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The mystery of Utah history: The hearse at Disneyland wasn’t really Brigham Young’s, but there is a small Utah connection

This photo made available by Disney Enterprises, shows Donny Osmond, left, with his son, Christopher, 16, outside the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Saturday, April 7, 2007.  Osmond, together with actor Kurt Russell and the Osmond Brothe
This photo made available by Disney Enterprises, shows Donny Osmond, left, with his son, Christopher, 16, outside the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Saturday, April 7, 2007. Osmond, together with actor Kurt Russell and the Osmond Brothers were photographed at the same location in 1970 to promote the opening of the attraction and were featured on the television special "Disneyland Showtime" which originally aired on March 22, 1970 as part of "The Wonderful World of Disney" on NBC. The Osmond Brothers began their show business career at Disneyland more than 45 years ago. (AP Photo/Disney Enterprises, Paul Hiffmeyer)
Paul Hiffmeyer, Disney Enterprises

Many Utahns love Disneyland and a popular fixture in the Anaheim, California, park is the Haunted Mansion, since its premiere in 1969. However, it is simply a myth that the white, horse-drawn hearse in front of the Disney attraction has any connection to Brigham Young.

The fact is his burial in 1877 never involved any hearse.

Despite this historical fact — and several Salt Lake TV news reports debunking the myth last year — a Google search on the subject still finds a substantial number of web sources still promoting the hearse as being President Young’s.

Glen M. Leonard, former director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Museum of Church History and Art, told the Deseret News some years ago that historical records are conclusive that the hearse couldn't possibly have been used for Young (see "Disney hearse has no link to Brigham Young," Deseret News, Feb. 23, 2001).

"Historical evidence shows no hearse was used," he stated in the previous article.

He also explained that President Young's will was explicit about his funeral and burial. He died in the Lion House on Aug. 29, 1877, and his body was carried on a platform by clerks and employees, as prescribed in the will, to the Tabernacle for the funeral. Afterward, those same pall bearers hand-carried the casket along South Temple, through Eagle Gate and to the small private cemetery at First Avenue.

Thus, no wheeled vehicle was used in the transport of President Young’s body for the few blocks it needed to be transported.

Disneyland acquired the hearse from a Malibu collector, Dale Rickards, who had nothing to trace the origin of the wagon. Apparently, there were once some documents of authenticity, but when the previous owner of the hearse, Robert "Dobie Doc" Cottle of Las Vegas, died, the papers had disappeared.

There are also some rumors of a Young family from the Salt Lake area owning the hearse before Cottle got it, but no one's been able to verify that either.

To Disneyland, the hearse is simply a prop, and no official park sign connects it to Brigham Young. The manufacturer's plate on the hearse is also missing, so its origin cannot be verified that way either, according to the earlier Deseret News article.

Notwithstanding the Brigham Young myth, there is one actual tie to Utah — and Mormons — for the Haunted Mansion.

When actor Kurt Russell narrated an insider’s look at the newly opened Haunted Mansion in 1970 for Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” TV series, he was accompanied on the tour by none other than the Osmond Brothers from Utah.

There’s a 10-minute YouTube video available of this “World of Color” segment at youtube.com.

Lynn Arave worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 40 years. He is a retired Deseret News reporter/editor, from 1979-2011. His email is lra503777@gmail.com. His Mystery of Utah History blog is located at mysteryofutahhistory.blogspot.com.