Happy 45th!!! A History of the Haunted Mansion

250px-Haunted_Mansion_poster_at_Disneyland_AnaheimWhen hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls.  Whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still.  That is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight.”

On August 9th, 2014, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion celebrated it’s 45th anniversary and I thought it would be fun…not to mention totally cool, to go over a history of this classic Disney dark ride that is a favorite of my son and I.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time reading various research materials to do this and I’ve decided that I’m going to break up this blog entry into segments.  I’ve not quite decided what segments…but it’s happening.  This way, I can release little by little and keep things moving.

Part 1

Now, for the 3 people on earth who don’t know anything about the Haunted Mansion, it is a traditional Disney dark ride using the Omnimover system (in this case, called “Doom Buggies”) to travel through a New Orleans style plantation house inhabited by 999 happy haunts.  Disney Imagineers have used everything from cutting edge technology to 250 year old illusions to pull of some of the hauntings in the mansion.  Throughout this piece, we will talk more about these illusions…but I will not mention how they are done.  If you know, great.  If you don’t know, take it from me, once you read in some article or worse yet…some random blog how they’re done, it kind of takes away from the experience on the ride.  After I learned how some of the illusions were pulled off, I found myself trying to look for the mechanics of the trick rather than enjoying the ride for what it is.

Even before ground broke at Disneyland, Walt had envisioned a “haunted” attraction.  HISTgoffsketchConceptual drawings and aerial maps were created by Disney Legend, Harper Goff, that depicted a small path off of Main Street USA that led to a mansion that sat on a hill, complete with church and graveyard.  Later, the haunted project was shown on a conceptual drawing of what was to become Frontierland.

Then in 1961, it was decided and announced on Disneyland handbills handed out at the park’s entrance, that the Haunted Mansion would be added to the new expansion of Disneyland: New Orleans Square.  Construction began on New Orleans Square that year and the foundation for the Haunted mansion was poured in 1962.

Early drawings of the Haunted Mansion were of a run down, dilapidated building.  Walt did not like the idea of an attraction in that state of decay on the property.  He made the decision that the Haunted Mansion would be a well kept and pristine façade, stating, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.”

The Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore
The Evergreen Mansion in Baltimore.

Disney legend Ken Anderson designed the look of the house.  I’ve read several versions of the story that contradict each other and I’ve not been able to get the hard facts on which one is right.  One story I found, said that Anderson designed the Haunted Mansion façade after the Shipley-Lydecker house in Baltimore and the other story I’ve seen said that it was based on the Evergreen Mansion in Baltimore.   Looking at the photos that I’ve seen of both mansions, I tend to lean more towards the Shipley-Lydecker house.  The railings on the porches very much resemble what’s on the Haunted Mansion, the third floor has a smaller footprint than the floors below it like the attraction, and the pillars holding up the pitched porch roof.  The Evergreen Mansion lacks several basic architectural elements that make the Haunted Mansion look the way it looks.  No pitched roof porch, no porches around the floors, no third floor.  To me, the only thing that makes the Evergreen Mansion a possibility are the pillars.  But who knows, I could be wrong.

Now that the look of the house was decided, construction began and was completed on the mansion in 1963.  Not long after, Disney’s became involved in the 1964 World’s Fair.  Out of this World’s Fair came what are now iconic Disneyland attractions: It’s a Small World and Primeval World that’s on the Disneyland Railroad circle tour between the Tomorrowland station and the Main Street station.  The work on the World’s Fair also gave Imagineers the technology to build the transportation systems for Pirates of the Caribbean and the People Mover.  It was also where Disney and his Imagineers perfected human-like “Audio-Animatronics” with both Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.  These innovations changed the future of Pirates of the Caribbean…but that’s a story for another time.

When the façade was completed in 1963, a sign was put out front until the Mansion’sHM Leases opening that read, “Notice!  All Ghosts and Reckless Spirits.  Post-lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion”.  For several reasons (most of which we’ll get into in the next installments), including Walt’s death in 1966, the Haunted Mansion façade spent 6 years unopened and finally opened to the public on August 9th, 1969.

Come back soon for the next installment in our 45th anniversary look at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.  Thanks for reading.

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