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MythBusters Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror

A few weeks ago I tried out a new idea for this column where I tackled a commonly held tale about Disney's Hollywood Studios in the style of the MythBusters television show on the Discovery Channel.  The overwhelming reaction from the readers was they wanted more, so I'm bringing the idea back again this week.  This week, we're looking at some myths about the Tower of Terror.

MythBusters is a television show where the hosts take myths, old wives tales', legends or theories and put them to the test to see if it's true.  In this case, we're going to look at some more Hollywood Stuidos myths and figure out if it's true or not.

Myth: The Tower of Terror was struck by lighting during construction

The story goes that back when the Tower of Terror was being built, the building was actually struck by lightning during its construction phase, ironically tying into the attraction's backstory in which the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel is struck by lightning.

The Tower of Terror stands 199 feet tall and is one of the tallest buildings in Walt Disney World.  Why 199 feet and not 200? At 200 feet, the FAA regulates that all buildings over 200 feet tall must have flashing red lights on top. Disney Imagineers felt the lights would have taken away from the theme of the Tower.  Being that tall, it's taller than any trees or buildings around it so it's definitely plausible for it be struck by lightning.

We did some research to find out some more.  The myth is repeated on a number of web sites, although the only hint of authenticty we could find was when one person claimed the myth was confirmed on the old Disney Channel television show "Walt Disney World Inside Out".  

We did find plenty of evidence that the Tower of Terror has been struck by lightning over the years since it opened, like this video of it being hit in 2010.

Based on the simple fact that the building is definitely tall enough to be struck by lightning and the fact that thunderstorms are common in Central Florida, and the anecdotale evidence, we think this myth is definitely plausible.

Myth: Hidden Penny Trick

This next myth has been a favorite trick to show first time riders.  Evidently, when you're riding the Tower of Terror, you can place a penny in the palm of your hand.  Once you plummet 13 stories, the penny will float in the air a few inches above your hand because the elevator is moving faster than the speed of gravity.

So how is this possible if you're free falling, which infers you are moving at the speed gravity can pull you?

Turns out, you're not really falling.  Rather, you're being pulled down.   You are in a passenger vehicle (aka an elevator). The passenger car is in a Vertical Vehicle Conveyance(VVC), the VVC is attached to cables, and the cables are attached to a powerful motor. The motor pullsthe cables which, pulls the VVC (with your passenger vehicle) downward or upward at a very rapid rate.  So fast in fact, that you are pulled down faster than the speed of gravity.  

Since you're attached the VVC via the seatbelt, you go along with the VVC faster than the speed of gravity.  That penny in your hand, however, is not attached to you or the VVC and therefore your hand actually moves out from underneath it as you are pulled downwards and the penny begins to fall at the normal rate of gravity.  To the passengers in the vehicle, it appears to float since the difference in drop speeds isn't a lot so the gap between your hand and the penny is only a few inches.

There's no question the VVC is pulled either up or down to allow it rise or fall, but the question is, is the vehicle falling faster than the speed of gravity? Contractor C.W. Driver, who worked on the Tower of Terror in Disney's California Adventure claims on their corporate website that they worked on the building and says "in the finale the guest will actually be pulled down faster than the force of gravity would do in a natural free fall".  Moreover, the Walt Disney Imagineering site calls the Tower of Terror, "a faster-than-gravity 'freefall'".

On an old Discovery Channel television show called "Beyond 2000", the Tower of Terror was profiled and evidently when the ride was built the ride vehicle simply dropped. Disney Imagineers thought it wasn't enough of a thrill.  Allegedly an Imagineer said "If my tie dosn't fly up in my face, its not good enough". So, Disney changed the ride.  Given all the facts presented here and the added bonus that I've been able to perform this stunt myself, this myth is definitely confirmed.



Myth: Rod Serling's commentary in the Library was made for the Tower of Terror

In the Hollywood Tower Hotel library, you get to view the preshow video that introduces the story of the Tower of Terror.  Like any episode of the Twilight Zone, Rod Serling appears and narrates the entire story telling you the background to the ride you're about to go on.  We even see Rod in the beginning of the film narrating it.

Let's do some simple math to figure out this rumor.  The Tower of Terror opened on July 22, 1994 and Rod Serling died June 28, 1975.  Given the fact Serling died some 20 years before any real work began on the Tower of Terror, he wasn't around to be a part of the attraction.  So how does Rod Serling appear in the video and narrate the details of the Tower of Terror (details that were never part of any Twilight Zone episode)?

Well Serling is only seen in the beginning and his last line is "This, as you may recognize, is a maintenance service elevator still in operation, waiting for you."  The video we see of Rod is from the Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life". In the episode, Rod says, "This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States." Imagineers edited out the background and cut Rod off halfway and replaced the rest of what he says with a Rod Serling sound-alike named Mark Silverman. During production of the attraction, hundreds of people auditioned for the part of Rod Serling's voice but Mark was chosen for the role by Rod Serling's widow who made the final selection after listening to him on audio tape.  This is actually a Tower of Terror secret I discussed in-depth in a previous Why It's There column.

So yes, while we do see and hear the real Rod Serling initially, he definitely did not say what he said for the Tower of Terror and a majority of what we hear isn't even Rod Serling.

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A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, May 04, 2011 by