• Samantha Pauley

Welcome Foolish Mortals

Updated: Jan 20

Is the Haunted Mansion ACTUALLY haunted or is it just audio animatronics…hmm?


Overview

The Haunted Mansion made its debut in Disneyland in 1969. While the concept for the attraction was first imagined in 1961 with an anticipated opening date in 1963, Walt delayed the construction due to his involvement with the New York World’s Fair. After Walt’s death in 1966, Imagineers redesigned the project from a walk-through attraction to a new idea with an Omnimover system. The development of the Omnimover offered the Imagineers a way to control what guests saw and heard the entire ride. Not only did it help move more guests through per hour, it also optimized the illusion of wandering through a haunted house alone or with a couple other people. While the Imagineers were creating the attraction in Disneyland, a duplicate of everything was being produced to recreate the same attraction for the opening day of Magic Kingdom. Disney World’s Haunted Mansion is located in Liberty Square and is a fan-favorite. While Disney has made additions and enhancements to the ride, the idea remains the same and the “Grim Grinning Ghosts” still come out to socialize.


Guest Experience

As the foolish mortals enter the queue, they are greeted with the creepy mansion on their right and tombstones on their left. Each tombstone is a tribute to the Imagineers who helped create this ghoulish ride. The tombstone closest to the entrance of the mansion belongs to Leota Tombs, also known as Madame Leota. If you watch her closely, you will get to see the tomb’s eyes open, look around, and close again. Guests will have another chance to see her in the seance room in the crystal ball.


The door mysteriously opens to the mansion and a Cast Member welcomes you in and you meet your Ghost Host. Guests are directed to enter the stretching room and to move toward the dead center of the room. As the room begins to “stretch,” the portraits aren’t quite what they originally seemed to be and guests are reminded that there are no doors or windows. With a crack of thunder, the lights go out and the ghost host reminds you that there is always his way out. The ceiling “lights up” and becomes transparent to show a figure being hanged from the ceiling. The lights turn on and a door opens. Guests make their way through the dimly lit mansion toward the omnimover Doom Buggies.

Guests travel throughout the different hallways and rooms in the mansion during the 13th hour while stumbling upon all the different ghosts, ghouls, and other 999 happy haunts. Some of these highlights include the head bust wall, iconic purple wallpaper, floating candelabra, ballroom, and the hitchhiking ghosts. The Ghost Host narrates during the ride and the notorious “Grim Grinning Ghosts” plays in the background toward the end of the ride. The ride ends after the hitchhiking ghosts play a few pranks and threaten to go home with the guests. As guests exit the mansion they can scan their MagicBand to collect their PhotoPass photo where typically no one is looking at the camera.


Contextual Design

Haunted Mansion is located on the edge of Liberty Square and Fantasyland. While it has a historical, old-time feel, it also plays on imagination. The mansion sits up on a hill and uses forced perspective to create the illusion it is larger than it is. It is surrounded by meticulous landscape, brick, and matching fences and gates to portray an expensive look.

The Cast Members wear distinct maid dresses and butler suits that have become a popular icon of the attraction — and various merchandise with the costume patterns can be found in Disney. Speaking of merch, located across from the mansion is Memento Mori. This gift shop is exclusively Haunted Mansion-themed and offers a wide variety of apparel, accessories, art, collectibles, and housewares. There is also a pinboard for trading behind the counter.

In front of the brick wall, guests will see an empty horse-drawn hearse set-up as if a phantom horse is present. During special events at Magic Kingdom, this spot is used as a magical PhotoPass opportunity that shows a ghostly figure in the photo. At nighttime and during special events, the mansion is lit up in different colors based on the theme. In addition, there are also occasional shows and characters outside during after-hours parties.


Enhancements

Imagineers used different techniques and technology to create the illusions spotted in the Haunted Mansion. For starters, is the room actually stretching? Or is it just your imagination? In contrast to the Disneyland version, MK’s stretching room is not an elevator. Rather, the portraits and ceiling actually stretch upward and guests remain on the same floor as they entered and catch their Doom Buggies. Located in one of the first scenes are the head busts that seem to always be watching. To create this effect, the busts are inverted molds in the wall. So the face of the busts actually go inward instead of outward like a typical statue.

Photo source: Disney

One of the main questions guests have is how does the floating candelabra in the endless hallway work? Imagineers used mirrors for the hallway to create an infinite look and a small candelabra that isn’t as far away as guests perceive. The floating candle is behind a thin piece of material called a scrim, to distort your view and the back of the candelabra is painted black so guests can’t see it in the mirrors. For reference, a scrim is a thin piece of material that is painted on one side and is used for special effects. When it is lit from the front, guests see the image on the scrim. When it is lit from the back, guests can see through the scrim.

A similar effect is used in the ghostly ballroom. Animatronics are dancing below the track and lights are flashed on the dancers to illuminate them and reflect off the large pieces of glass that the riders are actually looking at. So while many riders believe they are looking at a projection, it is actually just a reflection of animatronics. This technique is called Pepper’s ghost and is commonly used in the entertainment industry.

More techniques and technology were used throughout every part of this ride to create the spooky-fun attraction and home for the 999 happy haunts. Well, technically 109 if you’re counting audio animatronics.


Conclusion

Haunted Mansion remains a fan-favorite to many WDW guests. While it is a calm and relaxing ride suitable for all ages and guests, the “Grim Grinning Ghosts” bring excitement to a spooky, family-friendly attraction. So hurry back! Be sure to bring your death certificate if you wish to join them! They’ve been dying to have you...


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