Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How 999 Happy Haunts Made the Haunted Mansion Their Home

By Brittany Bell

Halloween in the Disney Resorts is now in full swing with decorations, food, theming and, of course, Halloween parties. As the resorts get a festive makeover and guests prepare for silly spooks, there is one attraction that continues its delights and frights all year round. Read on to hear the story of how the 999 happy haunts of the Haunted Mansion made their way into the Disney parks…

Considered one of the classic Disney attractions, the concept of the Haunted Mansion was originally thought of by Walt almost 20 years before it actually made its way into Disneyland. In the early concept art of Disneyland, a haunted house walk-through attraction was to be included in the park. Walt called on conceptual artist Harper Goff and Imagineer Ken Anderson to begin work on a “ghost house” as it was first called. In the original sketches, the “ghost house” was planned to be on an off-shoot of Main Street that lead to a ‘dead’ end. In these early drawings, the Haunted Mansion was supposed to resemble a haunted, old house on the outskirts of town...

Harper Goffs sketch

When the plans for the “ghost house” to be off of Main Street fell through, Walt and the Imagineers then started drawing out plans for it to be located in Frontierland. However, like the Main Street location, these plans fell through as well, and the entire project had to be put on hold.

When Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, it opened without a Haunted Mansion. Plans for the attraction were not shed entirely, though, and three years later during the expansion of the park to include New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion was back on the drawing board. New concept art for the attraction began, this time with the facade resembling an old, southern Plantation-style mansion. Originally, sketches were drawn with a neglected looking mansion. But, to keep in accordance with the pristine look of rest of the park, Walt wanted a well-maintained exterior facade. He said, “We'll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.”

With the completion of New Orleans Square, the exterior building for the Haunted Mansion was completed, but the interior remained empty. Story line issues plagued Walt and the Imagineers, and with the 1964 New York World’s Fair fast approaching, Walt focused his time creating state-of-the-art attractions such as “It’s a Small World”. Once again, the Haunted Mansion project had been placed on hold.

The “ghost house” project was revisited after Walt’s death in 1966, but Imagineers still faced issues with the story line of the attraction. Imagineer Marc Davis drew sketches of the attraction with a nautical theme in mind, tying it into Pirates of the Caribbean. At this point, the ride was still meant to be a walk-through experience. However, Imagineers decided that a tying story was not needed as the the mansion was intended to be an experience, rather than a story with a beginning and end, and the nautical theme was dropped in the early conceptualization phases.

Nautical concept sketch by Marc Davis

A remnant of the nautical theme idea, this image of the “Sea Captain” actually appears in the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World’s portrait gallery

Another interesting idea that was also lost in the stage was to theme the “ghost house” after Ichabod Crane’s encounters with the Headless Horseman as seen in the 1949 Disney film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. This idea was ultimately dropped, much like the Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in.

In the last step of the conceptualization phase, the Haunted Mansion debate then shifted to whether the experience should be a scary or funny one. In the end, Marc Davis (who wanted the attraction to be funny), and Claude Coats (who wanted the attraction to be scary), combined their ideas. The final product is a ride that begins with chilling and frightening scenes which eventually transitions into "a swinging wake", full of silly spooks and ghostly gags.

Once construction finally began on Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, planning and early construction was in full swing for the Magic Kingdom version in Walt Disney World. In order to have a similar experience at both theme parks, each prop made for the Disneyland Haunted Mansion was duplicated for the Disney World Haunted Mansion as well. Finally, after years of planning, redesigning, retheming and relocating the Mansion, it opened in Disneyland on August 6, 1969.

The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World follows Walt’s wishes as well, having a well-kept exterior facade, based on a mix of colonial-style architecture of Hudson River Valley,  Dutch Gothic style, and of a particular mansion in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, called The Harry Packer Mansion. The Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion opened with the rest of the park on October 1, 1971.

The Haunted Mansion also made its way overseas, with similar attractions located at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. In Tokyo, the architecture is similar to that of the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World, but instead is located in Fantasyland. In Paris, the Haunted Mansion is known as Phantom Manor and is located in Frontierland. This mansion follows a distinct story line and has a tie in with Big Thunder Mesa, with which it is adjacent to. Both of these international mansions, however, don’t follow Walt’s pristine appearance rule, and feature more neglected facades.

The Haunted Mansion at Tokyo Disneyland

Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris

Today, the Haunted Mansion delightfully frights and spooks us all silly. From Walt Disney’s imagination to its grand opening, the Haunted Mansion changed considerably from its original plans. The result: a truly memorable and lovable attraction that is now considered a Disney theme park classic. But remember: next time you ride, beware of hitchhiking ghosts…oh, and be sure to bring your death certificate.


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here.

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