A Swinging Wake: My Story In Celebrating 50 Years Of The Haunted Mansion At Disneyland

GHOST HOST:
“When 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!”

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Voiced by Disney Legend, Paul Frees as the voice of the “Ghost Host” as many fans known within the Disney and horror fandom of the iconic Disney attraction of The Haunted Mansion. On August 9th, 1969 at Disneyland in New Orleans in Anaheim, California and where it was known as WED Enterprises at the time and their masterpiece of this attraction debuted as one of the best Disney dark ride attractions ever created. 

The Haunted Mansion pushed the limits of storytelling and original ideas with illusions and technology  for how much this attraction was thinking ahead of it’s time, and was one the most well planned dark rides to be ever created. Originally the Mansion was suppose to be for Mickey Mouse Park that was designed by Harper Goff, this was way before even Disneyland opened in July 1955. The idea didn’t come as planned as it was suppose to be and the concept was scrapped as the Mansion project developed over the years.

Some say in the Disney fandom that doing The Haunted Mansion is a rite of passage or a religious experience for how deeply immersive the storytelling, set design, and how the music is so known so well within the attraction.

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My ghostly tour with the Haunted Mansion of this attraction of it’s “foolish mortal” beginnings and what it means to me personally on a industry and fan level, at first I was terrified and thought at the time as a kid scared me and didn’t make me want to ride it all. At first I wasn’t a big fan of the horror and Halloween genre and made first anxious and to avoid anything spooky.

Disneyland was my first Disney Park when I was younger and was there during the times of classic Disney California Adventure with the giant California sign outside of the park before, the renovation of where it is today.  When I first approached this giant Victorian Era building in New Orleans Square that sat and overlooking Rivers of America of the park, and not being familiar of what this mysterious and spooky mansion looked like in the inside, myself immediately passed and afraid of doing it. 

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Growing up and flash forwarding towards Walt Disney World in 2005 and this was my first ever Disney trip in Orlando, Florida. This was my earlier years that I was still a basic Disney fan and my parents knew that I loved watching the Disney Animation and Pixar VHS tapes on a regular basis or any kid in the 90’s-00’s would of done. Only knowing some parts of Walt Disney World and just watching some YouTube videos about it and when YouTube just came out around that time, was all new to me in trying to embrace it and soaking it all in.

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My first time at the Magic Kingdom was a breathe taking and overwhelming experience and not knowing what to do with so much going on, it was difficult for me because I am highly intelligent adult with Autism under the Aspberger’s Syndrome level still towards this day. So being all excited and everything was baby steps for me inside of the park to explore all of the different lands from; Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland and then walking up towards Liberty Square sat another spooky building which was Florida’s version of The Haunted Mansion.

My family and myself did some of the other attractions like the Tomorrowland Speedway, Space Mountain, Mad Tea Party etc but not the Haunted Mansion. The thought still triggered me and remembering seeing the original Haunted Mansion when I first visited Disneyland in California and threw me under the impression of being the same thing for the concept and made me immediately pass for the Florida version. What made me prevent staying away from doing Florida’s The Haunted Mansion and was overhearing guests of what they experienced and saying like; That it had ghosts, a bride ghost with a axe, a scary cemetery with ghosts popping up at you.

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Both Haunted Mansion’s on both coasts terrified me and passed on both of them till later on growing up.

Growing up in my years of high school towards college and slowly starting to know the Walt Disney Company better and particularly Walt Disney World since I live on the east coast, and wanted to know the other parks on the resort better as we know it today as. My next trip back towards Walt Disney World was in 2009 and graduating high school and joined my high school’s marching band because they were going to Walt Disney World for “Magical Musical Days”. Confronting my fears I decided to go for it and did the Haunted Mansion with no fear, or hesitation on doing it all the way from the queue towards exit of the attraction. When riding it, I realized after all the anxiety and fear as as child turned from a negative towards a positive.

Instantly I was hooked, I wanted to know why so many ghosts were in the mansion, what the whole purpose of the story and who was this mysterious voice that was narrating the attraction?

Then I started digging and becoming utterly obsessed in studying the history and story of what this mansion on a hill was all about, because I was really into history in high school and wanted to absorb and learn so much about it. All from the first idea concepts of Walt Disney and his WED teams, the ghosts and what their story backgrounds were, who were the genius and talented people that helped make this beloved attraction.

Now it was the year 2012 and that was the year I graduated college from Niagara County Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts (originally Anthropology and changed my major twice at the time). Taking many art history courses, and succeeding my new love for art history and my class did a lecture special about Walt Disney and the influences of other artists that Walt and WED was inspired from all across the world.

