Sunday, September 28, 2014

Disney's Haunted Mansion: Part I

I remember being very scared. So much so that I wouldn't let my dad take me anywhere near the Gothic style house. He must have really wanted me to experience the ride though, as he eventually convinced me that it would be fun. I must have been around 4 or 5, probably during the second trip my parents took my family to Walt Disney World. All my fear melted away when I finally did go inside and experience the masterpiece that is the Haunted Mansion. It filled me with so much wonder and it really wasn't that scary at all, in fact it was a lot of fun! Needless to say, I will be taking my children on this ride someday, and though they may be scared at first, I hope they embrace the ride just as I did so many years ago. My wife and I are leaving for Disney World soon and I couldn't be more excited. I love everything there, but my pilgrimage is always to the Haunted Mansion. I've ridden it up to three times in one trip. I don't think I've had the misfortune of seeing it under refurbishment while we visited. It wouldn't ruin the trip, but I would be seriously bummed. I know what you're thinking, that this "haunted house" ride shouldn't mean that much to me, but it does. I think it's a combination of things. The Haunted Mansion represents a unique part of my childhood. As far as I can tell, it introduced me to all things spooky. It showed me that just because something had ghosts in it, didn't mean it was scary. It could be fun! I embraced that mentality early on, and led to my love of Halloween. The ride also means a lot to me because I associate it with my father. I don't think I've ridden it with him since 2000, but it was our tradition when going to the park-- that and riding Pirates of the Caribbean. No one else in my family went crazy for it, so if anything my dad and I would ride it by ourselves, and a couple times in a row if time allowed. This ride is special to me, which is why I wanted to write about it. The Haunted Mansion has a ton of devoted fans. There's even a website dedicated to it, so I'm not alone in my love for it. Disney did something right with this ride. There's tons of information out there about the ride and its many different interpretations, so it's easy to learn more if you'd like. I'm just going to give a brief background.

The idea for the Haunted Mansion actually predates Disneyland, as Walt Disney had hired a bunch of Imagineers to help him come up with areas for his new park. One such Imagineer came up with a old broken down antebellum manor at the end of a crooked street leading away from Main Street. The idea was to have a whole land dedicated to New Orleans, and it would include a thieves market, a pirate wax museum, and a haunted house walk-through. So it's evident that they first intended the Haunted Mansion not to be something that you could actually ride, but just walk through. Who knows what that would have been like. Walt Disney liked the walkthrough idea, but hated that they wanted to make the house look dilapidated. Disneyland was supposed to be a nice place! He made the rule that the house could be whatever they liked inside, but the outside would look creepy, but not run down. This is in contrast to the other Haunted Mansions, which were designed after Walt Disney's death, they are notably less nice looking on the outside on purpose when compared to Disneyland's. Ken Anderson was responsible for much of the mansion's design, along with Claude Coates and Marc Davis, among others. Coates wanted the attraction to be more scary, while Davis wanted it to be a light-hearted affair, more in line with the rest of Disneyland. They both got their way, as you can see a noticeable shift in tone from the beginning half of the ride, to the latter half. The beginning has more spooky imagery, the stretching room, the hanging body of the Ghost Host, the rising coffin lid, and many other things. The latter half, starting after the ballroom scene, is a bit sillier, with the graveyard scene being filled with many goofy ghosts doing an assortment of gags and tricks.

The Haunted Mansion was announced in 1961, with a opening date in 1963, or so the handbills passed out to guests at the main gate were led to believe. This opening date would prove to be way off, as the Haunted Mansion didn't actually open til late 1969. So what was the delay? There was a lot of confusion on what was going to be in the ride, and how people were going to experience it. The exterior was finished by 1963, which was accompanied by a sign out front that promised an opening of the ride very soon. Rumors began to fly around about what was housed inside the mansion, with the most wild piece of gossip circling around it being Walt Disney's second home. The ride's design was heavily changed after the 1964-65 World's Fair, where Omni-mover technology was introduced. The Imagineers knew they had their new ticket to a hot ride. With a continually moving vehicle, guests to be spun and directed to look at certain things inside the ride, causing more chances for surprise. Though Walt Disney had liked his walkthrough idea, the Omni-movers were an improvement. After some redesigns after Walt's death in 1966, the Haunted Mansion finally opened in 1969, with it becoming a smash hit with park attendees. Stay tuned for Part II coming soon!

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