An EPIC Look at the History Behind the Haunted Mansion

Concept artwork for the Haunted Mansion.

Concept artwork for the Haunted Mansion.

Long before the Haunted Mansion officially opened in Disneyland, there was much speculation as to what it was. Because construction took so long, there were endless rumors about the attraction. What was inside? Why had the attraction not opened in six years? One such rumor was that the attraction, much different from the attraction today, had opened and closed down soon after because it was so scary. People supposedly had heart attacks and one guest allegedly fell out of the attraction and into a snake pit. Another rumor said that the closed attraction was actually Walt’s home.

Originally intending it as a walkthrough attraction, Walt Disney asked Imagineer Ken Anderson to sketch the blueprints for the spooky addition to the park. In his sketches, Anderson included scenes from “Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia, the Lonesome Ghosts from the Mickey Mouse short and the Headless Horseman from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

When Walt took a trip to England, the reporters asked him what his plans where while in visiting the country. He replied by telling them that he was touring the old castles and mansions looking for ghosts who want to move to his facility in California.

 

The “Doom Buggy” adaptation of the Omnimover.

The “Doom Buggy” adaptation of the Omnimover.

As for choosing a ride vehicle for the attraction, Disney had some previous success with the “Omnimover,” which was developed by Imagineers Roger Broggie and Bert Brundage when Walt Disney Imagineering was known as WED Enterprises (fun fact: they changed their name from WED Enterprises to Walt Disney Imagineering because of the many requests that they received to plan weddings). The term, “Omnimover,” was originally coined by Imagineer Bob Gurr, as a combination of Omnirange and PeopleMover. This is the ride vehicles used in attractions such as Spaceship Earth, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Peter Pan’s Flight. The main reason for wanting to use this type of ride vehicle was that not only could they get a lot of people through, but also surprise them along the way by making use of the visual blockade that the vehicle in front offered the guest. They also found that mounting speakers inside the ride vehicle could intimidate the guest a little more, and thus the Doom Buggy was born.

When you ride through the Haunted Mansion attractions in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, you will notice that both attractions have two parts to them. The first offers a more eerie and spooky setting with creaking doors and the sounds of an organ playing. The second makes the guest feel more relaxed with a fun and friendly atmosphere, showing ghosts playing tricks on the guest and each other. This major shift between settings is due to the two Imagineers that were appointed to oversee the final design of the attraction, Claude Coats and Marc Davis. After working together on Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney wanted to use their talents to piece together his Haunted Mansion attraction. Coats wanted the more spooky feel that you can see in first part of the attraction and Davis thought it best to show the merry side of the Grim Grinning Ghosts. In the end, it formed for a great experience that lures the guest in with sinister intentions and allows them to leave, humming the attraction’s theme song as they go.

Imagineer Rolly Crump showcasing his illusions for “Museum of the Weird.”

Imagineer Rolly Crump showcasing his illusions for “Museum of the Weird.”

One part of the attraction that was planned but never built was the, “Museum of the Weird.” When Walt put Imagineers Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey in charge of creating the visual illusions for the attraction, they had an idea to have a separate section that you could walk through and discover all the amazing (at that time) illusions from around the world. Guests would have been able to see transparent ghosts and other eerie apparitions, by using the “Pepper’s Ghost” technique that was used in the Theatre since the early 1800’s. Crump and Gracey were eventually given an entire warehouse to house their developments and one evening forgot to switch off the mechanics before leaving to go home. The cleaning crew were met with surprise as Crump explained, “Once, we got a call from personnel saying that the janitors asked that we leave the lights on in there due to the creepiness of all the audio-animatronic ghosts and such. They complied, but put motion sensors in the room that would extinguish the lights and turn on all the ghost effects, when triggered. The next morning, they came in and found all the ghost effects still running and a broom lying in the center of the floor. Personnel called and said that the janitors would never be back.”

The ghostly figures were mistakenly constructed so that the women were shown leading the men when ballroom dancing.

The ghostly figures were mistakenly constructed so that the women were shown leading the men when ballroom dancing.

Eventually the idea for the, “Museum of the Weird,” was scrapped, but when the attraction was redesigned as a ride-through instead of a walkthrough, many of the illusions were kept to be shown to guests along the way. The “Peppers Ghost” illusion in particular proved very useful for a spooky ballroom scene where a birthday dinner, dancing and a creepy organist can be observed. A rather funny story that comes out of this scene is that when designing the Audio-Animatronics that were shown ballroom dancing, the Imagineers built them as anyone would have, with the men leading the women. However, when they were lit up and mirrored in the glass, it was shown as the opposite, with the women leading the men.

Also, in the ballroom scene we notice the organist playing a daunting waltz. The organ that he is playing actually came from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Disney often reuses different props in their theme parks. What other can you think of? Leave us a comment at the bottom of this post.

Throughout the attraction we can observe that a lot of the Grim Grinning Ghosts are drinking. This is due to the fact that it was very difficult for the animators to control the motion of the figures. If an Audio-Animatronic had to make sharp stops when moving a limb, the entire figure would shake around from the shock. The best way to cover this up was to make the AA’s move much more slowly and make it seem as though they were drinking. This allowed them to have a more fluent motion.

The Haunted Mansion eventually opened its doors on August 9, 1969 in the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland. Although they are different in their own unique way, the other Haunted Mansions in the Disney Theme Parks around the world all took their inspiration from the original. It seemed, to returning guests at least, that the wait for the Haunted Mansion to open was well worth it.

Artwork from the “Stretching Room” scene.

Artwork from the “Stretching Room” scene.

“Hurry back, hurry back. Be sure to bring your death certificate…” – Ghost Hostess.

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