Unbelievable Secrets of Disney’s Haunted Mansion
Welcome, foolish mortals, to this celebration of 50 years of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Yes, on August 9, 2019, your favorite attraction hits the half-century mark. Of course, time is irrelevant to those happy haunts in the great unknown, but it’s a huge deal to Disney fans. For these fun-loving fans of the macabre, let’s talk about seven of the biggest secrets about Haunted Mansion.
Walt Disney Hated the Planned Realism
When you think about theming, you’re thinking of Walt Disney. The founder of Disneyland sought total immersion in all of his park’s attractions. Occasional exceptions occurred, though.
For instance, Imagineers wanted to strike fear into the hearts of guests. They felt that the best way to add a sense of foreboding was via the building itself. Disney’s stars at WED Enterprises plotted a disheveled mansion, one whose abandonment would hint at the horrors confined inside.
Walt Disney LOATHED this idea. He famously dismissed the plans by saying, “We will take care of the outside, but let the Ghosts take care of the inside.” Because of Uncle Walt, all versions of Haunted Mansion have beautiful exteriors. But the idea would linger and eventually became the basis of the interior of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
The Cowardly Caretaker Was Almost Real
Haunted mansions are a staple of amusement and theme parks around the world. Many of them employ live actors to introduce an element of immediacy to the experience. Believe it or not, Disney almost did the same!
During the planning phase of Haunted Mansion, it took on several forms including a museum and even a water ride! During the blue sky period, Disney had countless versions of a story script. In the majority of them, the graveyard’s famous Caretaker was human.
I don’t mean that the Caretaker would be human in a section full of ghosts. Instead, plans called for a live actor to play the role, which would have proven problematic. Can you imagine someone having to yell over Grim Grinning Ghosts?
Disney eventually settled on the Caretaker that you know well. He’s the guy who looks equal parts terrified and mystified. However, Disney has begun incorporating live actors into rides on some occasions, most notably on Pirates of the Caribbean during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
The Magic Kingdom Parts Are As Old As the Disneyland One
Okay, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion opened in 1969, while the one at Magic Kingdom wouldn’t debut until 1971. Nobody questions that.
The secret about the construction of each one is that they happened simultaneously. While Imagineers had planned Haunted Mansion since the early 1950s, it wouldn’t open for another 15 years. In fact, Disney physically BUILT Haunted Mansion in 1963, but it still wouldn’t officially operate for another six years.
During all of the time spent waiting, several changes happened behind the scenes. Most notably, Walt Disney died, and that’s the primary explanation for the delays on Haunted Mansion.
Past a certain point, everyone understood that a Walt Disney World version of Haunted Mansion would arrive soon after the one at Disneyland. So, Imagineers doubled up on the construction of many set pieces, props, and Audio-Animatronics. They would work on elements of both rides simultaneously. Disney is just that efficient, folks.
The Mansion’s Floor Level Varies
The oddest diversion between the two main versions of Haunted Mansion involves levels. You’ve almost assuredly realized that The Stretching Room is a secret elevator. You start on one floor but may end up on another one. Whether you do or not depends entirely on where you are.
At Disneyland, where space is at a premium, Imagineers did something clever. They maximized the available space at Haunted Mansion’s show building by transporting guests down a level. While the story of Haunted Mansion gets explained by the Ghost Host, The Stretching Room uses the distraction to ship you to the lower level. Disneyland Paris works the same way, although that ride is technically Phantom Manor.
Magic Kingdom’s situation is different. The manor grounds spread out enough that the ride system has no need to move guests anywhere. So, it remains at the current level. However, that level is not the first floor.
As most Disney diehards know, the Utilidor system comprises the first level of Magic Kingdom. In other words, you start on level two and remain on level two. Tokyo Disneyland is the only Haunted Mansion attraction where you stay on the first floor during the entire ride.
The Guy Hanging from the Attic Is an Imagineer!
Okay, this secret is a little dark and also requires you to put two-and-two together.
Master George Gracey of Winsocket, Rhode Island, was the owner of the mansion. He received the deed under the grimmest of circumstances when his mother murdered his father. In an attempt to connect with his father, even in death, Gracey turned to the spirit world.
Yes, there is a themed connection between Master Gracey and Madame Leota! He met the seer in New Orleans and persuaded her to return to his mansion, where she performed séances. You can fill in a lot of the blanks from there.
The most significant part of the story is that Master Gracey grew demoralized and, well, you know. I believe the applicable quote is, “There’s always my way!”
That gentleman hanging from the rafters is Master Gracey. And he’s also Imagineer Yale Gracey. You see, this brilliant human being invented many of the tricks on display at the Haunted Mansion, most famously Madame Leota’s floating head-in-a-jar. As a way to pay tribute to him, they named the character after him. Yes, it’s an odd tribute.
The creepiest part of this secret comes from the twisted mind of X Atencio. The famed Imagineer wrote an epitaph for his still-living co-worker. Admit it. If one of your co-workers wrote an epitaph about you, you’d contact HR, right?
Gracey Isn’t the Only Disney Celebrity at the Mansion
While Yale Gracey received the greatest tribute at the attraction, the Ghost Host isn’t the only recognizable face on the ride. You’ve seen several other Disney celebrities each time you’ve visited the cemetery near the end of Haunted Mansion. You just might not have realized it.
The five Singing Busts have taken the faces of Disney Legends Marc Davis and Blaine Gibson. Two other sources of inspiration are voice actors Paul Frees and Thurl Ravenscroft. You’ll know them as the voice of the Ghost Host and Tony the Tiger. Ravenscroft was the latter, but he had a strong Disney track record as a voice actor on Pirates of the Caribbean, Country Bear Jamboree, and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
Of course, the most interesting of the Singing Busts is the final one. According to D-23, Walt Disney is the inspiration for the fifth Singing Bust. Some internet sites dismiss this as inaccurate information, but if anyone should know, it’s D-23.
Oh, and Leota Toombs isn’t just a character. She was a very real Disney Imagineer who worked on the attraction. She received the honor of voicing her character, whose physical appearance resembles the face in the ball.
Four Films Inspired the Haunted Mansion
You should know by now that the Shipley-Lydecker House is a significant source of inspiration for the design of the original Haunted Mansion. But did you know that three movies played a huge role, too?
Jean Cocteau directed a French version of the classic Beauty and the Beast in 1964. Called La Belle et La Bete, its gothic tone and visuals were perfect for what Disney wanted to accomplish. Similarly, the 1939 version of The Cat and the Canary and the 1940 film, The Ghost Breakers, both contained imagery that Imagineers mimicked on the ride.
However, the movie that had the most substantial direct influence was a last-minute option, 1963’s The Haunting, based on The Haunting of Hill House. Yes, it’s the same premise that led to a Netflix TV series. Had Haunted Mansion opened on time at the start of the 1960s, this horror flick wouldn’t have even been released yet!
Imagineer Marc Davis grew so captivated by a hallway full of doors from the film that he recreated the idea at Haunted Mansion. Of course, he put a Disney spin on the premise. When you ride past the infamous corridor of doors, the ghosts are knocking for a good reason. They’re trying to escape the Haunted Mansion! Yes, they want to leave the place where you dream of going back!
Happy 50th anniversary, Haunted Mansion! MickeyBlog looks forward to many more decades of spooky laughs.