Happy Halloween! When one thinks of Halloween and Trick or Treating, more than just pillow cases full of candy come to mind. There's always that one creepy house in the neighborhood. The abandoned one. The one everyone claims is haunted. Maybe one with 999 ghosts and room for one more? Join us as we explore the history of the most famous haunted house in America, Disney's Haunted Mansion! Kindly watch your step as you board, please, and heed this warning - the spirits will only appear if you remain quietly seated at all times. Oh yes, and no flash pictures. Now, as they say, look alive and we'll start our little tour. There's no turning back now...
Every neighborhood has one, the haunted house. Walt Disney understood this and he knew eventually his main street would have one as well. The original concept was developed when Disneyland was being conceptualized. Marvin Davis at WED Enterprises drew a layout with a crumbling house on a hill overlooking Main Street. This idea was further expanded with Harper Goff, who is credited with being the very first Imagineer. Goff drew a panoramic view that he named "Church, Graveyard and Haunted House." These ideas were scrapped when a residential area was dropped from the plan for something better, a series of lands to visit. Imagine a time when Disneyland didn't have the Haunted Mansion. Gasp! But that was the case when it opened in 1955.
The Haunted House idea was brought back in 1957 as Disney was looking for ways to expand his park. He put top animator Ken Anderson in charge of design. Anderson drew inspiration from the Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore as well as the Evergreen House there. Stanton Hall in Natchez, Mississippi also gave some inspiration. Anderson's creation looked much as one would expect, a dilapidated house that was dirty and old. Rather than putting the mansion on a hill in a residential area, the haunted house would be the centerpiece of a new land called New Orleans Square. This land was a way to embrace the influence of the south. Disney teased the idea with the BBC in London in 1958. He mentioned that he felt bad for all the ghosts that were probably displaced during World War II and announced that he was creating a retirement home for the world's homeless spirits at Disneyland.
The plan was presented to Disney who wasn't thrilled. Disneyland was a pristine park. He couldn't have a blighted plantation house in the middle of all of that. So the outside design was put aside as the team worked on the interior and it's not surprising that Anderson drew inspiration from a trip he made to the Winchester Mystery House. He also developed a good ghost story for the house that featured an old sea captain named Captain Gore who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. (We can't help but wonder if Captain Culpepper Clyne who is featured in the WDW Haunted Mansion queque is a tribute to this concept.) The mansion was his house and guests would be guided through it by either a maid or butler. The tour would start on a moving platform that would take them down to the basement. The maid or butler tour guide would then take the group of guests around and point out secret passages, inanimate objects that would move and changing portraits. Special effects and illusions would be used to pull off the haunting activity.
Guests started their tour in a picture gallery. The Captain had a bride named Priscilla and she would be in the next room. Guests would see her break into a treasure chest only to discover her husband was actually a notorious pirate named Black Bart. The tour guide would relate that Priscilla disappeared and it was believed that Captain Gore killed her. An ominous bubbling well would hint at her final resting place. Walt thought this was too much and Anderson came up with a second story about the Blood Family and their home Bloodmere Manor. This was an antebellum home moved from New Orleans and during its installation, a construction worker was accidentally walled up in the house. A third story was asked for and this one featured Walt Disney welcoming guests and then the tour guide known as the Lonesome Ghost would take over and share that a wedding celebration was underway until the bride, who could be seen at the end of a long hall, lost her head. Disney again shook his head as he thought that the tone wasn't right.
Anderson then drew inspiration from Disney's version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He decided that the tour would end in a graveyard with the Headless Horseman. He would appear riding through the bushes with only his cape visible above them. There would be lightning, the sound of hoof beats and the howl of a werewolf. A wedding party would start after the horseman arrived and guests featured Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and other boogeymen. Sounds pretty cool and everybody decided they would go forward with this. Now it was time to start designing all the scenes. And so WED started making mock-ups of various scenes. And Disney brought over two other artists from the studio, Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey.
