Mansion History

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Haunted Mansion History

The idea for the Mansion predates Disneyland and WED Enterprises, to when Walt Disney hired the first of his Imagineers. The first known illustration of the park showed a main street setting, green fields, western village and a carnival. Disney Legend Harper Goff developed a black-and-white sketch of a crooked street leading away from main street by a peaceful church and graveyard, with a run-down manor perched high on a hill that towered over main street.

Disney assigned Imagineer Ken Anderson to create a story using Goff's idea. Plans were made to build a New Orleans-themed land in the small transition area between Frontierland and Adventureland. Weeks later, New Orleans Square appeared on the souvenir map and promised a thieves market, a pirate wax museum, and a haunted house walk-through. Anderson studied New Orleans and old plantations and came up with a drawing of an antebellum manor overgrown with weeds, dead trees, swarms of bats and boarded doors and windows topped by a screeching cat as a weather vane.

Disney, however, did not like the idea of a run-down building in his pristine park. He visited the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, and was captivated by the massive mansion with its stairs to nowhere, doors that opened to walls and holes, and elevators. Anderson envisioned stories for the mansion, including tales of a ghostly sea captain who killed his nosy bride and then hanged himself, a mansion home to an unfortunate family, and a ghostly wedding party with well-known Disney villains and spooks. Imagineers Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey recreated Ken Anderson's stories in a studio at WED enterprise.

In 1961, handbills announcing a 1963 opening of the Haunted Mansion were given out at Disneyland's main entrance. Construction began a year later, and the exterior was completed in 1963. The attraction was previewed in a 1965 episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, but the attraction itself would not open until 1969. The six-year delay owed heavily to Disney's involvement in the New York World's Fair in 1964–1965 and to an attraction redesign after Walt's death in 1966.

After the fair, many Imagineers such as Marc Davis, X Atencio and Claude Coats contributed ideas to the project. By this time, Ken Anderson had left the project. Rolly Crump showed Walt some designs for his version, which included bizarre things like coffin clocks, candle men, talking chairs, man-eating plants, tiki-like busts, living gypsy wagons and a mirror with a face. Walt liked these ideas and wanted to make the proclaimed "Museum of the Weird", a restaurant side to the now-named Haunted Mansion, similar to the Blue Bayou at Pirates of the Caribbean. Though this concept was never realized, some of its aspects found their way into the final attraction.

When Walt put Imagineers Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey in charge of creating the visual illusions for the attraction, they had an idea to make the "Museum of the Weird" into a separate section that you could walk through and discover all the amazing illusions from around the world. Guests would be able to see transparent ghosts and other eerie apparitions, by using the Pepper’s Ghost technique that was used in the theater since the early 1800s. Crump and Gracey were eventually given an entire warehouse to house their developments and one evening forgot to switch off the mechanics before leaving for the day. The cleaning crew were met with surprise as Crump explained, “Once, we got a call from personnel saying that the janitors requested that we leave the lights on in there due to the creepiness of all the audio-animatronic ghosts and such. They complied, but put motion sensors in the room that would extinguish the lights and turn on all the ghost effects when triggered. The next morning, they came in and found all the ghost effects still running and a broom lying in the center of the floor. Personnel called and said that the janitors would not be back.”

Marc Davis and Claude Coats, two of the mansion's main designers,disagreed whether the ride should be scary or funny. Claude, originally a background artist, wanted a scary adventure, and produced renditions of moody surroundings like endless hallways, corridors of doors and other characterless environments. Marc, an animator and character designer, proposed many zany spook characters and thought the ride should be silly and full of gags. In the end, both artists got their ways when X Atencio combined their approaches and ideas, creating an entertaining transition from dark foreboding to "spirited" fun. The ride narration was performed by Paul Frees in the role of the Ghost Host. The attraction's theme song, "Grim Grinning Ghosts", was composed by Buddy Baker with lyrics written by X Atencio. It can be heard in nearly every area of the ride, with various instrumentations and tempos.

After Walt Disney's death in December 1966, the project evolved significantly. The Museum of the Weird restaurant idea was abandoned. The Imagineers had also objected to a walk-through attraction's low capacity, going so far as suggesting building two identical attractions to accommodate twice as many guests. A solution appeared with the development of the Omnimover system for Adventure Thru Inner Space. Renamed the '"Doom Buggy", the system's continuous chain of semi-enclosed vehicles offered high capacity. The cars could be set to rotate in any direction at any point, allowing the Imagineers to control what guests saw and heard throughout the show. And because each car held from one to three, it was a convenient way to divide guests into smaller groups — a better fit with the story of people wandering "alone" through a haunted house.[1]


  1. Wikipedia contributors. "Haunted Mansion." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Apr. 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.