(October 1, 1971 - present)
History and photos of the Haunted Mansion ride in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
"When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls. Whenever candle lights flicker where the air is deathly still, that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight."
Tucked away in the northern section of Liberty Square and sitting on the bank of the Rivers of America is the Haunted Mansion, an original attraction that opened with the rest of the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971.
Themed to an early 1800s Dutch Gothic mansion in New York's Hudson River Valley, the Haunted Mansion tells the story of the mansion's last owner, that of young Master Gracey. As Master Gracey was hosting an elaborate party in his ballroom, he discovered that his young bride suddenly died. Unable to live without his bride, Master Gracey took his own life by hanging himself from the mansion's rafters. The mansion then sat unoccupied for over a hundred years. Some people claim that the former occupants are still around in ghostly forms . . .
The origin of the Haunted Mansion dates back to 1951 when Walt Disney was still in the planning stages of Disneyland (known as Mickey Mouse Park back then.) Some of the earliest concept artwork of the theme park included a church, graveyard, and a haunted house. As Disneyland was changing in size during its design phases, so did the idea for the haunted house. One early idea placed the haunted house on a small side street on Main Street, U.S.A. The idea was that the crumbling old house would be located down a "dead-end" avenue and placed on a small hill overlooking the Midwestern town.
The haunted house was removed from the listing of attractions to include for the opening of Disneyland in 1955. It wouldn't be until 1957 when talk of adding the haunted house resumed. In 1958, New Orleans Square became an official part of Disneyland, and it was decided to add the haunted house attraction to this land. It was hoped that the new haunted house attraction would be open by 1963, but one delay led to another and park guests wouldn't be able to tour the haunted house until it officially opened in 1969.
The original ideas had the Haunted Mansion slated to be a walking tour. Groups of about forty guests at a time would be led through the decaying old mansion by either a maid or a butler. The guide would take guests through various rooms and hallways, and point out interesting sights such as changing paintings on the walls. Unfortunately, Walt Disney wasn't pleased with the haunted house attraction being a "walk-through" experience, and the Imagineering team still had problems creating an overall story, figuring out a ride system, and getting the spooky special effects to work correctly. While the exterior of the Haunted Mansion was complete in 1961, the attraction itself was placed on hold until the team could create a terrific experience.
After the success of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, the Imagineers returned to working on the Haunted Mansion. It was decided that future Disney attractions would have to be "people-eaters," rides that could experience over a thousand people per hour. The idea of making the haunted house a walking tour was still there. In order to help move more people through the attraction, the Imagineers had an idea of building two identical "mansions" within the shell of the massive show building, doubling the attraction's flow of people.
However, a walk-through attraction would still have a limited number of people who could enjoy the attraction on any given day. In order to move the thousands of guests through the haunted house, then it was going to have to be in the form of a ride.
The solution to the Haunted Mansion's ride system happened in 1967 with the completion of the ride Adventure thru Inner Space in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. The ride system used something called an Omnimover, basically a continuous train of "pod" vehicles that were always moving, continually loading and unloading, and the individual ride vehicles could also spin and face the riders in any direction. This ride concept was quickly added to the Haunted Mansion (the ride vehicles are called "Doom Buggies"), and along with advances in the ride's Audio-Animatronics and other special effects, the final stages of construction were finally underway. The Haunted Mansion officially opened in Disneyland on August 9, 1969.
Even though the Haunted Mansion itself is a ride, the first part of the attraction would still feature either a maid or a butler who ushers guests into the mansion. The small groups of people would be shown the Foyer and then the Portrait Gallery before the "ghost host" escorts the guests on the ride itself.
The Haunted Mansion was a smash hit with the park guests. Thankfully the Imagineers predicted this ahead of time, and the Magic Kingdom's version of the Haunted Mansion was already under construction. It was decided that both versions of the ride would be identical though the Florida version would be set in Liberty Square and with a much different exterior, something scarier and more intimidating than the old southern plantation in the California park.
The Florida version of the Haunted Mansion was actually complete in April of 1971, six months *before* the Magic Kingdom was scheduled to open to the general public.
WARNING --- SPOILERS!
