Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY: Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009)
and Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

From Creepy Old Crypts All Over the World

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The Haunted Mansion has a large cast of characters, but it's definitely a circumscribed group.  When the Ghost Host claims that they come from "all over the world," that's a bit of a sham.  They come from Northern Europe and North America, with the exception of three from the Mediterranean basin:  Caesar and two Egyptians (viz, the graveyard mummy and the Cleopatra-like lady on the chandelier).  Someone may ask whether even that is too generous a description.  Since a Victorian gentleman or gentlewoman who doesn't open his or her mouth could hail from either Old England or New England, how do we know there are any North Americans at all?  Well, we're in New Orleans, and whole flocks of wraiths are pouring up out of the graveyard, so presumably most of them are Americans.  We can thank Ken Anderson for that element (including how the effect is done—projections on a scrim).




"U. S. A ! . . . U. S. A ! . . . U. S. A !"

But better still, there is one ghost in there who is plainly North American (hint:  Paul Frees is Canadian).

No East Asians, no sub-Sahara Africans, no Native Americans, no Pacific Islanders, etc.  Does it mean anything?  I suspect that it signals a restriction on what kind of ghost traditions we are supposed to presume in the HM.  Sure, cultures all over the world believe in ghosts, but spirits of the dead in China or among Native Americans are regarded differently and function differently within those cultural-religious matrices than do our familiar Euro-American ghosts.  Reportedly, this is one reason why the Hong Kong Disneyland isn't getting anything similar to the Haunted Mansions found in all the other parks.  Within the Euro-American world, we assume that spirits of the dead are normally gone and out of our sphere, in heaven or hell or somewhere like that, and if they come back it's because something is wrong somewhere.  Something needs to be done so that they can rest in peace like they're supposed to.  If you should happen to see one, it is normally cause for concern, for dread.

If you're a storyteller you have to draw the circle somewhere or you won't have enough common ground with the audience to tell any kind of narrative, however vague.  Without the usual Euro-American expectations about ghosts, the whole joke of the Haunted Mansion fails miserably.

So much for space; what about the other variable of existence, time?  Plainly we've got ghosts from many different ages cavorting before our eyes.  Apparently the afterlife opens up a pool of potential partners that eHarmony.com can only dream of.  A medieval soldier is starting to get a little jiggy with that aforementioned Egyptian lass, the one with the Great Pyramids.


If we're looking for the oldest ghosts in the place, our three Mediterraneans easily take the prize.  There's this Egyptian gal, and of course our old friend Caesar down below her...


...but the obvious winner in this category is sitting out in the graveyard.


There are a good dozen or so medieval figures, but the vast majority of the ghosts we see appear to be 19th century vintage, and most of those Victorian, presumably because so many ghost stories seem to take place in such a historical setting, and because ghosts of that era no doubt feel at home in a house of comparable age.

A more interesting question is, which ghost is the youngest, the most modern?  The Imagineers seem to have restricted themselves in this area too.  There are no 20th century ghosts.  You might think that, well, what kind of distinctly 20th c. characters could have been offered that would have humorous potential and be instantly recognizable?  Plenty!  Where's your imagination?  A World War I doughboy, a flapper, a Chicago gangster of the Machine-Gun Kelly/Edward G. Robinson type.  Marc Davis could have spun out a dozen of these before breakfast, but they're not there.  I think it was a conscious limitation.

My vote for the youngest ghosts goes to the bicyclists.  They're a little loopy, but they're favorites with many fans.  Another Davis idea, too.



There are two single-riders and one tandem bike in the circle:


The tandem bike as we know it was invented in 1898, so there you go; they're perched right at the outer rim of the 19th century.  Lest you think this is pressing the details a bit hard,  I call your attention to a seldom-seen concept sketch by Davis showing that he was perfectly conscious of the late-90's setting of the tandem bike.


Call them the Cadaver Dans.


One of the brighter spots in the otherwise disappointing 2003 movie adaptation of the Haunted Mansion was the decision to recast the singing busts as a barbershop quartet and enlist the current incarnation of the Dapper Dans to provide the voices.  Who does NOT like the Dans, anyway?  I think it's a kick to have Davis's sketch before you as you listen...

Grim Grinning Ghosts - The Dapper Dans


So for what it's worth, there you go; there are the parameters for the cast of characters used to tell the Mansion tale.
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16 comments:

  1. Funny you should mention transportation technology- I had always assumed the Doom Buggies were supposed to be some sort of bizarre automobile, especially since dune buggies are a type of car, and I'm pretty sure they're a 20th century kind of thing.
    Also, I always associate hitchhikers with cars, although I don't honestly know how old the practice is.

