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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Haunted Mansion: Past, Present, Burton and Future

The Haunted Mansion opened in Disneyland on August 9th, 1969, fourteen years after the opening of the Park itself.  While Walt supervised the attraction through various incarnations, he never saw it opened to the public as he died December 15th, 1966.

As a child, before I made my first trip to Disneyland at eight years old, I heard stories of the Haunted Mansion.  The kids on the playground would talk about the things they heard.  Of course these were things gleaned from reliable sources like someone's cousin's brother and being kids we KNEW they were true.  We heard the Haunted Mansion glowed green in the dark.  That it was so scary a man had a heart attack on the ride and died.  We heard that Walt Disney was one of the ghosts in the graveyard, the one pedestal statue that was broken and there was a detailed story line about Master Gracey and his bride.

Well, one of the things you learn when you grow up is not to believe everything you hear.

Due to all the stories of dead people and glowing houses I was too damned scared to go inside the Haunted Mansion when I was eight.  That had to wait for my next trip a few years later.  Even on that later trip, I was TERRIFIED of the bride in the attic.  She creeped me out even as a teen and I didn't want to look at her.

I also learned that:
- the Mansion never has glowed in the dark, green or any other color.  This fable may have originated from an album that we had:

The album not only depicts the Mansion as having a green cast to it but has the story of Master Gracey (which we will talk about later).

- no one died in the Mansion of a heart attack from fright
- the broken bust in the graveyard is Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of many Disney attractions and the voice of Tony the Tiger.  He died in 2005 at the age of 91 so in a way that is his ghost singing to you.
- there was NEVER a specific story line fleshed out for the ride when it was developed.  Yale Gracey was one of the two Imagineers that worked on the ghost effects for the mansion and the ensuing story appears to be an homage to him.  A myriad of stories have sprung up in the ensuing years around the mansion as far as story lines go, including one with a sea captain and the brief book (a dozen pages) that were included with the above record album.  In the words of animator Marc Davis "We really don't have a story, with a beginning, an end, or a plot. It's more a series of experiences building up to a climax. I call them experience rides."

As the years moved on, the Haunted Mansion has captured a special place in my heart.  I love the ride with all of its details.  The decor, the sounds, the cast member costumes, the WALL PAPER!!  Gods I would love a house like that especially with that wallpaper.

After being so comfortable with the original antebellum Mansion in my home park:

I made a trip to Walt Disney World (the World) in 1998 and had my view of the Mansion challenged by the Florida version in the Magic Kingdom.  There is no New Orleans Square.  They have Liberty Square and that is where you will find their Mansion.  It is styled after the Dutch/colonial houses of the upper New York area.  To me, while pretty, it isn't as creepy.  Judge for yourself:

Aside from small differences inside the ride (you are actually inside the Doombuggies when you travel down the entrance halls with the changing portraits) and the expansion of a few scenes.  It is basically the same ride.

One change is the cemetery.  Just like Disneyland it is on the outside before you enter the building.  While both have humorous stones and both (such a sad addition) have tombstones of Marc Davis, beloved animator and one of the original "Nine Old Men".  He animated such characters as Alice, Cinderella, Aurora and Maleficent.

What this cemetery does have is an animated Madame Leota tombstone.

If you watch, her eyes will open, then close again and they are yellow!  It is kinda creepy.  This is why it always pays to pay attention to the Disney detail.

Another part of the Florida Haunted Mansion lore was "The Infamous Ring".  Many stories sprung up about a wedding ring hurled from the mansion by Gracey when he caught his wife with another man or the Bride hurling her ring out of the window before killing herself, the list goes on and on.  Guests hear through the grapevine that the ring is embedded in the cement at the exit of the ride and HERE IT IS!!!  

Actually it isn't a ring.  What guests have been looking for, talking about and holding up exiting guests with their hunting and picture taking is... a stanchion.  A small pole if you will that was sawed off and left what looked like a ring.  Guests have tried to dig it out (to no avail).  Disney finally got sick and tired of explaining this was NOT a ring, the story was BS, it was a pole, having people block the exit with their HUGE ... cameras so a few years ago... they poured cement over it.  There ya go, no more ring.

The other difference between the two parks is the level of guest interaction.  In California we tend to have more creative, play along audiences.  Also a great many locals who are involved in the entertainment industry and have Annual Passes.  It is a tradition with TONS of people to recite the Ghost Hosts lines when you are in the stretching room elevator and when the lightening strikes and the hanging body is reveled to scream like mad in the dark!  It's fun!  We LOVE it!

Guess what?  The Florida people are NOT amused.  They like their ride, staid, traditional and no screaming please.  They get really pissy if you do it.  I think they are thinking "Look at those California wackos with their sense of Park entitlement, trying to spoil all our fun with their screaming."  Florida people, honestly we are not trying to piss in your Cheerios.  This is how we role in Cali and if you come to Disneyland, you will see what I mean.  About the park entitlement, that is true.  Our park is better, Walt walked there, be jealous and deal.

Another thing to be jealous about is Christmas in Disneyland at the Haunted Mansion.  Each year since October 3, 2001, the mansion gets a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.  Florida doesn't get this.  Sorry.  If you don't want to go to LA, you can go to Tokyo.  They are the only two parks that have this holiday change over.

Now I will say right up front I HATE The Nightmare Before Christmas movie.  So many of my friends like it and I have tried.  I watch it, try to get through it, try to like it and... I don't.  It is creepy, disturbing and I wouldn't let little kids watch this on a bet.  Tim Burton is pretty predictable in his style and that style has many disturbing elements.  I could go on and on but this isn't about his weird ass movie.  That being said, I LOVE the re-do of the Mansion.  It brings all the best parts of the movie to the fore without the disturbing bits.  The characters are more fun and "lovable".  

In March I will get to see the Classic Mansion for the first time in years.  Why?  The overlay is active from September through January and as a result I have not seen the Disneyland mansion in its regular guise for over 5 years, maybe longer.  I tend to visit the park around my birthday (which is in October) so the only "classic mansion" I've been able to see is at WDW.  The irony.

I have heard that in my absence of Classic Mansion, some changes have been made.  They have re-tooled the attic scene and the Bride that use to scare the pants off of me.  They have re-imagined her as a black widow, marrying rich men and then killing them for their dough.  I can't wait to see it.  What so many of us appreciate about all the attractions that Disney makes is their ability (for good or bad) to re-invision them, keep them new, fresh, relevant and timeless as well.

You know, once you have gone to your "Great Reward" after this life, it might not be so bad to hang out at the Haunted Mansion.  As the Ghost Host says "There's always room for one more."


  1. Great post! I agree, I don't like the look of the mansion in Disney World either. You'll love what the did to the Brides Room, it's very cool. :)

  2. Ok ... the next time you're down here we are officially kidnapping you and taking you to New Orleans Square to experience the "classic" Mansion again. (Yes, they have changed the attic and modified the "bride" ...she's no longer that shadowy figure with the pulsing heart looming at the exit)

  3. "Our park is better, Walt walked there, be jealous and deal." What? Cali: 2 parks, Orlando: 4 parks. What more need be said? (PS: I will admit that Pirates is a lot better at DL, and you still have Mr. Toad too - not that Pooh is bad.)