- This article is about the Disneyland version of the ride. For the Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland version, see The Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland).
|Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion|
The theme of the attraction is a visit to a haunted house in which the ghostly residents have taken full possession of the premises. The attraction inspired the 2003 movie of the same name, starring Eddie Murphy.
As the opening spiel says: We have nine hundred and ninety-nine happy haunts here, but there's room for a thousand. Any volunteers?
Originally conceived in the mid-1950's by Walt Disney as a walk-through ghost house, artist Harper Goff was tapped to conceptually design the attraction. The house originally had a rural American design and was intended to be at the end of a crooked path that led away from Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A. area. Eventually, the decision was made to place it in the New Orleans Square section of the park and thus the mansion's exterior was themed as an antebellum house.
The Haunted Mansion went through many concept changes before its facade was completed in 1963, six years before it would open to the public, delayed by Disney's involvement in the 1964 New York World's Fair. At one point, the attraction was conceived as a walk-through that would empty out into an exhibit called "The Museum of the Weird." Conceptual drawings were done for this concept, but the Museum of the Weird would be left on the drawing board due to the walk-through idea being shot down in favor of making the attraction a ride-through.
In what might be considered to be an odd twist to a supposedly abandoned structure, the exterior appears pristine and the surrounding grounds are meticulously maintained. Designers wanted to make the exterior of The Haunted Mansion look like a stereotypical run-down and decrepit haunted house, but Walt himself overrode the idea, claiming "we'll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside."
Guests wait in line outside the mansion, passing a pet cemetery, and are led into a spooky parlor by Cast Members dressed as maids and butlers. The mansion is based on the "Shipley-Lydecker" house in Baltimore, Maryland (as shown above, in black and white) and sits pushed to the back of a very well-kept lot.
The foyer is where the guests begin their tour of the mansion. Flickering candles light the room from sconces and the sole chandelier, while an organ plays a single-note melodic line which serves as the theme for the rest of the ride. A mirror is at the entrance. After enough guests have gathered in the foyer, the "Ghost Host" introduces himself and welcomes everyone to the Haunted Mansion.
The Stretching Room
From there, the guests are brought into an octagonal room, where the door by which they entered becomes a wall and the chilling voice of the Ghost Host taunts them:
- Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as though you sense a disquieting metamorphosis. Is this haunted room actually stretching? Or is it your imagination, hmm? And consider this dismaying observation: this chamber has no windows and no doors. Which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out! [laughter] Of course, there's always my way.
As the voice speaks, the walls quietly seem to stretch upwards, elongating the paintings on them to reveal the fates of previous guests. (For instance, one man - noted in an early script as "Alexander Nitrokoff" - is seen to be standing on a keg of dynamite.) The lights go out, lightning and thunder effects fill the gallery and, in a rare instance of Disneyland "dark humor," a glimpse of the earthly remains of the "Ghost Host" are shown dangling by a noose from the ceiling rafters above - his "way out".
At the attraction in Disneyland, the room is, in fact, an elevator with no roof that is being lowered slowly to give the illusion that the room itself is stretching; this brings the guests down to where the ride begins, below ground level. The ceiling above is a piece of fabric called a scrim, which conceals the hanging body until it is lit from above. This elevator effect was necessary to lower the guests below the level of the park-circling Disneyland Railroad.
The actual ride building of this attraction is located outside the berm surrounding the park and the Imagineers developed this mechanism to lower the guests down to the hallway leading to the actual ride building. It is interesting to note that although it is not necessary to lower the guests at the other theme parks, this effect of the stretching room is still used at the other instances of this attraction at the other Disney theme parks, not as an elevator like at Disneyland, but by raising the roof of the room.
When the walls finally do open, guests are ushered into a hallway lined with paintings that change from normal to "spooky" every few seconds. A simulated thunderstorm rages outside while the grim busts of a man and woman placed at the end of the hall seem to turn their heads in relationship to the viewer's perspective. The effect, patented by Disney, was achieved by creating a negative image using a mold. This effect was discovered when the eyes in a mask created for the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction appeared to follow the observers. Lighting effects give the illusion of a positive image.
