The Haunted Mansion

From Academic Kids

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The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland
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The Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

The Haunted Mansion is a well-known attraction at the Magic Kingdom and the Disneyland theme parks at each of the currently existing resorts around the world, excepting Hong Kong Disneyland. At Disneyland Paris this attraction is called Phantom Manor. The theme of the attraction is a visit to a haunted house in which the ghostly residents have taken full possession of the premises.

As the opening spiel says: We have nine hundred and ninety-nine happy haunts here, but there's room for a thousand. Any volunteers?



Originally conceived in the mid-1950s by Walt Disney as a walk-through ghost house, artist Harper Goff was tapped to conceptually design the attraction. The house originally had a rural American design and was intended to be at the end of a crooked path that led away from Disneyland's Main Street area. Eventually the decision was made to place it in the New Orleans Square section of the park, and thus the attraction was themed as a haunted antebellum mansion. The Haunted Mansion's design went through many changes before its facade was completed in 1963, six years before it would open to the public, delayed by Disney's involvement in the New York World's Fair in 1964 and 1965. At one point Disney's concept was to be entirely walk-through and empty out at a restaurant with a theme of "The Museum of the Weird." (This would be similar to other rides like Pirates of the Caribbean which is paired with The Blue Bayou restaurant.) Plans were designed for this concept, but then abandoned.

In what might be considered to be an odd twist to a supposedly abandoned structure, the exterior appears new and the surrounding grounds meticulously maintained. Designers wanted to make the exterior of The Haunted Mansion look like the stereotypical haunted house but Disney himself overrode the idea, claiming "we'll let the ghosts take care of the inside. We'll take care of the outside."

On August 9, 1969, the Disneyland version of the attraction was completed and has remained essentially unchanged, with the exception of the yearly conversion to the "Haunted Mansion Holiday" discussed below.

At Hong Kong Disneyland, so far the only Disneyland not to receive the attraction, plans for the attraction in Phase Two of the park include a voodoo theme placing the attraction in Adventureland. The park opens on September 12, 2005, and if it successful Phase Two will begin in late 2006. The Haunted Mansion, in any of its forms, has not yet been confirmed as part of Phase Two, or if it is going to be a part of the park at all.

Attraction walkthrough

Guests stand in line outside the mansion, and are led into a spooky parlor by Cast Members dressed as maids and butlers. From there, the guests are brought into an octagonal room, where the door they entered by becomes a wall, and the chilling voice of Paul Frees taunts them:

Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as though you sense a disquieting metamorphosis. Is this haunted room actually stretching? Or is it your imagination, hmm? And consider this dismaying observation: this chamber has no windows, and no doors. Which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out!
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The Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris

As the voice speaks, the walls quietly seem to stretch upwards, elongating the Marc Davis-designed paintings on them to reveal the comedic fates of previous guests. For instance, one man is seen in the dress of minor nobility...and red and white striped boxer shorts...while standing on a keg of dynamite with a lit fuse. Another portrait shows a demure young woman holding a parasol and calmly balancing on an unraveling tightrope above the hungry jaws of a waiting crocodile (see the backstory section below). The lights go out, lightning and thunder effects fill the gallery and, in a rare instance of Disneyland "dark humor," a glimpse of the earthly remains of the "Ghost Host" is shown dangling by a noose from the ceiling rafters above. At the attraction in Disneyland, the room is, in fact, an elevator with no roof that is being lowered slowly to give the illusion that the room itself is stretching; this brings the guests down to where the ride begins, below ground level. The ceiling above is a piece of fabric called a scrim, which conceals the hanging body until it is lit from above. This elevator effect was necessary to lower the guests below the level of the park-circling railroad at Disneyland. The actual ride building of this attraction is located outside of the berm surrounding the park, and the Disney Imagineers developed this mechanism to lower the guests to the gallery leading to the actual ride building. It is interesting to note that although it is not necessary to lower the guests at the other theme parks, this effect of the stretching room is still used at the other instances of this attraction at the other Disney theme parks, not as an elevator as at Disneyland, but by raising the roof of the room.

When the walls finally do open, guests are ushered into an art gallery with paintings that change from normal to "spooky" every few seconds. A simulated thunderstorm rages outside while the grim busts of a man and woman placed at the end of the hall seem to turn their heads in relationship to the viewer's perspective. The effect, patented by Disney, was achieved by reversing the images, much like a mold. Lighting effects give the illusion of a positive image.

