No other attraction at Disney parks garners as much fan speculation and backstory as The Haunted Mansion. Beginning as an “old house on a hill” at Disneyland, the experience, and all that comes with it, has generated not only success but numerous fun fan theories. Visually unmatched, combining old parlor tricks and advanced technology with a dark storyline, the Haunted Mansion has been delighting guests for many years and shows no signs of slowing down.
The Haunted Mansion is a celebration of ghastly fun and a commemoration of the macabre. An institution derived from Walt Disney himself, the Haunted Mansion serves as both a fun and frightening attraction for any foolish mortal who dares enters, and this was done purposefully. The initial debate during planning was a struggle between funny and scary, with both sides eventually winning out…and it worked! But how did it come to be, what are its origins? How has the Haunted Mansion withstood the test of time? Well, take a seat and ensure there is room for everyone…..your Doom Buggy has arrived!
New Orleans Square
Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion did not open with the park. In fact, it was a long 14 years before the Haunted Mansion would be open to guests. The attraction, now based in New Orleans Square, originally didn’t have a home as there was no New Orleans Square in existence. It wasn’t until 1966 that New Orleans Square came to be. But the Haunted Mansion, although promoted for years, wasn’t open yet. There was inner turmoil regarding the corporeality of the ride and what it should entail. Although Walt himself had deemed the need for a haunted house in the parks, it sadly didn’t come to fruition until after his passing in December of 1966.
Assigned to the HM project in 1957 by Walt, Ken Anderson, a Disney Legend, was able to finalize blueprints for the attraction. Anderson himself had worked for Walt Disney studios for many years prior to his appointment. As an architecturally minded artist, he was thrown into the world of animation with little experience. As his original employment began in the 1930s, Anderson was well tuned, molded, adapt, and suited for the responsibility of taking on the Mansion. He developed blueprints based strongly off of an antebellum mansion which helped to give the ride its eerie feel. The façade of the original ride, although meant to convey the Southern charm of Louisiana, was based on the Evergreen House which can be found today in Baltimore, North Carolina.
As the attraction, although built in 1963, sat not in use, Anderson and other project leads visited the World’s Fair. This gave the Imagineers a focal point for new technology and possibilities for the attraction plans.
Last name sound familiar? It should! Gracy was another Disney employee who was responsible for much of the technology seen today on the attraction. Although Marc Davis is credited with the creation of the hatbox ghost, Gracy was responsible for making him “see through.” Gracy was thus responsible for one of the ghoulest additions to the mansion…one that has struck up a wave of merchandise and fan fair. Of course, Gracy was immortalized in WDW’s version of the ride as “Master Gracy,” one of the poor souls forever trapped within the walls of the Haunted Mansion.
Gracy, Anderson, and Davis are also responsible for some of the ride’s most popular aspects such as the use of an old optical trick called Pepper’s Ghost. This illusion can be seen in the dining room scene as apparitions dance carelessly in circles. These tricks and visual effects were a large contributor to the ride’s initial success on the opening day in Disneyland.
The Haunted Mansion officially opened at Disneyland on August 9, 1969 (just in time for the Halloween season). The ride was a complete success. The success of the ride immediately led to the decision to open a similar (yet different) attraction in Walt Disney World. The sister of the original mansion opened on October 1, 1971. The ride and its advances in technology easily impressed guests and became a fan favorite at both parks. The popularity of the attraction eventually led to an addition of the attraction in every Disney Park across the globe.
As with a few other rides at Disney Parks, the Haunted Mansion got its own feature film in 2003. Including some of the rides most memorable characters such as the Traveling Ghosts, Madame Leota, and the singing busts…the movie (starring Eddie Murphy) was a success and only added to the allure as it brought the familiar storyline of the attraction to life.
In addition to films, the Mansion and its surroundings serve as a wonderful reminder of Disney’s past. In the queue, there are several instances of honored Imagineer’s names engraved no tombstones. One notable mention is Leota Toombs, a designer, and costumer who worked for Disney and eventually voiced our beloved Madame Leota.
There are also fun fan theories regarding the storyline. This is true for one instance in Walt Disney World’s version of the ride. In the queue and hidden away, just showing through the pavement, is a ring believed to belong to the bride in the Haunted Mansion. Of course, this wasn’t initially intended by Disney. It was a cutaway pipe that created a ring, however, they went along with the theory and it adds a wonderful easter egg to the line while waiting.
As mentioned previously, much like Pirates of the Caribbean or It’s a Small World, the Haunted Mansion has an illustrious history. One could easily fill a book with all of the tidbits of information surrounding the operation and development of the attraction. This is one of the factors that makes the ride such a “must do” for so many, myself included! Although this small insert doesn’t really do the history of the attraction justice, we hope that you learned something new! So until next time Foolish Mortals….beware!
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