paddling. Soon, a ride operator, who rescued him and put him aboard his boat, spotted him. His older brother could not be found. It wasn’t until the next morning that they located his body in the water. It took several searchers to comb the waters to confirm what everyone already expected.


Four years later in June of 1980, we see the People Mover in the news once more when a recent high school graduate, Geraldo Gonzales was killed in a similar accident much like the incident regarding Ricky Lee Yama (see article on Ghosts of Disneyland: Matterhorn; Monorail; People Mover Deaths), which happened 13 years prior. It was a Grad Nite event at the park and during the wee hours of the day, Gonzales decided to climb from car to car of the People Mover. All of this was done as it entered the SuperSpeed Tunnel. He must have not read the newspapers or heard the story of Yama because he too lost his footing, falling back onto the track. An onslaught of oncoming trains crushed him to death. His body was dragged in a horrific sight about 200 feet before the ride operator had time to stop the ride. It was too late; his mangled body lay lifeless on the track.


During June of 1983, an 18-year-old resident of New Mexico had the unfortunate turn for the worst during his Grad Nite celebration. Over the years, it is becoming quite apparent that this celebration of graduation has had its fair share of misfortune, bad luck, mystery and possibly a curse. There’s just something about this night that causes teenagers to lose their wit, and in some case their head. In this story, Philip Straughan, drowned in the Rivers of America, but he wasn’t carrying his brother on his back, he was celebrating both his graduation and the milestone of turning 18. This night unfortunately involved the consumption of alcohol.


He and a friend decided to sneak into the “Cast Members Only” section of the river, untying a maintenance motorboat that was made out of inflatable rubber. They thought it would be pretty cool to take a ride out on the river. During their joyride, they were unable to control the boat and became stuck in the water after the boat slammed into a rock, which was located close to Tom Sawyer Island. Straughan was thrown into the water and from the shock; his friend swam back to shore to get help. It was too late, the body of Straughan as found about an hour later. He had probably drowned when he first hit the water.