A Walk Through the Haunted Mansion


Photo Courtesy of Orange County Register

The Disneyland Haunted House entrance at Disneyland California, currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic

Spencer Gorka, The Scroll, Staff Writer

Everyone can remember the haunting Victorian-era mansion at the tip of New Orleans Square in Disneyland, California. Those swirly wrought iron fences and the old carriage hearse with the phantom horse. The old organ playing as you enter the ghastly foyer. The Haunted Mansion is a well-beloved attraction in not only Disneyland California, but in the other parks around the world as well. With many parks closed and people unable to visit, here is a walk down the iconic dark halls of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

The idea of the Haunted Mansion began with Walt Disney in 1951 in collaboration with his Walt Elias Disney (WED) Imagineers. He originally planned to build the ride along with the original designs of the Disneyland park but, with Disney’s investment in the World Fairs (which projects included It’s a Small World), he was forced to put the planning aside. Although there was a lot of progress on the attraction, Walt died before the ride was put in place, in 1966. Without the authority that Walt had once brought to the studio and in WED, the Imagineers went back and forth deciding what would go in and what would be kept out. And it opened 1969, 16 years after the start of production and planning.  But, luckily, they settled down and made decisions that would make the attraction a fan favorite for years.

The Haunted Mansion is a collection of different ideas and stories. It was modeled after and almost an exact replica of the Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore, Maryland. The Mansion is Victorian-era and also resembles  the Winchester Mystery House located in San Jose. The design goes deeper, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. 

The original concept stories were darker than the stories we see today in the mansion. In one called The Legend of Captain Gore, it goes: In 1810 Captain Bartholomew Gore brought his young bride to live in the Gore manor. In the next room, guests would encounter the ill-fated bride of Captain Gore, Priscilla. Priscilla tried to break into an old treasure chest that belonged to her husband, discovering that he was the horrible pirate, Black Bart. She screams and no one ever sees her alive again. It was said that he killed her and had put her in a chest and threw her and the key in a well. As legend goes, Priscilla’s ghost haunted Captain Gore forever. As guests exit the manor, they would pass an old well. On the stone was a scratched-in clue of Priscilla’s fate, “Ding Dong dell, Priscilla’s in the well. Who threw her in? The wicked cap-a-tain!”

Additionally, the Headless Horseman himself was to make an appearance in the windows of the mansion, but Walt had a different plan for the attraction. He wanted it to be a retirement home for ghosts from all over the world. Disneyland would take care of the outside and the ghosts would take care of the inside. Even another Imagineer wrote and pinned up a sign in front of the mansion’s facade as to free vacancy for the ghosts as a promotion for the new ride. These old concept stories and art were not left unused, as remnants of them reside at other Haunted Mansions in the country.

Special effects created by Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey are a big part of the ride and include small gags, even the gravestones. The names on gravestones are the imagineers that worked on the Haunted Mansion with humorous sayings. The Madame Leota tombstone has her face on it but every once in a while, the eyes open and follow guests. In a part of the queue, there is a mausoleum with names of more imagineers and more humorous puns to lighten the mood.

A Walk Through the Mansion:

The ghost host is very important to the story. He guides guests through the house revealing the ghosts and their stories as the ride progresses. The Imagineers once thought of having the ghost host an actual physical character but decided it did not have as much of an impact then having him invisible or a “disembodied spirit.” 

Next, the stretching chamber lowers you 15 feet into the ground, originally done due to the limited space the Imagineers had to work with. But the effect became such a hit that they replicated it to the other parks as well. The portraits in the stretching chamber also have significance to the story of the mansion. They depict some of the ghostly residences in their “corruptible, mortal state.” Then, when the lights go out and a scream pierces the darkness, the hanging man is the ghost host himself after his fateful end. Once you leave the stretching room and walk into the portrait corridor, those flashing paintings are actually one of a kind tricks that you will only see in a Disney park attraction.

If you look at the bat stanchions that help guide you down the hallway, they are one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces. They are specially designed for the Haunted Mansion and you can only find them there. They plan to keep them as tokens of how many people from around the world have touched them.

As you enter the doom buggy and travel up and into the mansion, you will see the endless hallway. That is a simple trick of a mirror and a light drape that hides the reflection of the doom buggies. If you look next to the hallway, there is a chair and if you look close enough, it’s staring at you! The wallpaper in the Corridor of Doors was made to give the impression of someone constantly watching you. Down the hallway, the grandfather clock continuously strikes 13 and is designed to look like a demon.

In the Grand Hall, the dancing and the party commences. This illusion with the dancing and party goer ghosts were created by an old trick that has been around since 1862 in theaters. It is created by a glass sheet, light reflection, the animatronics moving, and precision. The organ is actually from the movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” It was the organ that Captain Nemo played on the Nautilus. 

The attic is a very interesting part of the ride. The attic itself holds its own story: A bride named Constance had five husbands, each dying by being beheaded. She kept on remarrying but continually going up the wealth ladder through each marriage. However, her last marriage was with one of the mansion’s owners. She then died very young but remained in the attic of the mansion with her wedding gifts. Legend has it, she married the Hatbox Ghost, which is one of the hitch-hiking ghosts at the mansion, while she was dead. You can decide whether to believe that or not.

As the doom buggies descent into the graveyard, you can see all the 999 grinning ghosts singing and having a ball. This whole scene is a collaboration of gags that Crump and Gracey had put together. It is fun and enjoyable that people like to sing along with their ghost friends. Then you encounter the hitch-hiking ghosts and the ghost host warns you of them. “Beware of hitch-hiking ghosts!” he would say. The hitch-hiking ghosts were actually last-minute additions to the ride to complete it. But over the years, they have become a fan favorite. The mirror effect at the very end is actually similar to the Grand Hall effect but the mirror is a 2-sided mirror.

As you exit the ride, a “Little Leota” bride says goodbye  and tells you to hurry back to the mansion. She is known as “Little Leota” because the Imagineer who plays her is the same one who played Madame Leota in the Seance Room. And, of course, they made a movie for the Haunted Mansion in 2003. A sequel is expected to come out in 2021. I, personally, recommend that movie.

The Haunted Mansion is a beloved attraction not only in the original Disneyland ride but also in the other parks around the world. The Haunted Mansion in California contains many of the original ideas by Imagineers. For those of you who miss Disneyland, this has been a virtual tour of the Haunted Mansion.  Happy Halloween!