The Load Area
The next part of the attraction consists of a continuous track of "Doom Buggies" in which the guests sit as they are taken through the mansion. The "Doom Buggies" are actually Disney's Omnimover system which "pans" the riders to focus their attention on specific scenes much like one would pan a motion picture camera.
The Endless Hallway and the Corridor of Doors
From here, the guests travel up a staircase and begin the guided tour of the house. They pass an endless hallway and a conservatory containing a coffin whose occupant is trying to get out. They then travel down a corridor of doors. Finally, the guests' attention is directed towards a large grandfather clock which is striking thirteen as an eerie shadowy hand passes by.
The Seance Circle
After the corridor of doors, guests move into a seance circle, hosted by Madame Leota - a disembodied head inside of a crystal ball. After this encounter, it seems that the happy haunts "have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to materialize." From here, the Doom Buggies move up another flight of stairs and up to a balcony overlooking the ballroom.
In the ballroom, the Doom Buggies pass a ballroom where ghosts dance in mid-air through the use of "Pepper's Ghost" (an effect from the Victorian era which makes figures appear ghostly). Also taking place in the ballroom is a birthday party and with each effort of the birthday girl to blow out the candles, the rest of the figures sitting at the table disappear and reappear. There are also two ghostly gunmen coming out of their portraits to fire their guns at each other.
An important part of Disney history is located in this scene. The pipe organ on the far left of the scene is the original prop from the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Prior to the construction of the Haunted Mansion, the organ had been on display in an attraction in the Tomorrowland area of the park. A ghostly organist plays the organ.
Guests enter the attic, where they are shown wedding portraits of Constance Hatchaway--a bride with a terrible habit of decapitating her husbands.
This May 3, 2006 change to the attic scene is quite possibly the most ambitious to date. The previous versions of the scene were lit with black lights and fluorescent paint. Ghouls and shrunken heads on vertical lines attached to the floor and ceiling would occasionally pop out from inside their boxes with help from blasts of compressed air. A faceless ghostly bride with glowing blue eyes and red pulsing heart rocked slowly back and forth near the exit to the graveyard scene.
The changes include some groundbreaking optical effects and a considerably darker storyline. In the new scene, wedding gifts are neatly stacked throughout the attic along with five corresponding wedding portraits. The bride, whose name is Constance (with her body played by Julia Lee and voiced by Kat Cressida), is the same in each portrait, with the husband being different each time. In each portrait, the head of each husband slowly disappears and reappears as the bride admits to doing each of them in. The new bride, now appearing to the left of the scene's exit, utilizes sophisticated digital video projection inside a mannequin in a manner similar to Madame Leota to present the bride and her confessions. A hatchet appears and disappears in her hands throughout her monologue.
Just before they exit the attic, the guests come face to face with the Hatbox Ghost, whose head disappears from his body and re-appears in the hatbox that he's holding in his hand, which is achieved through a lighting effect.
From here, the guests descend down to a graveyard full of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" who have come out to "socialize." Guests pass a frightened caretaker and his dog, then enter the graveyard proper. A band of musicians is playing, a quintet is singing and many other spooks are enjoying the "swinging wake." A skeletal wolf can be seen in the background, howling into the sky.
From here, the guests enter the crypt and are issued this warning: "Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts." Guests learn that they have been selected to fill the quota of 1000 happy haunts and that they will be haunted until they return - the safety bar will be raised and a ghost will follow them home! Guests pass a group of mirrors where a ghost seems to sit right in the Doom Buggy. Afterwards, the Buggies arrive at the unload area.
After the guests exit out of the Doom Buggies, they pass through the remainder of the crypt and see the "Ghost Hostess" (unofficially dubbed by WED as "Little Leota"), who taunts the guests and reminds them to bring their "death certificates" the next time they come. She also tells them to hurry back.
Effects and Music
The special effects used in the attraction were groundbreaking for the time.
Though the setting is spooky, the mood is kept light by the upbeat 'Grim Grinning Ghosts' music which plays throughout the ride. The music was composed by Buddy Baker and the lyrics written by X Atencio. The deep voice of Thurl Ravenscroft sings as part of a quartet of singing busts in the graveyard scene. Ravenscroft's face is used as well as it is projected onto one of the busts, specifically one with a detached head. Spooky sound effects such as a coyote and wolf howl can be heard.