The experience for the Haunted Mansion begins with walking through Liberty Square and approaching the old mansion by the river. The mansion itself can be seen from many locations on the waterfront in Liberty Square and Frontierland. Visitors on Tom Sawyer Island and riding on the Liberty Square Riverboat can also have great views of the mansion. From some distance we can also hear the occasional cry of a wolf in the background. At night, random thunder and lightning effects are added to the exterior of the mansion as well.
The mansion is something called a "weenie," a structure that grabs your curiosity and makes you inquisitive and wanting to learn more about it. Just seeing the old mansion you know that it has a far greater story to tell. Judging by that long line of people waiting to enter it, the story and experience must be pretty good.
At the entrance to the estate is the beginning of the line queue. On the busiest of days (like between Christmas and New Year's Day) the line queue is extended further into Liberty Square and through the old station of the now-extinct Mike Fink Keelboats ride. The rest of the line queue winds back and forth in front of the mansion, past a horseless carriage hearse that is still carrying a casket. The line then goes underneath an awning (originally green, later changed to red as part of the 2007 refurbishment) and wraps around to the side of the mansion. Guests can split off to the side and take the "scenic route" through a "haunted cemetery" full of jokes and gags and interactive exhibits. The line queue then passes by the family's cemetery before entering the mansion.
Wait a second. Did the face on that tombstone of Leota just move and look at us? /spooky
At some point the doors to the mansion pop open and a maid or butler allows around forty or so people to enter the mansion. We step into the Foyer and see a portrait of young Master Gracey above the fireplace. Or, rather, he was young. As we watch the portrait of Master Gracey ages right before our eyes. Just as Master Gracey changes into an old skeleton, a hidden door opens and we're taken into the Portrait Gallery.
"Welcome, foolish mortals, to The Haunted Mansion. I am your host – your ‘Ghost Host.’ "
Inside of the Portrait Gallery the maid or butler tells us to drag our bodies away from the walls and to ". . . the dead center of the room." Above us on the walls are four portraits of innocent people. Suddenly we're joined in the room by a disembodied voice, an entity that welcomes us to the Haunted Mansion. The entity is our "Ghost Host," and he'll be with us for the remainder of the tour.
Before we know it the Portrait Gallery seems to be stretching in height. As the ceiling rises further and further, the portraits also stretch and reveal more to the pictures. Each portrait turns out to have a sinister (but funny) twist in the end. The Ghost Host tells us that we're in ". . . a chamber with no windows and no doors." After challenging us to find a way out of it, he tells us that there's always "his way."
Suddenly the lights go out, there's a flash of lightning, and hanging from the ceiling above us is the dead body of Master Gracey. He committed suicide by hanging himself. The lights go out again and there's a crashing sound right above us. When the lights return we see that the ceiling has returned to its original height. A hidden door opens and we head to the ride's loading station.
All around the loading station are more portraits. These paintings seem a bit creepy as all of the people's eyes keep following us. We then board our "Doom Buggy" and head further into the mansion.
"Do not pull down on the safety bar, please. I will lower it for you."
After passing beneath a staircase (look up to see a levitating candelabra) we glide down the Portrait Corridor. The paintings appear to be normal until lightning flashes as we see a creepier image.
"Our library is well stocked with priceless first editions --- only ghost stories of course --- and marble busts of the greatest ghost writers the literary world has ever known."
Our Doom Buggies then take us through the Library. In this small corner of the mansion we see walls lined with books. Invisible ghosts pull books from the shelves, move around a ladder, and even rock in a chair. On the shelves are a few busts of famous ghost writers. As we move through the room, the marble busts keep turning and always facing in our direction, as if they know of our presence.
After the library is the Music Room. Our Doom Buggies turn to face a piano set against a large window. Our Ghost Host is the one playing the piano though we cannot see him sitting there. What we can do is look down at the floor and see the ghost's shadow as he continues playing the piano.
After the Music Room we travel up a brief staircase, but it's no ordinary staircase. Above and around us are more staircases with the stairs going in crazy directions. We can also see ghostly footprints as the spectral occupants travel up and down the stairs.
"Every room has wall-to-wall creeps and hot and cold running chills . . ."