The next part of the attraction consists of a continuous track of "Doom Buggies" in which the guests sit as they are brought through the mansion. The "Doom Buggies" are actually Disney's Omnimover system which "pan" the riders to focus their attention on specific scenes much like one would pan a motion picture camera. The special effects they are shown were groundbreaking for the time. In one scene, the Doom Buggies pass a ballroom where ghosts dance with each other in mid-air through the use of Pepper's ghost; there is an attic with the ghost of a spurned bride, a crypt and a cemetery, halls which appear endless and a mystical fortuneteller named Madame Leota who appears as a disembodied head inside a crystal ball with musical instruments floating in the air around her. Finally, the guests are shown that a "hitchhiking ghost" has hopped into the Doom Buggy with them.

An important part of Disney history is located in the ballroom scene of the original Anaheim attraction. The pipe organ on the far left of the scene is the original prop from the studio's 1958 release, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Prior to the construction of the Haunted Mansion, the organ had been on display in a shop in the "Main Street, U.S.A." area of the park.

Though the setting is spooky, the mood is kept light by the upbeat 'Grim Grinning Ghosts' music that plays throughout the ride. The music was composed by Buddy Baker and the lyrics written by F. Xavier Atencio. The deep voice of Thurl Ravenscroft (best known for voicing Tony the Tiger in television commercials) sings as part of a quartet of singing busts in the graveyard scene. Ravenscroft's face is used as well as it is projected onto one of the busts, specifically one with a detached head.

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Just prior to Halloween, the Haunted Mansion closes for its conversion to Haunted Mansion Holiday.
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The front of the mansion during Haunted Mansion Holiday.

The other incarnations of the ride are very similar, but have their differences. The Haunted Mansion is the only ride to appear in each of the Disney theme parks in a different location in the park. The Magic Kingdom's version of the ride is located in Liberty Square and has a New England facade, likely because the intention there was to base the attraction around the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. The Disneyland version is located in New Orleans Square. Tokyo Disneyland placed the Mansion in Fantasyland. The version at Disneyland Paris is in Frontierland and is named The Phantom Manor and features different music, an Old West theme, and a more cohesive storyline than the other three Mansions (an opening narration by Vincent Price was recorded but not used, and is available on the Haunted Mansion soundtrack). The versions in Florida, Paris, and Tokyo all still have a stretching octagonal room to greet their guests, though in these three the ceiling actually raises instead of the floor moving; there was no need to use an elevator in those Mansions.

In 1999, a retrospective of the art of the Haunted Mansion was featured at the Disney Gallery above the entrance to The Pirates of the Caribbean. When the 2003 film The Haunted Mansion was released, a retrospective of its art was featured in the gallery as well.

Beginning in 2001, the Disneyland attraction is changed for about three months just prior to Halloween until just after the new year into "Haunted Mansion Holiday," a theme based on the 1993 Tim Burton stop-motion animation feature, The Nightmare Before Christmas. In 2004, Tokyo Disneyland received its version "Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare." The Magic Kingdom attraction is scheduled to receive the overlay for the very first time in 2005.

On October 21, 2004, a bidder on a Disney-sponsored auction on eBay won the right to be the first non-Disneyland employee to have his name added to an attraction. Cary Sharp, a doctor and health-care attorney from Baton Rouge, Louisiana placed a winning bid of US$37,400 to become the "1000th ghost" with the addition of his nickname, a joke epitaph and the signatures of Disney "Imagineers" on a tombstone to be displayed in the attraction. Its placement was guaranteed for ten years and will remain as a permanent exhibit. According to the Los Angeles Times, the opening bid of $750 was placed by horror novelist Clive Barker. Sharp, who had only visited Disneyland once before, placed the bid in good faith as a way to entertain his friends and never expected to win. The tombstone is located in the finale and can be seen just as the "Doom Buggy" enters the graveyard gates. The name on the tombstone is "Jay."

The money has been donated to the Boys and Girls Club. Half went to the local Anaheim chapter of the main charity while the other half went to the Baton Rouge chapter.


The story behind the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion, while having many theories, as well as even some names, has never been completely set in stone. However, one common story, according to the writers of at least one fan site, goes as follows:

The Mansion was built in 1671, on the site of an Indian burial ground, by a Dutch patrician named Ubbe van der Iwerks, a play on the name of animator Ub Iwerks. It seemed to possess a strange nature throughout its history, as even he reported eerie goings-on. Van der Iwerks' family eventually lost control of the Mansion, and over the next two centuries it served as a bordello and pirate retreat. Then in the late 19th century, it was bought by the Graceys, a wealthy Rhode Island family. Master William Gracey, Jr., the scion (b. 1890), fell under the spell (perhaps literally) of Madame Leota, an evil amateur spirtualist from Louisiana who hoped to gain great powers by summoning sprits. She became the young Master's advisor (as well as an illicit lover), taking up residence in the Mansion and attracting people from far and wide with her seances. While many of them were undoubtably fakes, it is undeniable that she managed to draw in several spirits, and make the already cursed house a magnet for intense spiritual activity.