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Walt Disney World (2012) in slowly embracing The Haunted Mansion fandom

After doing Walt Disney World’s The Haunted Mansion on a repetitive basis and it was making me realize that I was slowly merging myself into towards the fandom. This attraction has a deep significant meaning and passion for the fans. All the talk and I thought at first for the ghosts being evil and scary turned out to be not true at all, and after reading more about the Haunted Mansion’s whole purpose that it was a retirement home for 999 happy haunts with the genres of whimsical and spooky.

2013 is when I did Disneyland again for my second time and still had the same deep love and passion for the original attraction of where it all began that was suppose to be a walk through attraction known as the “Museum of the Weird” but, never ended up happening through out the Mansion’s development years.

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Revisited the original Haunted Mansion in 2013 at the Disneyland Resort shot the facade myself.

My inner obsession grew about the Haunted Mansion fandom culture, and wanted to know about the myths and legends of the attraction and it’s characters. Even so about the once Disney urban legend of the Hatbox Ghost of who he really was during the opening of the Haunted Mansion.

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Rolly Crump’s model work for “Museuem of the Weird” with Walt himself and Julie Reihm Casaletto, as Disneyland’s first ambassador.

It also made me took noticed of what the Mansion meant towards Walt’s vision he’s involvement with it before his passing in 1966. The famous saying goes when Walt was constructing the attraction was, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside” after Walt shot down the concept from a run down Mansion towards a clean and prestigious building. From just researching and looking more about the attraction’s history and finding out that Walt did have a bit of a”dark side” inside of him because of the dark themes from his past animated films Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, Snow White, and so on to created something totally new and different.

It made me want to explore about modern authors/freelance writers who wrote books or blog posts about this beloved attraction. I knew I was immediately wanting to know more about the Imagineers and who used to work for Disney such as former Imagineer, Jason Surrell who works for Universal Creative today. Both volume editions of his books about the Haunted Mansion and his dedication towards this attraction helped me out a lot and explore my knowledge about Disney history, that sky rocketed through the roof for me from the start towards the end. Which at the time I didn’t know their was a whole debate for the Haunted Mansion’s direction to be either fully scary or fully silly and just made me fascinated with the subject matter.

This was my first hand experience when I learned about Jason Surrell back in 2011 when I was still doing college and learning about Jason’s passion for the Haunted Mansion.

The list went on and on for me and learning about the Disney Legends for some examples and names you probably heard of such as; Bob Gurr, Claude Coats, Blaine Gibson, Rolly Crump, Marc and Alice Davis, Xavier Atencio, Yale Gracey etc. These men and woman under Walt Disney were the true artists in perfecting their craft and learning to improve on it. Without their long careers and talents under Walt, we would have no such thing as The Haunted Mansion still towards this day.

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Imagineer Yale Gracey that helped worked on the iconic Hatbox Ghost that was once part of the opening of the Haunted Mansion.

 

Now you are all wondering why does this fun and spooky attraction means to me such on a personal level? Here’s the reason why: 

My family several years ago was going through a tough time some years ago because my mom’s brother, father, and mother, passed away. This was a tough time for my family and was a transition period that ended in getting rest of the family together and cleaning up and preparing my grandpa and grandma’s house up for sale on the market. My mom took it the hardest with her dad and mom, in where for myself who was a bit close with my grandpa and grandma at the time.

The universal meanings of life and death in our lives are defined by our own personal thoughts and opinions that are entitled towards you and this is where it applies for the Haunted Mansion. The belief of the afterlife and death and how myself viewed it because I was into, in the field of the paranormal and was a subject matter I enjoyed a lot to know from a cultural and scientific meaning behind it. 

Some view the Haunted Mansion of an attraction to sing you’re heart towards Atencio’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and having a tour with the “Ghost Host”. To me it was totally opposite meaning for me. 

The Haunted Mansion no matter Disney park I am in either Disneyland or Walt Disney World plays that important factor of my moods of the times when I am sad and happy. Even the hardships and loss of my deceased relatives and this is where I believe that the Mansion reflects our times when we miss our departed friends or relatives of who we really miss and cherish deeply in our lives that are there in afterlife. Then again we embrace and keep those thoughts and memories because of the good and happy times when they were around in our lives.