At the top of the stairs we pass a bunch of demon eyes that blend into the mansion's eerie wallpaper. After that is the Endless Hallway, a seemingly never-ending hallway complete with a floating candelabra. We then pass by a Conservatory where a funeral is taking place, though we're the only ones present besides a raven. That is, the raven and the corpse trying to escape from the casket.
Up next is the Corridor of Doors where the ghosts are starting to grow more restless. At first the ghosts are only knocking on doors and trying to turn the doorknobs, but later they're physically trying to break open the doors. This concept of the ghosts knocking and trying to break through doors was inspired from the 1963 supernatural horror film, The Haunting.
The end of the Corridor of Doors has a creepy grandfather clock. The clock has the number 13 instead of 12, its hands are spinning backwards, and the clock itself looks like the face of a demon.
"Goblins and ghoulies from last Halloween, awaken the spirits with your tambourine!"
The next room in the mansion is the Seance Circle. Our Doom Buggies face inward and we see Madame Leota's head inside of a floating crystal ball. A supernatural force is clearly in effect as not only is Madame Leota's head alive and talking, but other items are also flying around the room as well.
"The happy haunts have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to materialize for a swinging wake, and they'll be expecting me. I'll see you all a little later."
After the Seance Circle we find ourselves on a balcony overlooking the Grand Hall. Our Ghost Host tells us that he's to be expected at the party taking place down below, so we'll be on our own for a little while.
Beneath us in the Grand Hall is a celebration for a lady's "death-day." Other ghosts from around the area are arriving to celebrate the woman's special occasion. We can see them pouring into the room from the hearse in the corner. As the recently deceased ghost lady blows out the candles on her cake, other ghosts are drinking, dancing, and just having a grand time at the party. While some ghost couples are ballroom dancing, two ghosts in portraits continue their gun duel from many years ago. At the end of the Grand Hall is a ghost organist playing the "Grim Grinning Ghosts" song while skulls fly out of the pipe organ.
Following the Grand Hall is our trip through the mansion's Attic.
Like many attics, this one is dusty and cluttered with boxes and other items. Hiding behind some of the boxes are little monsters that pop up and try to scare guests. Also in the attic are several wedding portraits. When we look closer, it looks like all of the grooms keep losing their heads as the images change. At the end of the attic we finally see the ghostly bride. She has an evil grin on her face, and a small axe keeps appearing in her hands. Perhaps the bride had more to do with Master Gracey's death than originally thought.
"When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake, spooks come out for a swinging wake. Happy haunts materialize and begin to vocalize, grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize."
After passing the bride in the Attic, our Doom Buggies go out through a window, rotate backwards, and then "fall" down to the ground. Now we're outside the mansion and heading into the graveyard. A very concerned gravedigger and his poor hound dog aren't too sure about the ghosts as they rise from their graves to have fun. The ghosts sing and play along to the song "Grim Grinning Ghosts." There are even some Singing Busts (a.k.a. "The Phantom Five") singing the song as well.
"There's a little matter I forgot to mention. Beware of hitchhiking ghosts!"
Our Ghost Host re-joins us at the edge of the graveyard as we're about to enter the Crypt. Just as he's warning us about picking up hitchhiking ghosts, there are three of them right in front of us. Phineas is the large ghost wearing a top hat and carrying a carpetbag. Ezra is the tall and skinny ghost who is tipping his hat. The short convict ghost is Gus, complete with a bushy beard along with his ball and chain.
Nobody is going to give those ghosts a ride, right?
Our Doom Buggies go down a hallway and turn to face a series of mirrors. Whether we wanted it or not, one of those three hitchhiking ghosts is with us. We can clearly see him in the mirror. The ghost plays with us, going so far as to mess with our reflections in the mirror. Watch out as the ghost may even switch your head with that of your fellow rider!
"Hurry ba-ack . . . hurry ba-ack. Be sure to bring your death certificate if you decide to join us. Make final arrangements now. We've been dying to have you."
Waiting for us at the end of the crypt is one last spiriting standing on top of a ledge. The little ghost is more commonly known as Little Leota, and she beckons us to return to the mansion again. Only she would rather have us return as spirits so we can be a permanent resident at the Haunted Mansion.
"Now *I* will raise the safety bar, and the ghosts will follow you home!"