Gracey eventually married Lillian O'Malley, a Georgia trapeze artist; however, he likely had several affairs with Leota after his marriage, much to Lillian's detriment. Leota grew violently jealous and in 1937 convinced Lillian to perform her trapeze act once more; she then magically undid the rope as Lillian was crossing an alligator-infested river, whereupon she fell in and was devoured. (This scene, of course, is depicted in the "stretching" portrait in the entrance room.)

Distraught, Gracey was shortly thereafter introduced to Emily Cavanagh, his second cousin, who had recently lost her parents. The 16-year-old girl was quite taken with him, and fell head over heels in love. But on their honeymoon in 1941, she and her new husband played hide and seek. She hid in a large trunk in the attic. But Leota snuck in, and pulled the lock. Panicked, Emily suffocated. Her ghost is the eerie bride in the attic. As if to add injury to insult, during her funeral, Leota made the horses drawing the hearse panic, rushing off into the Florida swampland and driving Emily's wedding ring, knocked from her coffin, deep into the front walk, where it could never be moved. Emily's body itself was never found.

In early 1943, when Leota tried to use the Mansion to conjure up more powerful spirits, Gracey refused. In the ensuing discussion, Leota told him that she had killed his ex-wives. Finally realizing her danger, he tried to escape, but found all escape routes cut off, as Leota was controlling all the servants. She then began a spell which would imprison him in her crystal ball. Trapped, Gracey hung himself in the Mansion's attic rather than be imprisoned by Leota. As a result, the spell reversed, trapping Leota herself in her own ball, where she remains to this day.

Leota also had a daughter, commonly known as "Little Leota". Her father's identity was never disclosed, but at social functions, whenever she gestured toward Master Gracey, he would blush and remain silent. She was quite a practical joker, with an extremely macabre sense of humor, always enjoying scaring people. (One of the other ghosts, the housekeeper, was actually scared to death by her.) She would often stand outside the property gates, telling guests leaving her mother's seances to "hurry back" and "Bring your death certificate." She was also quite a flirt, and seduced many men who stayed at the Mansion. Three men whom she was never able to reach were the Graceys' butler, footman, and caretaker, who were understandably frightened of the consquences of any affair. Finally, one day she had had enough. She lured the men out into the nearby swamp with Hellhound, the Graceys' bloodhound, where the eventually blundered into a patch of quicksand. The three stood on each others' shoulders to try and reach a tree branch, but to no avail. (This scene too is depicted in the "stretching room".) Meanwhile, Little Leota sat in a nearby tree, laughing. But then the branch snapped under her weight and she too fell in.

Recent changes

With few exceptions, the Disneyland attraction has remained largely unchanged since its 1969 opening. When the 2004–05 "Haunted Mansion Holiday" overlay was removed, two significant changes were made at the same time. The first was to the portraits in the gallery scene. The portraits were originally backlit and "morphed" from normal to haunted scenes. Today, they are darkened and the morphing occurs in stroboscopic synchronization with the simulated thunderstorm outside. One portrait, that of a young woman who morphs into an old hag, has been replaced by that of an aristocratic gentleman—rumored to be the mansion's owner Master Gracey—who morphs into a zombie, arguably a more frightening change.

The other change is to the sťance room. The disembodied head of fortune teller Madame Leota which spoke from within a crystal ball mounted to the table now hovers and moves around the table still within its ball. The effect was one of the attraction's most sophisticated from the onset and involved a complicated projection system invented and patented by Disney specifically for the Haunted Mansion.

See also

External links


  • Disneyland's Ghost House. (2004). The "E" Ticket, (41)
This is the Fall 2004 issue of the magazine The "E" Ticket [1] ( that was dedicated to the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.
  • Eastman, Tish. (1997). "Haunting Melodies: The Story Behind Buddy Baker's Score for the Haunted Mansion". Persistence of Vision (9) 39
Persistence of Vision is an irregularly published magazine "celebrating the creative legacy of Walt Disney." Back issues can be found at The Book Palace ( and its home page can be found at
  • Smith, Paul. (1997). "Tales from the Crypt: Life in the Haunted Mansion." Persistence of Vision (9) 89
  • Surrell, J. (2003). The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movie. New York: Disney Editions. ISBN 0786854197
A book published by Disney giving a comprehensive history of the Haunted Mansion from early inception, in which it was a walk-through attraction, to its current form. It includes information on The Haunted Mansion movie (

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