Crump was a master of illusion and he loved to build mobiles he called kinetic sculptures. Gracey was a mechanical genius and master model builder. These two men would bring the magic to our favorite attraction. They were inspired by the illusions of nineteenth century magicians and things like spirit cabinets. The men would read ghost stories to each other and built model after model of special effects. Jason Surrell in his book "The Haunted Mansion, Imagineering a Disney Classic" shares a story Rolly told him, "Yale had all his ghosts and magic strewn throughout the room. Once, we got a call from Personnel, asking us to leave the lights on because the janitors didn't want to come in if it was dark. Well, we did, but we rigged the room. We put in an infrared beam, and when it was tripped, the room went to black light and all the ghost effects came on. When we came in the next morning, all the effects were running and there was a broom lying in the center of the floor. Personnel called and said, 'You'll have to clean up your own room because the janitors won't go in there anymore.'"
Gracey and Crump finally got a chance to stage a full mock-up scene to present to Disney and the Suits and it was a magnificent scene featuring the angry captain and his dead wife and ghosts that disappeared and water that dried up. The only problem was that the scene ran three minutes. Not only was this too long for the suits, but this meant the mansion would have to be a walk-through attraction. Disney was really disappointed. He didn't want to to be a walk-through. He wanted it to be a ride. And he didn't want a run down manor, which is what the plan was still embracing. The Haunted Mansion was stalled until 1961. There were attempts to get the Haunted House Project back off the ground, but it was tabled again as the team of Imagineers started working on the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.
After the World's Fair was done, the Haunted Mansion got back on track with Marc Davis joining the team. Davis' focus became creating various gags and scenes and characters. He is the one who came up with the official host to replace the Lonesome Ghost, our disembodied "Ghost Host." The team developed the Stretching Room, which was originally called the The Elongating Room, the Portrait Gallery with a menacing character that crawled out of a picture, the Seance room with a full-bodied medium known as Madame Z, a Ghost Club Room and a room where a bride and her fiance were murdered. Claude Coats joined the team with a focus on designing the interior environments for Davis' characters to live within. X Atencio joined the team as a scriptwriter. He had just finished writing the script for The Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He would write our beloved Grim Grinning Ghosts song.
In December of 1966, Walt Disney died and the creative leader for the mansion was gone. Marc Davis and Claude Coats were both placed in charge of the Mansion and creative differences cropped up as one thought the Mansion should be scary and the other thought it should be funny. And as we now know, the two camps collided. The first half of the Mansion has a spooky ambiance, while the second half is filled with whimsical characters. Although we know things have changed up a bit with the scary Hatbox Ghost making into the attic scene at Disneyland and the murderous bride Constance making it into the attic at WDW. Another conflict was whether this would be a walk-through or a ride-through attraction. The PeopleMover had a system called the Omnimover and this would be perfect for moving people through the Mansion quickly. These would become the Doombuggies we ride on through the attraction. This forced the Imagineers to change up some of their tricks and sight gags since people would be passing by very quickly.
After all the ideas were combined with Davis' characters and Coat's backgrounds, it was left to X to write the story and it comes across as three acts. Act One features the foyer where we see some paranormal things going on, but no ghosts. We meet up with Madame Leota in the Seance Room who let's us know that the spirits are going to materialize and in Act Two, they do during our swinging wake in the Dining Room and our visit to the attic. In Act Three, the Doombuggy falls out of the attic window and into the graveyard for a wild ghost party and we meet our three hitchhiking ghosts at the end with the greatest gag of all. The ghost joins the guests in their Doombuggies. As we know, this got even better as technology got better and the ghosts pull all kinds of gags on the riders. Paul Frees became the voice of the Ghost Host and joins riders through most of the ride. Not many people know that a raven was supposed to be the first guide, but turned out to be too small. There are various ravens spotted throughout the ride that are a tribute to that original idea.
The Haunted Mansion officially opened its doors to the public on August 9, 1969 and with this came a record-breaking day for Disneyland. They broke their single-day attendance record with 82,516 people entering the park. Building on the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World had already begun and it was decided that the Haunted Mansion would be a part of this park as well, so two of everything was made when the Haunted Mansion was being constructed. The house for this one would have to be different because rather than having a New Orleans Square, the Magic Kingdom would have Liberty Square set up like colonial America. This mansion would be designed as a Dutch Gothic manor house. This mansion looks scarier than the one at Disneyland and that was on purpose. The ride was ready to go by April 1971, before the Magic Kingdom even opened, which wouldn't happen for six more months.
