CSI: Haunted Mansion

If you want to consider the Pirates of the Caribbean the last attraction Walt Disney ever worked on, then you have to consider the Haunted Mansion the first attraction his crew of Imagineers did without him. The Haunted Mansion concept was born very early on in Disneyland history, but most of the work on the attraction we currently see started just after Walt Disney’s death, and to the credit of the Imagineers, they brought to life one of the best known attractions on any Disney property.

The earliest concept drawings for the Haunted Mansion come before Disneyland was even built. In the original artwork, done by Harper Goff for Disneyland, a Haunted Mansion was sitting atop a hill, and when the plot of land had been purchased in Anaheim for Disneyland, the idea was to have a street shooting off of main street that would contain the Haunted Mansion at the end. When the side street idea didn’t work, Imagineers moved it to Frontierland, but needless to say, Disneyland opened without a Haunted Mansion and the concept would sit on the shelf for a few years.

Walt Disney then for Ken Anderson in charge of the Haunted Mansion project when he decided to add New Orleans Square to his Disneyland Park just three years after opening. Anderson’s design called for a walk through house, much like the Pirates of the Caribbean’s original wax museum concept, that was packed with both gags as well as special effect chills that were more like mild parlor trick scares.

Anderson studied the old plantations and manors of the south and came up with a concept for a house with overgrown weeds, boarded doors, and dead trees. While being praised for the design by other Imagineers, Walt Disney didn’t care to see his very clean and beautiful park be overtaken by an old boarded up dead house. Anderson, knowing Disney was his master, nixed the outdoor haunts and kept everything spooky indoors, while the manor would look eerie, yet charming from the outside.

Anderson had several story ideas going into the Haunted Mansion including, what I feel, is a story not so Disney, and now knowing it, can be easily translatable while riding this attraction. The story goes that a sea captain kills his bride, and in the afterlife she continues to haunt him until he decided to hang himself. These elements can be seen when the Ghost Host introduces himself in the stretching room and lightning flashes. You can clearly see a person dressed as a fisherman or sea captain hanging above you. As you wander through the attraction, you make your way into the attic where the bride is seen, along with portraits of her with other men whose heads are decapitated as you pass by. From thsi conclusion, I could only make that the reason the sea captain killed his new bride was because he had known of her past marriages and how she had ended all of them. Quite the story for the Happiest Place on Earth right? Never-the-less, the idea passed through imagineering as well as several other gags and spooks, and the Haunted Mansion was even being advertised to open in New Orleans Square by 1963, but the brakes were put on the attraction again.

Walt Disney became infatuated with the 1964s New York World’s Fair and wanted to create some attractions for it that he would eventually bring back to Disneyland including the Carousel of Progress and It’s A Small World, which meant the Haunted Mansion was put on hold, despite the mansion even being erected and clearly seen by Disneyland guests as the walked through New Orleans Square. Because of the halt, Ken Anderson left the project, but it was picked up again by several Imagineers such as Marc Davis, X. Atencio, and Claude Coats. Davis created most of the characters and silly gags while Coats created most of the moody architecture and added in scary effects. Both had such definitive desires for the Mansion but it all came together when Atencio combined the elements from both Davis and Coats, which would define the sometimes spooky, sometimes silly Haunted Mansion.

Rolly Crump who had lent a hand to Anderson’s version of the Mansion before he left, had come up with designs of his own, which were much more strange than the ideas that Coats and Davis had. He wanted to include coffin shaped clocks, man eating plants, voodoo tiki dolls, etc…Walt Disney liked his ideas but decided that the didn’t exactly fit into the mansion but would do well in a “Museum of the Weird” which would sit next to the Mansion and would serve as a restaurant similar to the Blue Bayou being added to the Pirates of the Caribbean. However, the restaurant and the Haunted Mansion would come to a halt and lose its way after the passing of Walt Disney in 1966.

After Walt’s death, many of the major ideas that would turn into the Haunted Mansion attraction went from being concepts, into becoming the real thing. For years, the Haunted Mansion had sat there with nothing added to the inside of the house, but work started on creating props and scenery for the indoor part of the attraction. Another idea, which had been one of Walt Disney’s originals, was for the mansion to be a walk through exhibit, but Imagineers came up with a better idea to take the omni-mover concept they had used on Advetures Through Inner Space in Tomorrowland and make use of them in the Haunted Mansion, keeping the flow of people moving through the attraction instead of people stopping at each gag.

Finally after six years of the Haunted Mansion sitting and waiting to open, the gates to the attraction swung open to the public on August 12th, 1969. The opening brought in record crowds and had a positive effect on the park after Disney’s passing a few years earlier despite some of the Imagineers not being proud of the Mansion. Many wondered why the attraction wasn’t scarier and as the Pirates of the Caribbean had set a new bar, some felt it didn’t meet expectations, but guests felt differently. They came in droves and loved it. Even today, it is seen as one of the park favorites and one that still packs them in daily.

The Walt Disney World opened with the park in October of 1971, as Imagineers made two of everything preparing for the Walt Disney World opening as well as the Disneyland version. Since then, Tokyo Disney and Disneyland Paris have opened similar Haunted Mansion rides. Hong Kong Disneyland will also have a similar ride called Mystic Manor.

The Haunted Mansion also had new ideas brought to it in 2001 when Imagineers rethemed it for the Holiday season and created Haunted Mansion Holidays which incorporates characters from the uber-popular Nightmare Before Christmas film. The holiday ride has now become a seasonal favorite, with the original Haunted Mansion returning after each holiday season.

In 2003, Disney released the Haunted Mansion film starring Eddie Murphy. They thought the movie would do well as the park attraction was so popular but the movie bombed and was seen as a disappointment. In 2010, Guillermo del Toro, who is behind the Hellboy and Pans Labrynth films, said he had signed on to write, direct, and produce a new Haunted Mansion film that would be less comedic and gear towards a horror movie crowd. There is no release date for this new film, but I’m sure it will delight and terrify at the same time and I personally look forward to the Haunted Mansion film that I always have wanted to see.

What are your thoughts on the Haunted Mansion. Is it a favorite of yours? Have you been on the Holiday version? Do you care to see the new film? Let us know here at Disney Park History and until next time, Happy Haunts!

Josh Taylor


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Posted on December 19, 2011, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The Haunted Mansion is favorite. I missed it this last trip I took. During the holidays it sees an insanely sized crowd. I know some old school Disney fans don’t like the Nightmare Before Christmas additions, but I love it all.

  2. Reblogged this on DoomBuggy Runner and commented:
    I found this great article about the early days of the Haunted Mansion. Modern Mouse Radio is an awesome blog, follow it if you aren’t already!!!

  1. Pingback: Top 5: Disneyland Stories You Didn’t Know | Modern Mouse Radio

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