Widen Your World – The Haunted Mansion

     The extent to which The Haunted Mansion transcended the term “dark ride” and became a galvanizing experience for millions of Disneyland and Walt Disney World visitors was once difficult to measure.  Even though a collective appreciation for the attraction could be sensed in secret societies and various forms of popular media since 1971, only the advent of the internet gave real form to the devoted legions (beginning with doombuggies.com ten years ago).  In Florida, this coincided with the 1997 arrival of the ghost horse-drawn hearse in the Mansion’s forecourt.  The interest in that arguably minor enhancement was intense and indicated that the fan base might be a force to reckon with.  If you could fit everyone who lamented the loss of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Horizons, World of Motion, the Mickey Mouse Revue and 20K into one coffin, you would need the rest of the cemetery for the outraged mourners that would turn up for the Mansion. 

    Yet there was no guarantee that this following would in any way prevent Walt Disney Imagineering from tampering egregiously with the attraction during its just-concluded three month rehab (it reopened September 13) – a downtime that promised the most far-reaching set of changes in the attraction’s 36-year history.  WDI’s track record with the Magic Kingdom and Epcot over the past twenty years has given cold comfort to those who felt that refurbishment was best accomplished without reinvention.  No matter what various Mansion fans’ positions might be on the 1993 Carousel of Progress update, Tropical Serenade’s 1998 dust-up or last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean overhaul, none of them wanted to see the ghostly labors of Claude Coats, Marc Davis and Yale Gracey given a wiseass makeover – especially in one of the few remaining Florida features that had improved on the Disneyland original.*  A lot of people were holding their breath.  I was right there with them, since the Haunted Mansion is

significant to me by virtue of lifelong obsessions and previous employment.  The prospect of its molestation was mortifying.
     So the good news coming out of Liberty Square this month is that WDI exercised sense, restraint and caring in its treatment of this classic attraction.  How much temptation they may have felt to go further is unknown to me, as is any role that a budget played in what went down or didn’t.  What remains at the end of the tour, however, is a largely in-tact, in some ways bettered and in no ways ruined Haunted Mansion. 
Not only did the attraction avoid unseemly echoes from the abysmal 2003 same-named film., many of its original features were given no enhancements other than to their sound, lighting or projection technologies.  There are, as foretold, significant changes to some scenes that were deemed underwhelming in their original form and/or incapable of “proper” modernization.  I don’t think all of the revisions were particularly smart, but nearly every one of them is well executed.  And after riding three times that first morning, part of a keen horde on hand to witness the “re-haunting” spectacle, I walked away with the strangest of all sensations … that my favorite place in all of WDW was turned over to a group of individuals who by and large respected the work of those who had gone before them and wanted to carry their traditions forward.  Then a ghost followed me home.


     There are several layers of retooling and I certainly didn’t pick up on all of the details (others have), but here is a rough overview:

– The green queue area canopy that was introduced in 1972 has been replaced with a broader, longer assembly.  The new cover is red and covers more of the square footage in front of the Mansion’s lawn.  Unfortunately the canopy runs itself smack into the old Keelboat Shop building, give or take a foot, and has thereby created the most nonsensical juxtaposition of structural components in the park, outside of Tomorrowland.   – The sound and lighting has been completely redone, starting in the foyer.  Guests still hear the familiar voices of Paul Frees, Eleanor Audley, Thurl Ravenscroft and Leota Thomas, along with most of the original sound effects, but the speaker systems are upgraded and the sound remixed to staggering heights of quality.  The narration in the omnimover cars sounds better than ever.  Some of the secondary singing graveyard voices have been replaced with new ones.  There are also effects to be heard now in places where there were none before, such as bats in the stretch rooms and a piano in the attic. – The Load area has new cobwebs strung between the lights and four of the paintings (vampire, bearded man, witch and hatchet man) from the original Portrait Gallery scene are hung above the wainscoting just beyond the Load belt. – The Portrait Gallery scene now consists of three curtained windows to left, through which lightning flashes and causes the transformation of four paintings to the right, each of which is a replica of those found in Disneyland’s Portrait Hall: Medusa, the man on horseback, the tiger lady and the ghost ship.  The wallpaper in this scene is new.  A mirror and console table have also been placed against the wall next to the first painting. – There is now a music stand positioned next to the piano in the Music Room. 