Tokyo Disneyland also was developed with a Haunted Mansion. This one was placed in Fantasyland to build a bridge to Westernland and is the same Dutch Gothic design as the one in the Magic Kingdom. Everything inside is the same as well. This opened on April 15, 1983. Disneyland Paris would host their Haunted Mansion in Frontierland and the name would change to Phantom Manor. The design was as a Victorian manor that was dilapidated and is the most sinister looking of the Haunted Mansions. A ghostly version of Thunder Mesa, which is the town found in Frontierland, replaces the Graveyard scene. Vincent Price's trademark laugh from Thriller plays throughout the mansion and he voiced the ghost host for this one until the park decided they wanted a French version of the narration. This attraction opened on April 12, 1992.
Hong Kong Disneyland would have a version of the Haunted Mansion as well, this one is named Mystic Manor and has a really cool design. It was inspired by the Carson Mansion in Eureka, California. There is a Russian onion dome, Gothic arches and Cambodian temple features. Lord Henry Mystic would build this mansion and it holds his collection of artifacts he collected while exploring the world. Guests board his Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriage cars for a tour, which are not on a track like the Doombuggies and follow a path embedded in the floor. Mystic's monkey sidekick Albert leads guests through a wild ride through the mansion when a haunted artifact causes crazy stuff to happen. Mystic Manor features an Egyptian room, a Nordic room and a tribal arts room and music orchestrated by Danny Elfman fills the haunted house. This mansion opened on May 17, 2013.
So what is your favorite part of the Haunted Mansion? When was the first time you climbed aboard a Doombuggy? Did anything scare you in the mansion? What is your opinion on the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland?
Some other little known facts about the Haunted Mansion. Pet cemeteries are a part of all the mansions and got their start at Disneyland in an enclosed garden at the side of the mansion. This was created in the early 1980s by Kim Irvine, who was a senior concept designer in Imagineering. She also was the daughter of Leota Toombs who was the model for Madame Leota. Irvine had bought a bunch of statuary from local nurseries and had a writer create humorous epitaphs for them. Stay in the Stretching Room as long as possible and you will hear the gargoyles whispering to each other and you. In Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, the floor of the Stretching Room actually does go down taking guests fifteen feet underground. At WDW, the Stretching Room's ceiling goes up, while the guests remain on the same level in which they entered. The candelabra in the Endless Hallway is painted completely black on the back to keep it from reflecting in the mirror that is at the end of the hallway. There is a thin black scrim across the hallway to obscure any reflection as well and to give the hallway a misty look. The chair that is here has a face purposefully sewn into the design. In the mid-1980s, cast members wandered inside the mansion at Disneyland and popped out at various times, but this proved to be too scary and also dangerous for the cast members.
The spell book in the Seance Room has a picture of the Hatbox Ghost dressed a scythe-wielding death figure on one page and the spell Peter Ustinov uses to call forth Blackbeard's Ghost in the 1967 film is on the other page. One of the pistol-wielding duelists in the Dining Room has a familiar face. He is the Auctioneer from Pirates of the Caribbean. The name of the ghost swinging from the top of the chandelier is named Pickwick. The organ is from the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the SEa. People may recall that Captain Nemo played this pipe organ. Constance's husbands were Frank, Reginald, Ambrose, The Marquis and George. The Hatbox Ghost was always supposed to be part of the Attic scene. Marc Davis designed him and he was actually installed right across from the bride. But the illusion that was part of him never worked and he was removed before opening day. He would return to the attic in 2015 with technology that wasn't around until recently and it makes his illusion work perfectly. There is a tribute to him in the WDW Mansion in the form of a hat rack. And if the hatbox ghost's face looks familiar its because he and Ezra share a mold. The ghost that tells you to hurry back at the end of the ride is called Little Leota because Leota Toombs is also the model for this one.