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I’m sure many of you have been to a newly remodeled McDonald’s. Possibly one with a McCafe.
But have you ever looked up why they started remodeling the restaurants in the first place?
The first McCafe in the states popped up in Chicago back in May of 2001. That was just the beginning.
Now over the last five years, McDonald’s has taken to remodeling every single restaurant in America. Most of you might even be asking yourself how long it’s been since you last stepped foot in an old McDonald’s.
Ask anyone who’s done some market research and you’ll hear something strange. McDonald’s loses money on the process. It’s a fact. The new furniture isn’t pulling new customers and the McCafe’s can’t sell coffee that cheap and turn a profit. Look at Starbucks prices and you’ll see what I mean.
Stakeholders say they wanted a more adult vibe for the restaurant. “A classier look for a classier America.”
Wrong answer. Google it right now: what’s McDonald’s target age group? It’s children and teens. It always has been.
So then why did they start all these remodels? Why would one of the largest corporations in America spend over 1 billion on a terrible marketing strategy?
That’s where things get interesting.
Let’s start with the play places.
If you can remember, almost no two play places at McDonald’s were identical. Some of them were really fun. I know I had a few favorites.
Well some of them were also really dangerous. The first gem I could find was a carousel play place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania back in the 1980’s that got shut down mere months after opening. Little information was given about why they closed. The lot has been vacant ever since.
If you find the right connections in Lancaster though, you just might be able to read an article that didn’t make it to print.
Children would play on the merry-go-round in ways they weren’t supposed to, you see. They’re kids, so of course they would. Well one day a few kids managed to crawl underneath the thing but then they never made it back out.
The whole incident was so heavily guarded by McDonald’s PR, you’d be troubled to find a single person that was even there that whole afternoon. The only witness anyone could find had this to say:
“When they went under, a few parents started calling for help. Then something happened to the lights. The carousel kept getting brighter and the music was deafening. I ran out of the building when the machine started to smoke, but I looked back through the window to see if the kids were alright and [the employees] were just standing there behind the registers! They looked like they were still waiting for customers!”
Weirder and weirder stories pick up from there through the years. Reports of children sinking into ball pits that should only be a foot deep. Mothers searching play tubes for their kids, only to find a lonely pair of shoes.
But the play places held a mere fraction of the incidents.
Back in 1996 in Knoxville, Tennessee there was a business man of his 40’s who went into a McDonald’s restroom and remained there for seven hours. Patrons noted that he refused to leave the furthest back stall.
The police were finally called and they managed to break down the door. He was restrained by paramedics as he wouldn’t willingly leave the restroom.
As they pulled him out of the stall he began screaming bloody murder “take me back! I want to go back!” but the moment he exited the restaurant he passed out. He had no memory of ever going to a McDonald’s the day of the incident.
The restaurant was shut down before anyone could inspect the stall he had shut himself in. However, anyone who used the restroom that day mentioned hearing several voices whispering things like:
“It wasn’t him.”
“We have to go back”
“Saw you smile.”
Then there was a fry cook somewhere in Vermont back in ‘99 who walked into the middle of the restaurant and dumped scalding oil on himself without flinching or saying a word. Several of the customers started to laugh and roll around in the burning oil alongside him and all were rushed to the hospital. Only one survived but refuses to make a statement. Not that she easily could. Her throat melted all the way through and had to be completely restructured.
The manager claimed he didn’t remember ever hiring the fry cook and that he wasn’t in any official paperwork. “His name tag didn’t even have a name, just #### written on it.” Once again, the McDonald’s was closed without a trace.
Most of the stories sounded like urban legends to me but it never failed. Wherever I found a story, a McDonald’s had been shut down in its wake.
Near the late 2000’s the number of cover ups had become so frequent that McDonald’s decided to shut all of them down and rebuild. Every. Single. One.
But of course they’d miss a few.
I needed to see one for myself. I remember going in the old McDonald’s as a kid but that was before the frequency of the incidents. That was when it was still safe.
There was a small town on the way to my parents’ house just off the highway. Oroska was its name. Maybe a hundred residents. Completely untouched by the outside world, practically forgotten. It was pointless to stop there for any normal reason because there wasn’t a gas station or rest stop. Not even a sign to let you know you were close.
Let’s just say I had to sneak my way around some very old building permits to discover that they had one of the few McDonald’s (aside from some treasured landmarks) that has yet to go through a remodel since the 1970’s. How lucky is that? I was surprised they even had a fast food place, yet they didn’t have a market or post office.
I planned a trip to my parents’ place for the weekend, with a stop at Oroska on the way. It was already dark out since it was the dead of winter and I didn’t get off work ‘till 5. I was cold and grumpy about driving at night, but mostly determined.
I don’t think I would’ve ever found the place before phone GPS, the turn off from the highway was just a dirt road with no landmarks or anything. As I pulled into town not a single one of the few scattered houses had lights on. Most of the street lights were out as well, as though nobody had remembered to change the bulbs in years. This place really was untouched. I’d be surprised if most (if not all) of the residents hadn’t moved out or simply died off. It definitely had the makings of a ghost town anyway.
I was about to lose hope when I finally saw it. The nauseous yellow light of those golden arches barely illuminating a vacant parking lot in the distance. It buzzed and flickered like a fly zapper running out of batteries. The sign below said “eat new eggs mc-uffin. We like to saw you smile.” Which I assumed was just a lazy teen’s handy-work. I pulled into the lot and carelessly parked my car in the center (there was nobody else there anyway).
When I stepped out of my car, I felt a squish under my foot. There was a burger covered in mold with a rancid liquid oozing out. The smell was absolutely vomit worthy. I jumped out to scrape the contents of the burger from my shoe when I noticed the whole parking lot was covered in trash. There were half eaten boxes of fries and sun baked childrens’ toys spilling out of old greased up McDonald’s bags. Everything was camouflaged by a layer of dirt and snow like it had been here for months, possibly years.
I hurried across the lot to avoid retching all over the asphalt. As I approached the door I noticed the windows were caked in dust. Somebody had taped a piece of paper to the door with the word “CLOSED” scribbled across it in red marker, yet the sign hung from the inside clearly said open and all the lights were on. Cautiously I approached the door and pushed.
An artificial bell hummed an old McDonald’s tune that fizzled out on the last few notes as the door creaked open. I looked around the fluorescent lit room and saw it was void of life. There was nobody sitting at any of the tables and nobody attending the registers. Somebody had left a tray on one of the tables in the back but there was no other sign someone had been here.
The inside was at least a little cleaner. The toys on display by the counter were of characters I’d never heard of, likely from before my time. The whole place was covered in faded coats of yellow and red paint and all the tables had that classic McDonald’s wood finish. The wood looked completely rotten, but slathered in coats of polish as a sad attempt to keep it looking new. All of it had a sort of green hue which I contributed to the old lights. The most noticeable element, though, was a terrible burning plastic smell that stung my nose.
I went up to the register. If anyone was even here, I felt like I shouldn’t order anything but I was hoping maybe I could ask someone a few questions.
I waited for a good 15 minutes in silence. I shouted hello with only a muted echo for a response. I had been to a few McDonald’s with bad service in the past but this was insane. With how dirty the whole place was I should’ve expected as much.
Just as I was about to turn around and give up, the cash register popped open. It was practically begging me to take a tip for myself. Besides, didn’t I deserve a slight reward for wasting my time here? I casually walked over to it and saw at least a dozen 20’s stacked high.
Looking around to make sure nobody was watching, I reached in to take a few bills when the thing suddenly snapped closed right on my fingers. The metal dug deep into my flesh leaving a dark trail of blood down the side of the counter. I yelped in pain.
Behind the counter at the other end of the grill was a first aid kit hanging on the wall. The lights were burned out in the kitchen area but I needed a bandage, pronto. I hopped over the table and made my way to the back. The burning smell was getting stronger as I walked. I noticed the grill was covered in a thick layer of grease, completely unsuitable for cooking. I passed by the frying station and the oil was filled to the top with maggots.
I quickened my walk to the first aid hoping to get patched up and out of there as soon as possible. I was starting to realize that this restaurant definitely wasn’t open for business anymore and I probably shouldn’t have entered it in the first place. I opened up the first aid kit and had to swallow some vomit.
A cloud of mold burst out from it in every direction followed by the same bubbling black ooze that was on the burger outside. I started coughing and waving my hands in the air to clear the mold dust floating around.
The same bell I heard playing that McDonald’s tune started up again as I steadied myself. I assumed it was broken like the rest of this dump. I looked back toward the counter and noticed everything seemed farther away. I must have been disoriented from losing blood and that awful smell. I looked down at my hand to see how bad the wound was and my eyes widened. There was no wound on my hand at all.
I rushed back towards the counter in a panic when something under the stove caught my foot and I fell. In the darkness my eyes started to adjust and I saw the outline of a body. Somebody was under there. Maybe they were unconscious and needed help! I yanked at the person’s arm and a half decayed body slid out across the floor.
They were wearing a McDonalds’ employee shirt with a nametag that read ####. Their mouth was contorted into a sickening grin but their eyes were screaming. I tried to shout but no sound came out like when trying to wake up from a nightmare. As I scrambled to get back up to the counter, the lights had started to dim and the McDonald’s tune was getting louder, the notes fizzling and distorting as they played.
Once I had gotten my grip above the counter, I froze.
Since entering, I never looked at the side of the restaurant opposite the counter. There was a play place.
The glass separating the main restaurant from the play area had hundreds of bloody handprints smearing down toward the floor. The tube slide was caved in with chunks of red liquid spurting out from the tiny hole left at the bottom. There was a row of nooses tied to the monkey bars in the corner with employees wearing the same #### nametags hanging from them. The tables around the perimeter had skeletons with rotting food left on trays, some of the food hanging from the skulls mouthes. I looked on in horror, too shocked to move.
While the rest of the restaurant went dark, a bulb in the center of the play place continued to glow like a carnival spotlight. Below it was a massive ball pit, barely able to contain all of its colored plastic balls. It was smoking under the blaring white light, making that awful burning plastic smell.
The balls began to rattle and fall off the edge when something inside started shuffling around. I wanted to run so badly but my body refused. Then suddenly the music went dead and the movement stopped.
A yellow glove slowly crept upward from the pit below, writhing its fingers as it went. A connected red and white sleeve came after it, slowly alternating colors as they appeared from underneath. The arm continued to reach toward the sky, growing more and more, while its joints popped and cracked like breaking branches. By the end that arm had to be at least six feet long.
It finally reached for the lit bulb on the ceiling with its gangly gloved fingers and began to twist it loose.
I broke into a sprint, jumping over the counter and toppling chairs as I went. That last light went out just as I got to the exit. I bashed through the door, breaking the glass in the process. As I rolled into the parking lot I heard a distant scream, and then something whispered right next to my ear in dead silence. It had the same tinny distortion as the McDonald’s tune
“Come back. I want to see you smile.”
I haven’t told anyone about what happened there that night. There was an article online saying Oroska burned to the ground a few days later. I don’t know if it was a cover up or something else, but I’m never going back to find out.
I didn’t share this because I want you to get involved, by the way. I shared it to warn you what happens when you do.
You can go to a new McDonald’s, keep getting your Big Macs, get your McCafe coffee, that’s fine. They did something to the remodels to make them safe, at least for now.
But don’t ever go into an old McDonald’s. Not even the drive thru.