Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Making of: The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion is quite possibly one of the most famous and beloved Disney attractions that exist today. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion went through several changes during its long creation. Prior to its opening on August 9, 1969, eighteen years had gone by since the original 1951 black-and-white sketch by Disney Legend Harper Goff that featured a scary, dilapidated house placed on a hill top looking down onto Main Street. Walt wanted artist Ken Anderson to fully develop his concept of a Ghost house for his park during the mid-1950s. By late 1957, Anderson had completed a full script and map for what would become, or so he thought, a very scary walk-through that was to be located in the future New Orleans Square. Continue after the page break for the story and some great videos...

Anderson began to study New Orleans and its old plantations soon after being assigned the project and used this to create an antebellum manor surrounded by dead moss filled trees, overgrown weeds, shutters hanging off their hinges, peeling paint, and a weather vane in the shape of a screeching cat. Walt Disney couldn’t really stand the idea of a run-down, unkempt looking building in his beautiful park which lead to his popular quote, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.” Although the original idea received tons of praise and adoration from people within WED, the mansion got an immediate refurbishment. The house was spruced up and now fit perfectly inside Walt’s pristine park.

Now that the exterior had gotten the OK it was time to figure out what to do inside. Being that Walt’s park was to be enjoyed by children and adults alike; the challenged arrived of exactly how scary the ride should be. Disney traveled to the unfinished Winchester Mystery House in North California for some ideas and inspiration and was amazed with the mansion’s stairs to nowhere, doors that open to walls and holes, and different elevators.

Winchester Mansion

Winchester Mansion Staircase

Ken Anderson eventually created several different ideas for the mansion that included a ghost filled wedding party that featured Disney villains like Captain Hook, a headless horseman and Lonesome Ghosts. Another idea of Anderson was to include a departed sea captain who killed his nosy bride and eventually hung himself. The ideas were rolling out and it was time for Imagineers Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey to create the effects and bring to life Anderson’s ideas.
Yale Gracey
A large studio space at WED enterprises was created strictly for this exciting new attraction. Crump and Gracey began studying Greek myths, reports of haunting, and horror movies which lead to a freaky looking studio space. There’s a funny story that one night Crump and Gracey connected all the effects they been working on to an inferred wire that would cause all the effects to come to life. When the cleaning crew walked in late at night to clean the area they set off these effects and ran out the room in horror. The next morning Rolly Crump came in to work and noticed a broom lying in the middle of the floor with everything still going off. Eventually, management called to say they would have to clean their own space now because the cleaning crew wasn’t coming back.

While the attraction’s blue sky stage was coming together the decision was made to place the Haunted Mansion in the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland and theme the mansion accordingly. In 1961, the announcement was made that the ride would be opening in 1963. Construction finally began a year later, and the exterior of the mansion was complete by 1963. The attraction itself wouldn’t open until six years later in 1969. Disney’s involvement in the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair and Walt’s passing in 1966 heavily delayed the ride and even lead to a redesign.
After the fair had passed and Anderson left the project, many Imagineers began contributing ideas. These Imagineers included legends Marc Davis, X Atencio and Claude Coats which lead to the attraction we see today. Marc Davis designed most of the characters and effects that were more on the funny side, and felt the ride should be silly and filled with gags. Claude Coats, being the background artist he was, created the mood of the ride with endless hallways, characterless environments, corridors of doors, and wanted a more scary version. Eventually, both would get their way when X Atencio placed all their different scenes together.

After Walt’s passing the project started to change and evolve tremendously. The original plan for the ride to be a walk through was changed so that the Omnimover system that was currently being used in Adventure Thru Inner Space could carry guests throughout the attraction. The ride vehicles were renamed Doom Buggies and helped to increase the ride capacity. 

Finally on August 12, 1969, the Disneyland version was opened to guests and brought in record crowds which helped the company recover from Walt’s untimely death. Despite the crowds, the original Haunted Mansion was viewed as somewhat of a letdown to riders after going through years of hype and anticipation and wondered why the ride wasn’t scarier. Several Imagineers were upset at how it turned out, especially Ken Anderson. Marc Davis shared in the upset and claimed that “too many cooks were making the soup.” Eventually the attraction grew to become one of the most popular in the park with a huge fan base. The mansion went through many changes over its development and has turned into more of an experience than just a ride, bringing you through a not so spooky world where each ride reveals new surprises that were overlooked before.

Haunted Mansion Opening Day

Check out these interesting videos on the Haunted Mansion featuring several big names in Imagineering:

1 comment:

  1. Great article. You did leave out - It was originally designed as a Walk-Thru. Even when the mansion itself was complete in 1963, they didn't know at the time, it would later become a ride-through. The lessons of the Worlds Fair in NY changed everything. Any "walk-thru" attraction on the drawing boards - gave way to ride systems to carry larger amounts of people through - IE, Edison Square evolved into Carousel of Progress, Pirate walk-through Museum became the boat ride we know today. Adventure Thru Inner Space's ride system (debut - 1967), became the chosen system for Haunted Mansion.