14 Facts About Disney's Adventurers Club

janeyhenning, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

September 27, 2008 was a memorable day in Disney history. On that Saturday, patrons at the Adventurers Club—a nightclub at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island complex—witnessed the final public performance at the venue. Considered more than an ordinary watering hole, the nightclub was filled with surprises, including animatronics, live performances, audience participation, club chants, and magical drinks.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Disney made the decision to close Pleasure Island and its bevy of bars, revamping the area to make it more family-friendly with shopping and restaurants. If you miss the Adventurers Club—or want to know what you missed out on—read on for a little behind-the-scenes trivia.

1. THE IDEA CAME FROM A THEME PARTY HELD BY A DISNEY IMAGINEER.

According to Craig McNair Wilson, who developed the shows and trained the actors, the idea for an old-explorer-themed hideaway came from “our shared love of the world of the pith helmet and all that circled around it.” A party held by Imagineer Joe Rohde, called “The Last Days of the Raj,” helped nudge the idea along. Another major influence was a play called Tamara, a show based in the 1930s that allowed theatergoers to physically follow characters from room to room in an Italian Villa (really an old Elks lodge).

“There’s also more than a pinch of Rick’s Cafe,” Wilson said.

2. THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT FEATURED BAR PATRONS SIPPING COCKTAILS NEXT TO GHOSTS.

Had the design been executed as originally planned, guests could have pulled up a stool next to a spectre. The “Illusions Bar” would have utilized the Pepper’s Ghost optical effect to fade ghosts in and out of the atmosphere. It was likely never realized because the whole Pleasure Island concept ended up being over budget, and certain details had to be sacrificed. Another idea that got the axe? A room where a gypsy named Madame Zenobia would tell fortunes and read palms.

3. IT WAS ONCE HOME TO THE MISSING LINK.

The early days of the Adventurers Club included a character named Marcel, who was referred to as the Missing Link. Part gorilla, part human, Marcel could be seen (but not heard—he didn't speak) doing chores and helping the performers. He was eventually deemed unnecessary and replaced with an Amelia Earhart-inspired character named Samantha Sterling.

4. THE HERO CHARACTER "EMIL BLEEHALL" WAS SEMI-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

Created by head writer Roger Cox, explorer Emil Bleehall was meant to mirror his own creative journey. According to Cox's widow, Sybil:

"The Adventurers Club's unlikely hero, Emil Bleehall, is based on a long-standing semi autobiographical character Roger created. He is the funny little guy from Ohio who wins over the higher authorities and gains their respect and admiration with his seemingly awkward modest but ultimately unique crowd-pleasing talents. Roger felt Emil's struggle at the Adventurers Club paralleled his own story at Disney getting his Adventurers Club ideas off the ground and accepted there."

Here's Emil in action:

5. A THEMED FIREWORKS SHOW WAS NEVER REALIZED.

The back story was that the founder of the club and island, Merriweather Pleasure, had once owned a steamboat that had been blown up by Pleasure’s greedy cousins. Every night, the ghost ship would appear on the water surrounding Pleasure Island and re-enact the spectacular explosion of yesteryear before disappearing back into the night. Presumably, the idea was canned when the nightly New Year's Eve bash became Pleasure Island's big draw instead.

6. THEY DISCUSSED AN EXPANSION IF THE CLUB BECAME A BIG HIT.

"The physical design of the club grew out of Chris Carradine’s brilliant and dangerous mind," Wilson said. "Chris explained it to me on a series of cocktail napkins, late one night in NYC." Carradine envisioned that the club would have "twice as many rooms as . . . guests will ever see." Wilson suggested that they would add or open additional rooms after the club proved successful. "New treasures, now arriving from around the globe... Adventurers Club: bigger, wilder, crazier. Kungaloosh!"

7. “FINGERS” ZAMBEZI WAS INSPIRED BY ANOTHER PHANTOM PIANO PLAYER.

The team that concepted many of the club’s special effects were big fans of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, another exclusive hangout featuring mysterious characters and magical encounters. They borrowed the idea for Fingers Zambezi, an invisible organ player, from the Magic Castle’s “Irma,” a ghost that not only plays the piano, but even takes requests.

8. THE JEKYLL AND HYDE CLUB WAS CREATED BY A FAN.

According to Wilson, the Jekyll and Hyde Club in New York, a similarly interactive restaurant but with a Gothic theme, was created by a stockbroker who was enamored with the Adventurers Club. "They even hired away several of the actors I had trained from Streetmosphere at Disney-MGM and Adventurers Club," Wilson said. "When I met the manager, he said, 'It is based on and totally inspired by the Adventurers Club.'"

9. THERE WAS AN OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER.

Adventurers Club members were so beloved that fans from around the world wrote them letters. At first, cast members wrote back, in character. But soon, they were receiving so much mail that show writer Chris Oyen created a four-page newsletter, based on a real newsletter from a real turn-of-the-century explorers’ club, instead. To make it seem as if Adventurers Almanac had really been around for decades, volume numbers were not sequential. That tactic drove collectors nuts—they thought they were missing copies.

10. A NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN CHARACTER APPEARED ON THE FINAL NIGHT.

During performances and conversations, club members often referenced a fellow explorer named Sutter Bestwick. Like Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, Sutter never actually showed his face—until the last night. He even inducted new members:

11. SOME OF THE PROPS HAVE FOUND A SECOND LIFE.

The club was packed full of artifacts and knickknacks, some of which were dispersed to other Disney projects when the place closed. A selection of the tribal masks are now on display at the Explorers Club at Hong Kong Disneyland.

12. YOU CAN SPOT REFERENCES TO THE CLUB AT VARIOUS OTHER LOCATIONS ON DISNEY PROPERTY.

The Adventurers Club gang may be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten. For example, if you scan the walls at Trader Sam’s tiki bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, you may notice some framed correspondence from club members Pamelia Perkins and Samantha Sterling. An avian "resident" of the club, Scooter the peacock, still resides in the vicinity—he's displayed at a Downtown Disney store called D Street.

There are also references to other members in the Jungle Cruise queue, and there’s a dish called “Kungaloosh!” at the new Skipper Canteen restaurant at the Magic Kingdom—although it's chocolate cake, not the fruity alcoholic drink with a cult following from the club.

There are even references at Aulani, Disney's Hawaiian resort; though designers are tight-lipped, it seems that the proprietors of "Aunty's Beach House" are related to one of the original members of the Adventurers Club.

13. THE CAST HAS REUNITED ON A FEW SPECIAL OCCASIONS.

In 2009, a private gathering for WDW Radio was held at the venue, with the cast performing. The event below was arranged courtesy of D23, the official Disney fan club, in November 2014 for a tribute to Pleasure Island:

14. THERE WERE MYSTERIOUS GLYPHS ON THE EXTERIOR THAT WERE NEVER INTERPRETED.

One article in the club newsletter recounted the fictional tale of how the real glyphs were discovered. As the story goes, a pre-Columbian statue was being placed by the front door of the club when the crane operator accidentally bumped the wall. Plaster fell away, revealing these mysterious glyphs. The article was accompanied by an “editor’s note” that said the club curator had determined that the glyphs represented jokes told by a Pharaoh who had citizens thrown from an obelisk if they didn’t laugh.

There really were glyphs painted on the building, and as Wade Sampson of MousePlanet notes, there’s usually a meaning behind things that appear to be random at Disney parks. However, no Imagineers have ever stepped forward to provide an interpretation.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER