The Haunted Mansion
BACKSTORY (August 9, 1969—Present): In 1951 Disney artist Harper Goff made conceptual designs; Walt conceived it as a walk-through ghost house. 1961 handbills announced a 1963 opening. Construction began in 1962 and the exterior was completed in 1963. Despite rumors that the attraction was too scary to be opened, the truth was that it hadn’t finished being designed yet. The attraction was previewed in a 1965 episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” but delayed by the NY World’s Fair projects. One idea had the Mansion emptying into a restaurant themed Museum of the Weird, designed by Rolly Crump (who had just completed the Tiki Room God statue sculptures). Designers wanted the façade to look like the stereotypical haunted house, but Disney said, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.” After he died in December 1966, the project changed; The Museum of the Weird was cut and the walk-through replaced with Doom Buggies, after Imagineers tried to solve the capacity problem with the idea of building two identical attractions. Imagineers placed most of the two major attractions, Pirates and the HM, outside the park's berm since New Orleans Square had already maxed out its space. The “stretching room” was so guests could be moved underground and outside of the park without knowing. Most don’t realize that the portrait hall is actually an underground passage leading under the DLRR’s tracks. Guests are actually entering a huge (approximately 37,000 sf) warehouse-like building located outside the park boundaries. Guests may catch a glimpse of the dull green building while riding the tram from the Mickey & Friends parking structure or by boarding the DLRR at the N.O.S. station and facing backwards in the train. The attraction also has a hidden Pet Cemetery, built for handicapped people waiting for the ride; when the new ramp was constructed, this area was no longer seen, which is why there’s also a Pet Cemetery in the regular line.
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” was composed by Buddy Baker with lyrics by F. Xavier Atencio. It can be heard in nearly every section with various arrangements. "Grim Grinning Ghosts" is not performed by the Mellomen, but rather by a pickup group. The only member of the Mellomen heard is Thurl Ravenscroft, who sings as part of a quintet of singing busts in the graveyard. His face is also used, projected onto the bust with a detached head.
Every holiday season since 2001, the Mansion is transformed into “Haunted Mansion Holiday,” based on Tim Burton’s 1993 stop-motion animation film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” (click to skip to this section)
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My first visit to the Haunted Mansion was only about a month after it opened in 1969. We lived in Orange, California. My best friend at school bragged that he was #21 through the turnstiles at the Haunted Mansion; when we went, I was something like #40,000 or so. Knowing my strange taste, my parents bought me the Haunted Mansion LP album and I played it several times before we made the trip over to Disneyland. Our favorite thing was to turn out all the lights in the living room, put the record on, and as soon as the mournful music started we all got the chills. I was very nervous as we waited in line. I still remember peering into the windows when we were in the part of the line right next to the house. It was pitch black inside except for one piece of unpainted wood that was illuminated by some light bulb somewhere. I remember thinking "Oh great, we have to walk through the dark. I'm going to get lost and I'll never see my family again. Great. Just Great." And I think I almost started to cry. Once we passed through the turnstiles my anxiety multiplied by 10, because that was the point of no return, I had committed to going on the ride. But as soon as we went in, I heard the same voices as on the record and it was all so familiar that I was no longer scared. I was more like spellbound—it was all too much for the eyes to take in. I couldn't really see everything on just one trip. There were many things mentioned on the record that I didn't see, but on later trips finally spotted. I still have never seen the king and queen balancing on a teeter-totter that the record mentions. Until we got to the Doom Buggies I had no idea that we would ride anything, I had just assumed it was a walk-through attraction. Madame Leota was astonishing, and I wondered how could they get a live woman's head inside a crystal ball and how could she breathe? And wouldn't she get tired after an hour of it? The dancers in the ballroom were pretty obvious though—just a reflection. But the singing busts in the graveyard also baffled me. I thought they were just a very advanced form of animatronics, with far more sophisticated facial motions than the primitive Mr. Lincoln. Only years later did I read how that effect was done. The next day after going there, I was talking with my neighbors about it and kind of bragging that I had been on it while they hadn't yet. I remember telling them that it wasn't scary at all. Oddly it took years before I realized there were two stretching rooms at the beginning. By the "luck of the draw" we were always directed to the one straight ahead. Only around 1976 did I finally get directed to the one on the left and only then did I realize that the one on the left even existed. Even today when I visit the Haunted Mansion I still notice things I never did before, or have forgotten about. So the Haunted Mansion is an ever-unfolding mystery that will never really be solved in my mind.
From a vintage publicity blurb, August 1969: Disneyland's Haunted House
ANAHEIM — The Haunted Mansion, shown left, Disneyland's long-awaited fun-care adventure, opened its creaking doors to a wary world for the first time Tuesday.Hovering above the river front at the edge of New Orleans Square, the stately old mansion has been offering "post-lifetime leases" to ghosts, ghouls, specters and other restless spirts since the exterior was completed in 1963.Today 999 creatures—the famous and the infamous—from all over this world and the next have moved in to enjoy a most active retirement. Every person entering is eligible to become the one-thousandth.And while residents were signing leases, the living were making this the most asked-for adventure in Disneyland's 14-year history."It's been a case of mutual anticipation," notes a spokesman for the Park's Ghost Relations Department. "While Mansion occupants have been just dying to meet Disneylanders, those of this world have been just living for the day when they could meet the ghouls."As many as 2,616 mortals each hour can ride in two-passenger carriages through the Haunted Mansion's labryith of cobweb-screened halls, pitch-black corridors, stone-cold chambers, creepy attica nd, of course, a misty graveyard.Along the way, visitors will see—or "feel" the presence of—every body from an Egyptian mummy to the mysterious Madame Leota, medium of the wildest seance ever.
One night, when I was working the graveyard shift (pardon the pun) for a Grad Night at the park, I was working the Front Load position on Haunted Mansion. This would've been around 3-4 a.m. In situations like that, they drop the crew down to one person working Front Load (when you first step into your DoomBuggy) and one person working both the Stretching Portrait Gallery and Back Load (bottom of the stairs to make sure the lap bar is down). When the crew is scheduled that way, the Front Load person can spend considerable stretches of time by him-or-herself alone in the Loading Area waiting for the next group to come down from the Stretching Portrait Gallery (because the room operates on a hydraulic arm, a minimum of guests is waited for to ensure enough weight to let the arm drop). I'd been down in the Loading Area alone for at least 20 minutes. The ride time is approximately 7 minutes, so it had been at least 10-15 minutes since the last guest group had left the attraction.I'd heard the soundtrack for the attraction so many times at that point that I knew it by heart (I'm slightly autistic as well, so I commit these kinds of things to indelible memory). On that particular night at that particular time, I heard what sounded like children giggling softly. I assumed that a new group was coming down the hallway from the Stretching Room to the Loading Area. After a couple of minutes, I left the Loading Area and walked to the hallway. There was no one there. The Stretching Portrait Gallery was still upstairs and had not yet come down. And again, it had been at LEAST 10-15 minutes since the last group to go through the attraction would have already left.From that day on, I listened intently to hear if that sound of softly giggling children was actually part of the soundtrack…and after months of continuing to work on the attraction, I never heard that sound again.I cannot explain it…but it still gives me goosebumps to tell of it.