“This chamber has no windows and no doors… which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out!”
Like yin & yang, sweet & sour, and chocolate & peanut butter, Disney’s Haunted Mansion is the perfect combination of two opposite flavors – scary and funny. Which is it? Does the attraction frighten you, or does it make you laugh? That’s the conundrum many guests feel when they visit Disney’s iconic dark ride attraction. It’s also the question Disney creators – including Walt Disney himself – wrestled with while developing the attraction in the 1960s. The end result is the perfect combination of scary and funny, which leaves guests wishing to return as the Mansion’s 1,000th resident.
As we prepare for the release of Disney’s new Haunted Mansion film, let’s unearth a few “grave” facts about the Haunted Mansion – one of the most iconic attractions in theme park history.
Different Parks, Different Mansions, Different Styles, and Different Stories
Officially, the Haunted Mansion lives in four Disney Parks worldwide. While they share a common thread of spookiness and humor, each one also has its own unique personality.
The original Haunted mansion in Disneyland is located in New Orleans Square, and has a southern plantation design. Magic Kingdom’s Mansion is located in Liberty Square, and takes on an eerie brick-based Gothic Revival style. The Mansion located in Tokyo Disneyland is very similar in design to the one in Magic Kingdom, but is located in the park’s Fantasyland. All three of these Mansions share the same general storyline, which is simply visiting some members of the afterlife in the place where they eternally dwell.
In Disneyland Paris, the Mansion – or should we say Phantom Manor – is located in Frontierland. The design here is considered Second Empire style, and the manor itself is based on historical structures located in the American southwest state of Nevada. The story here is different from that of the other three Mansions, following the sad tale of Henry Ravenswood and his quest to prevent the marriage of his daughter to any other suitor via various means of murder.
A fifth Haunted Mansion-like attraction – Mystic Manor – exists in Hong Kong Disneyland. While it is a next-level Disney Parks attraction, it is not officially part of the Haunted Mansion family.
That Creepy Organ
The first few notes of the Mansion’s famous tune “Grim Grinning Ghosts” set the stage for the eerie scenes to come. Those notes come courtesy of an ominous sounding pipe organ. Guests can see the organ while visiting the ballroom. While the organ exists in several of the Mansions worldwide, the one residing in Disneyland’s Mansion has a unique origin: it was originally used in Disney’s 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The pipe organ used by Captain Nemo in the film was displayed in a walk-through attraction of the film in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from 1955 to 1966. After the walk-through attraction was retired, it was refurbished and moved over to the Haunted Mansion, where it still resides to this day.
The Haunted Mansion’s ballroom scene is among the most famous of all Disney Parks attraction scenes. The waltzing ghosts breeze with ease, suggesting the use of sophisticated technology. But Imagineers actually used one of the oldest special effects in the book – the appropriately named “Pepper’s Ghost.” This effect dates back to the 1800s, using an illusion involving two separate stages, variable lighting, and an invisible and precisely angled piece of glass. The trick is based on illuminating physical objects and letting them be reflected onto glass, giving them a ghostly appearance to unsuspecting guests.
Museum of the Weird
At one point in the design phase of the attraction, a large part of the Haunted Mansion concept was dubbed a “Museum of the Weird”, which would have been a walk-through-style attraction. Disney Legend Rolly Crump was primarily responsible for the ideas present in this never-built concept. His drawings increasingly emphasized the macabre — a coffin that doubled as a grandfather clock, men made out of candles, talking chairs, a mirror with a face, and man-eating plants were just a few of Crump’s whimsically creepy ideas.
Walt Disney himself championed the idea of a Museum of the Weird after first seeing Crump’s sketches, and being creeped out to the point of sleeplessness. Walt announced to his staff “We have a Museum of the Weird now.” The plan, says Crump, was to “collect weird things from all over the world and bring them to Disneyland.” Unfortunately, Walt died while the Mansion was still in design. Others who succeeded Walt were not so much in favor of Crump’s Museum of the Weird concept. The Mansion was completed without the Museum, though several of Crump’s designs made it into the final product, including the spooky faces woven into the iconic purple wallpaper.
999 Happy Haunts
Can you name all 999 residents of the mansion? No living being can, but there are a few noteworthy residents you should know.
The Hitchhiking Ghosts
You know those three hitchhiking ghosts who hop aboard the Doom Buggies near the end of the tour? The ghost holding a carpetbag is named Phineas, the tall ghost tipping his hat is named Ezra, the short ghost dragging a ball and chain is named Gus.
Most people know the disembodied head in the crystal ball as Madame Leota. Her face is that of Disney Legend Leota Toombs. However, her voice is that of actor Eleanor Audley (who you may recognize as the voice of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Lady Tremaine in Cinderella).
Ghostess – more lovingly known as “Little Leota” – is also inspired by Leota Toombs. She’s the tiny bride-looking ghost standing peacefully in the crypt near the end of the attraction, beckoning guests to “Hurry baaack.”
The Hatbox Ghost
The Hatbox Ghost carries huge cult popularity for a character who spent an amazingly short time (just a few months) in Disneyland’s original Mansion. The spirit, described as “an elderly ghost in a cloak and top hat, leaning on a cane with a wavering hand and clutching a hatbox in the other”, briefly appeared in the attic of Disneyland’s Mansion. This ghost’s claim to fame was that he would regularly “lose his head”, which then appeared in the hatbox he was carrying. But his effect – based entirely on creative lighting – never worked properly, and he was removed just a few months after the attraction opened. He returned to Disneyland’s Mansion in 2016, and is expected to return to other versions of the Mansion in the future as well.
Your Ghost Host
You may not ever see him, but you can never forget the voice who escorts you through the mansion. The Ghost Host, who ominously welcomes all guests in both American versions of the attraction, is performed by Disney Legend Paul Frees.
J. Thaddeus Toad
“Here lies Toad, it’s sad but true. Not nearly as marketable as Winnie the Pooh.” (That’s not one of the famous Haunted Mansion gravestones – I made it up!)
The pet cemetery of Magic Kingdom’s Mansion displays a small statue of J. Thaddeus Toad, a one-time resident in the park’s Fantasyland. His madcap attraction – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – got booted from Magic Kingdom in 1998, in favor of a Winnie the Pooh attraction. He stands tall up a small hill, and in some shade, so you really need to focus to find him.
“Happy haunts materialize
And begin to vocalize
Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize.”
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