Our Doom Buggies roll into the unloading station and Master Gracey, our Ghost Host, allows us to leave his mansion. Just outside of the mansion is a Mausoleum with the final resting places of some of the mansion's more humorously named residents. Around the corner and on a small hill is a pet cemetery. If you look to the top right of the pet cemetery, you'll find a statue of Mr. Toad, a homage to the now-extinct Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Fantasyland.
END OF SPOILERS!
CHANGES TO THE HAUNTED MANSION
From 1971 through the early 1990s, the Haunted Mansion experienced little to no change except for the removal of the admission ticket system for going on attractions. The days of the admission tickets ended around 1982.
One of the first changes to the Haunted Mansion occurred in the Attic. The original version of the bride with the beating heart was replaced with a more realistic human figure around 1996 or 1997. This newer bride also levitated in the air as guests rode by in their Doom Buggies.
In 2005, the Leota tombstone was added to the cemetery at the end of the line queue. This first version of the tombstone had slight facial movements, and the eyes briefly opened.
2005 also saw the addition of the pet cemetery on a small hill near the exit of the ride. In 2006, the Mr. Toad statue was added to the pet cemetery.
In 2007, the Haunted Mansion went through an extensive refurbishment that included some minor changes to the outside of the mansion, new 3D audio of the Ghost Host in the stretch room and on the ride, and some changes on the ride itself. The paintings with the eyes in the Portrait Gallery were moved to the loading station, new paintings were added to the Portrait Gallery, the crazy staircases replaced the giant spiders, demons' eyes were added just before the Endless Hallway, and the bride was replaced in the Attic. Now the Attic has a greater theme revolving around a crazy bride who uses an axe to kill all of her husbands.
2009 had a small upgrade with the Leota tombstone in the cemetery. Her eyes were changed to make them more lifelike and noticeable to the people waiting in line.
In 2011, the ending with the Hitckhiking Ghosts was changed and given a high-tech upgrade. Instead of just looking across a mirror and seeing the ghosts, now the ghosts are CGI animated creatures who also have the powers to play with the riders. While this upgrade was under construction, the scene in the Vault was slightly changed. A screen covered the spot where the Hitchhiking Ghosts stood and had a CGI video clip of them hitching a ride. The next hallway then had the ghosts themselves "flying" up and down the halls. It was just a temporary effect to cover the Imagineers' work and allow for the ride to stay open while it was being upgraded.
2011 also saw the addition of the scenic route / haunted cemetery addition to the line queue, along with an upgrade to the main cemetery as well. The new addition added a bunch of interactive exhibits and some new gags for fans of the mansion. The leaking crypt with the sea captain is a reference to Captain Gore, one of the original concepts of the Haunted Mansion. The sea captain is also one of the paintings with the moving eyes that now resides in the ride's loading station.
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE HAUNTED MANSION
As you can tell, the Haunted Mansion is still one of my favorite rides in not just the Magic Kingdom but Walt Disney World as a whole. This is just a fantastic ride from start to finish with an amazing level of detail. The immense popularity of the classic ride even inspired the 2003 Disney film, The Haunted Mansion.
This is also a family-friendly ride with no height requirement. Some of the scenes *might* be a little bit too scary for the younger riders, but most kids who ride the Haunted Mansion seem to enjoy it.
I've always found it best to ride the Haunted Mansion at night, preferably during or after the Wishes fireworks show. The mansion is usually empty around that time, so it'll be much quieter and you'll have a better experience. Your eyes will also be better adjusted with it being dark outside, so you'll be able to see the details inside of the mansion a little bit better. Plus it's just a little bit spookier at night, making the experience that much more entertaining.
One of the better aspects of the Haunted Mansion is that it literally is a "people-eater" when talking about the number of riders per hour. During peak times in the park this ride's line can reach frightening lengths, but it keeps moving. Because of its high capacity, most people can go on the Haunted Mansion a couple of times during their day at the Magic Kingdom.
Without a doubt, make sure that the Haunted Mansion is one of the attractions that you experience at the Magic Kingdom. The Haunted Mansion is a textbook example of how theme park rides should be designed.
|TIP||Be sure to also ride the Haunted Mansion at night. The special effects are more convincing, and the wait time is usually extremely short.|
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