         – The spiderwebs have been replaced with two new sequences: A complex set of stairways that run in a multitude of separation directions and at varied angles, with green footsteps appearing and disappearing as they traverse the steps, and two dark corners where ominous blinking eyes are clustered and transition into the creepy Corridor of Doors wallpaper pattern.  The sequences are separated by a large draped portal. – Madame Leota’s crystal ball now floats above the table, which has been laid out with a nice set of candles and abutted with a book of spells. – The attic scene has been completely reworked with a new bride in a new location.  She, Constance, chopped off all of her husbands’ heads and seems pretty happy about it.  She also appears in portraits throughout the attic, along with her prematurely deceased lesser halves.  Both this scene and Madame Leota’s floating ball effect were introduced at Disneyland between 2004 and 2006.      There was also a great amount of repainting accomplished across the whole of the location, from the outside bricks and stonework to the wood paneling in the foyer and countless items throughout the ride.  The ghosts have a whole new glow about them.


     Although the Mansion’s new lease on death will probably be celebrated, debated and deconstructed for years, we can at least reflect on what has been lost to the hereafter.  Or appears to have been lost, as there is always a chance that a supernatural disappearance could reverse itself.  Among the departed: – The original ride hostess costumes

– The oblong outdoor planter and forecourt configuration

– The flower beds and neatly trimmed hedges on the  Mansion’s front lawn

– The traveling light effect in the Mansion’s front four windows and conservatory    

– Seven of the eleven Portrait Hallway pictures (four are now at Load) Two large spiders (and their webs) from the staircase         – Madame Leota’s stained-glass hanging lamp – The original attic brides, “Miss Corpse Face 1971,” “Miss Heavenly Blue 1972” and 1997’s “Miss Windpower” – The attic pop-up ghosts

– The open version of the exit hall windows

       Several of these alterations occurred well before the recent rehab.  The new hostess costumes came in circa 1990; Operations employee Tina Michael found the originals unflattering and uncomfortable and the company responded with the striped version.**  The old style is still being used in Tokyo, but the current Florida costume works better for a wider variety of body types.       The traveling light effect, which could only be appreciated at night, was achieved via five individual light elements that worked in succession and gave the appearance that something other than doom buggies was moving through the various rooms of the mansion.  The feature fell into relative disrepair as the 1990s progressed before grinding to a total halt more recently.  It does not appear to have been reconstituted for the ride’s re-opening, unless it’s only happening once an hour.     Then there are our missing friends pictured at top and below – dear companions who couldn’t take their eyes off us.  It’s their departure that I find most troublesome.  Medusa lives on as a lightning echo in the painting of Kurt Russell’s pretty lady***, and the four Load area paintings seem to be comfortable, but none of them glare at us with the same unsettling attention as before.  If there is justice these creeps will find their way back home in the years to come.     In future editions of this page, updates on the status of these ghosts and further reminiscences will materialize.                

The Haunted


Altered WDW Attraction Location: Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom Opened: October 1, 1971 Ticket Required:E (1971 – 1980) Contributing Disney Personnel: X Atencio, Claude Coats, Marc Davis, Yale Gracey, Wathel Rogers Leota Thomas Bookend to: Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Influences evident in: Tokyo Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Related External Sites:


Grim Ghosts
Ghost Relations Dept.
Daveland’s HM Photo Page
Haunted Dimensions
Better Haunts & Graveyards All photos copyright The Walt Disney Company.  Text copyright 2007 Mike Lee WYW acknowledges the  assistance of Dave Ensign, Christopher Merritt and Ross Plesset with its research on The Haunted Mansion

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