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Disney Imagineer, Marc Davis’ original artwork for the Hitchiking Ghosts

The Mansion isn’t just some old attraction that some enjoy but, a canvas of life that the important people we miss that they are part of happy times in our minds and hearts with us. You may call me a “foolish mortal” but, a mortal with pride and happiness in where Walt and his teams at WED Enterprises has created this amazing attraction for everyone to enjoy. Walt was a caring and innovative creative genius who was a great husband for his wife Lillian and his children, Sharon and Diane Disney. He didn’t made Disneyland just for children but, for everyone no matter age range regardless and makes them feel like a kid all over again.

My birthday is December 10, 1990 and right smack dab in the middle of when Walt Disney was born and when he passed away and one of my biggest idols and rest of the Disney fandom look up towards this day.

2015 was my third time at the Disneyland Resort and where that year I attended the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center. When I read on the Disney Parks Blog in 2014 about something “mysterious” was going inside of the Haunted Mansion’s attic that Disney was working on, immediately the Disney fandom was heavily speculating the return of the long lost Hatbox Ghost.

It was a perfect opportunity for a very beloved character to have his throne back once again because the Disneyland 60th Diamond Celebration was approaching and then on April 10, 2015 it was officially confirmed for the Hatbox Ghost’s return. Still towards this day he’s one the most impressive and technological audio-animatronics with the use of illusions of the Pepper’s Ghost effect for today’s modern age. My first hand experience in seeing the Hatbox Ghost and only knew after reading and watching numerous videos/articles that he was there for the first opening week and removed because the technology was limited at the time and the effect didn’t work out.

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Overwhelming chills with my first hand experience seeing the Hatbox Ghost.

After seeing him in person and my reaction was completely freaking out of how blown away I was seeing him face to face and right next towards the Bride (Constance Hatchaway). The fluid motion and the transition from of his face towards his hatbox was nothing I never witnessed in this world, just made me fall in love with him so much.

Meeting Tony Baxter at the D23 Expo was one of my highlights of my life and my first Disney Legend I had a small conversation about the Hatbox Ghost, and what I thought of the Scare LA panel about him. Tony is a very nice in person and just hearing his whole career with the Walt Disney Company and his memories of the Haunted Mansion, can make you want to listen for hours.

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Met Tony Baxter D23 Expo 2015 during the Disneyland 60th Diamond Celebration

That was also the same year when I first met Rick West at the D23 Expo who was the owner of Theme Park Adventure and now the Creative Director of Midsummer Scream. He knew so much about the history of the Haunted Mansion and contribution towards Doombuggies.com, since I followed him of the days of Periscoping. Rick also made me open myself towards the talented minds of Marc and Alice Davis that he knew and wrote about since, Marc was coined as the “Disney Renaissance Man”.

Still towards this day, I can’t thank Rick enough for his deep admiration and passion for the Haunted Mansion and classic Disney history with an attraction we both admire so much for the Halloween and horror community.

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Myself and Rick West, Creative Director of Midsummer Scream and former Theme Park Adventure at D23 Expo 2015 during the Disneyland 60th Celebration

Scare LA (which is another Halloween/horror convention) also gave me the chance to know Doug Barnes of the Season Pass Podcast that hosted with Daniel Joseph, Kevin Kidney, Jody Daily and Disney Legend, Tony Baxter. This was all about the Hatbox Ghost and that was once lost, now fully returned with all rest of the happy haunts to materialize.

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ScareLA 2015 and where this is the panel of myself learning the deep history of The Hatbox Ghost that “once materialized” at Disneyland

At that point I also realized that as much I love Disney and Universal but, made me want to know more about the themed entertainment industry and just began learning about it of how the industry works from a business and fan perspective. Which now I love other parks I never knew about. Just taking noticed that their is more out there in themed entertainment world just outside of companies that I follow and write about almost on a daily basis.

The Halloween fandom was also growing me on as well and also was once being terrified of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando and then got hooked into it back in 2011 and 2016 was my first year I attended. Now I love it and big into the community for what makes this event so big and special towards all horror fans, from all walks of life.

As a small content creator and been writing for my own blog for the past 4 years, their is no other attraction that I can’t simply thank enough deeply and what it means for the Disney fandom and themed entertainment industry. 50 years of this swinging wake and for ghosts that are beginning to materialize, will live down as a once in life time anniversary of a milestone towards the next big year of the 60th anniversary.

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The Haunted Mansion on opening day on August 9th, 1969

“Hurry back…hurry back…be sure to bring your death certificates…and make final arrangements now…”-Little Leota

-Brian Saeger (Owner of SkywalkingAdventure.com)

Happy 50 Years Of Happy Haunts, The Haunted Mansion!!

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