Monday, August 1, 2016

Around the World Tour of Disney’s Haunted Mansions

By Jimmy Wienholz

“Welcome Foolish Mortals, to the Haunted Mansion.” No matter which Disney Park you may be in, or what variation of that famous introduction you might be hearing, it’s quite hard not to get excited about the journey to come. The Haunted Mansion is one of the more infamous attractions WED Enterprises has ever conceived, and most people can’t help but get a smile on their faces when they think about going for ride in a “Doom Buggy.” However what some folks may not know is that there are actually 5 mansions world wide, and it has three variations that offer different creepy takes on the original concept. Today it is a true to pleasure to be your “Ghost Host”  (well at least in print) and take you on a haunted tour of the 5 mansions that will have you wanting to “Hurry Back” to the closest Haunted Mansion near you...

Of course we must start our journey where the original mansion was constructed, Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The original concepts for the HM were drawn as part of a windy path behind Main Street U.S.A. (a vintage style street based on Walt Disney’s home town with store fronts and restaurants). The path would lead guests past a creepy graveyard and up a hill where the mansion would be overlooking the approaching crowd. Once the plan to build New Orleans Square in-between Frontierland and Adventureland was in full swing, it was obvious that the Mansion should be included there.

Original Haunted Mansion concept art

The first drawings of the mansion in the Disneyland souvenir maps showed a run down looking house with dead trees, missing roof shingles, and creepy bats among other things. Walt Disney didn’t like the concept of a run down house in the middle of his pristine theme park. He wanted the house to look as up kept as possible stating, “We will keep up the grounds and things on the outside, and we will let the ghosts take care of things on the inside.” In 1961, handbills were passed out at the entrance to the park letting guests know to get ready for a 1963 opening, however the attraction wouldn’t be ready until 1969.

After Walt passed away, the bulk of creating the attraction fell upon Rolly Crump, Mark Davis, X Atencio and Claude Coats. A lot of the creepy designs that we see in the mansion to this very day were drawn by Rolly after he was inspired by the 1946 version of Beauty and Beast. Objects in the film, such as the chairs and hanging candles seen throughout the Beast’s castle displaying human characteristics, memorized him. That is why if you look closely you will notice the wallpaper, chairs and clocks all seem to be looking back at you in some fashion.

Rolly Crump developing figures for the mansion

The biggest disagreement on what the concept of the Haunted Mansion should be came between the two leaders of the project: Mark Davis and Claude Coats. Davis wanted a more funny and nice ghost adventure while Coats very much wanted a scary, haunting journey throughout.

Claude Coats HM concept art

Marc Davis HM concept art

Eventually, it seems they agreed to split the difference, which is why the first half of the attraction has a darker feel to it than the second. The last piece of the puzzle took form with the Onimover system that had previously been used for Adventures Through Inner Space in which the attractions cars move continuously throughout the ride. The continuous movement of ride vehicles creates an even flow of people, increasing the ride’s capacity substantially. On August 12, 1969, Disneyland guests could take the haunting journey through the mansion after so many years of waiting.

Disneyland Haunted Mansion lines on opening day in 1969.

When the Imagineers were creating the Haunted Mansion for Disneyland, they actually made duplicates of everything because they knew they wanted the mansion to be open on day one for Walt Disney World guests. They met their goal and when the Florida Park opened in 1971 so did the east coast version of the mansion. The two big differences from the original mansion are style and decor on the outside and the rides length on the inside. The Florida mansion is very grand featuring an older brick building that stands on of a hill looking down on the surrounding Liberty Square area. The ride itself is also slightly different than the original. In California we walk through our portrait gallery and library sections, and in Florida we are already in the buggies for those scenes. Other than that the ride itself is very familiar. In 1983 Tokyo Disneyland opened their version of the mansion, which is a mirror version of the Florida attraction.

Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion

Tokyo Disneyland Haunted Mansion

Disneyland Paris opened their version in 1992 but with a different name, Phantom Manor, and is completely different than other Haunted Mansions Disney had designed up until this point. The Paris version is centered on the evil Phantom of the Manor and his doomed bride who was left at the altar.  The house is very run down looking with missing shingles and boarded up windows on the lower levels. There is no New Orleans Square in Disneyland Paris, so this ride is part of Frontierland.  Legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter has said that the sets and overall feeling of the ride seem to be more of what Claude Coats had wanted. There isn’t any narration after boarding, instead we see the tragic story of a heart broken bride played out in front of our eyes. Also, instead of the iconic graveyard scene, we travel through a ghost town which does seem fitting considering that we are in the “Old West” of Frontierland. Hopefully one day I'll get to see this attraction first hand, because the videos and pictures of it are just beautiful.

Disneyland Paris Phantom Manor

Phantom Manor's ghost town scene

The most recent version of the attraction opened in 2013 at Hong Kong Disneyland and is called Mystic Manor.  This attraction isn’t necessarily a “haunted” ride but more of a fun adventure centered around Lord Mystic: a world explorer, and his monkey Albert. We are there as guests to see all the artifacts that have been collected by the two on their journeys, and after Albert opens a forbidden music box the house takes on a life of it’s own. This ride may not be scary, but it does show the latest technology with outstanding sets, projections and robotics.

Hong Kong Disneyland Mystic Manor

Mystic Manor interior scene

So there you have it my ghostly friends, your around the world tour of Disney’s Haunted Mansions.  They are all unique to their respective Park, some more so than others, and they continue to entertain generations of Disney fans both young and old just as the original Disneyland one did all those years ago. In my personal opinion no Disney park is complete without some kind of version of the famous attraction (hint hint Shanghai Disney). Next time you take a trip to one of the 5 Disney Parks mentioned, make sure you visit the “Happy Haunts,” after all... “they’re dying to meet you.”

How many Disney mansions across the world have you visited? Which one is your favorite? Be sure to let us know in the comments below or on the Disney Avenue Facebook page.


Jimmy Wienholz has had Disney in his life for as long as he can remember. He often recalls family vacations to Disneyland and memories of being thrilled to ride the newest attraction or take pictures with his favorite characters. As he proceeded to get his degree in theater and film, a new appreciation developed for all things Disney. Jimmy loves the feeling he still gets when he enters a Disney Park and the cast members that bring joy to thousands of guests each day all around the world.  Jimmy started his own Horror/Science Fiction podcasting and film company based in Northern California entitled "The Horrific Network" in 2014, but always yearned to be part of a team of Disney enthusiasts as well.  He is thrilled to be part of the Disney Avenue team and hopes his articles will inform and entertain you for years to come.

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