The other incarnations of the ride are very similar, but have their differences. The Haunted Mansion is the only ride to appear in each of the Disney theme parks in a different location in the park. The Magic Kingdom's version of the ride is located in Liberty Square and has a New England facade, likely because the intention there was to base the attraction around the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.
Tokyo Disneyland placed the Mansion in Fantasyland. The version at Disneyland Paris is in Frontierland and is named The Phantom Manor and features different music (although it still contains the Grim Grinning Ghosts theme), an Old West theme, and a more cohesive storyline than the other three Mansions (an opening narration by Vincent Price was recorded but not used, and is available on the Haunted Mansion soundtrack). The versions in Florida and Tokyo still have a stretching octagonal room to greet their guests, though in these three the ceiling actually raises instead of the floor moving; there was no need to use an elevator in those Mansions.
Haunted Mansion Holiday
- Main article: Haunted Mansion Holiday
Beginning in 2001, the Disneyland attraction is re-decorated from September (just prior to Halloween) until just after the new year into Haunted Mansion Holiday, featuring characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas. In 2004, Tokyo Disneyland's mansion received a copy of the overlay called "Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare".
The 1,000th Happy Haunt
On October 21, 2004, a bidder on a Disney-sponsored auction on eBay won the right to be the first non-Disneyland employee to have his name added to an attraction. Cary Sharp, a doctor and health-care attorney from Baton Rouge, Louisiana placed a winning bid of $37,400 (US) to become the "1000th ghost" with the addition of his nickname, a joke epitaph and the signatures of Disney "imagineers" on a tombstone to be displayed in the attraction. Its placement was guaranteed for ten years and will remain as a permanent exhibit.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the opening bid of $750 was placed by horror novelist Clive Barker. Sharp, who had only visited Disneyland once before, placed the bid in good faith as a way to entertain his friends and never expected to win. The tombstone, with the name of "Jay" on it, is located in the finale and can be seen just as the "Doom Buggy" enters the graveyard gates. The money was donated to the Boys and Girls Club, with half of the monies raised going to the local Anaheim chapter of the main charity and the other half going to the Baton Rouge chapter.
With a few exceptions, the Disneyland attraction has remained largely unchanged since its 1969 opening.
When the 2004–2005 edition of the "Haunted Mansion Holiday" overlay was removed, two significant changes were made at the same time:
- The first was to the portraits in the gallery scene. The portraits were originally backlit and "morphed" from normal to haunted scenes. Today, they are darkened and the morphing occurs in stroboscopic synchronization with the simulated thunderstorm outside. One portrait, that of a young woman who morphs into an old hag (occasionally referred to as the "April–December" portrait), has been replaced by that of an aristocratic gentleman (often incorrectly identified as Master Gracey) who morphs into a skeleton, arguably a more frightening change. This is actually a change back to a very early version of the effect originally implemented in 1969. Examples of this effect can be viewed on the March 22, 1970 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney titled "Disneyland Showtime."
- The second change was to the seance room. The disembodied head of fortuneteller Madame Leota, who spoke from within a crystal ball mounted to the table, now floats around above the table while still within its ball. The effect was one of the attraction's most sophisticated from the onset and involved a complicated projection system invented and patented by Disney specifically for the Haunted Mansion
- The Hatbox Ghost, who had previously been removed during the attraction first week of opening, was reinstated on May 9 2015, as part of Disneyland's 60th anniversary celebration after a 46-year absence.
- The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland opened the same day the infamous Manson murders occurred in Beverly Hills.
- Many characters featured in the attraction, such as Master Gracey and Madame Leota, are named after Disney Imagineers, such as Yale Gracey and Leota Toombs.
- The Haunted Mansion in Florida and Japan
- Phantom Manor, a similar attraction in Disneyland Paris
- Mystic Manor, a similar attraction in Hong Kong Disneyland
- Happy Haunting: Party at Disneyland, a Disney sing-along video that was featured at the Haunted Mansion