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  2. It's true that most of the hitch-hiking ghost legends we are familiar with involve cars, but such legends actually predate the advent of the automobile, going back to horse-and-buggy days. I used to think that the most modern reference at the HM was on the Wathel Bender tombstone: "He rode to glory on a fender"; that is, he died in a car wreck. But it turns out that "fender" originally referred to the cow-catcher on the front of steam locomotives. It "fends" off impediments on the track, see? You're supposed to picture poor Wathel getting hit by a train and his body left sitting on the fender as the train goes merrily along. As for the doombuggy, certainly the name is a 60s-era pun, but they're not cars. Glad you mentioned it, though, because I wanted to do a post on them.

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  3. The two figures in the chandelier aren’t Cleopatra and Marc Antony? The way their hands are suggest so.

    Even Caesar is there but now Cleopatra isn’t in the floor on a rug, she is on the chandelier over Caesar head with her true love… So romantic… Not even Dead break them apart…

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  4. Very moving indeed, but sorry, they're not Marc and Cleo. On the blueprints they're "Medieval Soldier and Egyptian Lady."

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  5. Wait a minute... on their individual blueprints (the ones used to build the figures) don't they specifically say "Antony" and "Cleopatra", and the guy above them is "Pickwick" on his blueprint. Or is it my imagination, hmm?

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  6. I'm looking right at it, a 1969 WED schematic. The pair is built as a single assembly: "Medieval Soldier and Egyptian Lady Assy." Plus, I'm looking at a backstage photo, and he's got pointy shoes, which is medieval, not Roman.

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  7. Poop. You're right. I could have sworn I saw the names written on a blueprint somewhere. Guess it really was my imagination.

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  8. Since the majority of the ghosts, and the decor of the house, are so firmly rooted in the Victorian era, I always assumed that the revellers in ancient costumes were actually Victorians in fancy dress, perhaps guests at an ill-fated masked ball.

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  9. If so, that headless knight costume is pretty good.

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  10. This question is sort of relevant to this post. As a Mansion Maid I've had quite the privilege to explore the mansion and I take a lot of pride in figuring out how everything works. One thing I can't figure out however is the purpose of the scrims in the graveyard. I realize that some are projected on. The left side however doesn't have any projections. And while yes it does create an air about the ghosts. I feel that if you could see the ghosts a little better they would have a stronger effect.

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  11. First, I envy your explorations. Second, I'm glad to have a Maid make herself known. I'm curious as to how many Butlers and Maids read stuff like this on the web?

    As for the scrims, I think they're trying to make it look misty and foggy in there. I'm sure it helps to hide some stuff that shouldn't be seen, too. I wouldn't know how much different the ghosts might look without the scrim, except from photos, but I think the Imagineers wanted to err on the side of shadow and vagueness when it came to presenting us with convincing ghosts. There may be cases where they went further than necessary.

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  12. HBG2, I am savoring every bit of your splendid dissertation. It's a pleasure to discover so many kindred spirits floating in the ether.

    The examination of time and place in the Mansion's broad, but limited, ghost world adds yet another level of enjoyment and intrigue.

    As for the existence of 20th century markings, there is little else other than the rubbery rockabilly guitar lines that accompany us through the graveyard... save for the Doombuggy. But does this odd object actually reside in the present day?

    I agree with you that these carriages become invisible. They are a black art backdrop, subordinate to the stage they so forcefully frame. Yet when we first find them--in Limbo--they are a spectacle, a modern marvel of design, possessing form and function beyond mid-20th century expectation.

    Of course we'd seen it all before--cobalt blue and atomized--but that was in the future! And... that may well be where these black beauties come from. They will carry us to a place, beyond the fabric of our physical world, where the year 30 BC rubs elbows with 1880... where Europe and the Sinai waltz with the Big Easy.

    Nothing in the theater of the Mansion was left to accident. The buggies were modeled after the most modern seat imaginable in the 1960s. George Jetson rode one to his pipe and slippers. We dodged electrons in another. Eero Aarnio designed them for elite ultra-moderns.

    There's no doubt a good majority of mortal Mansion guests believe that in death the mysteries of the universe will be revealed.

    Surprise! As it turns out, the stairway to heaven is an omnimover track.

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  13. Haunted Mansion Fan ClubFebruary 26, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Well, as to the beginning of this article (and this isn't aimed at the author, just at the subject), I find it a serious concern that America is considered biased and bigoted if we don't include the rest of world's point of view (i.e. we're not allowed to have OUR OWN culture), but when you go to other countries of the world they have no problem glorifying their our cultures to exclusivity.

    Yes, other cultures have different views about death and "ghosts"; but this isn't THEIR story. Walt made it abundantly clear repeatedly that Disneyland is AMERICAN and promotes the American way. We shouldn't have to conform to the ways of other nations and people; why are their ways suddenly superior to ours? Disney is an American company with American views and dreams and fantasies, and when we export them (say, to Paris and Tokyo and Hong Kong) it is to celebrate and demonstrate OUR ways. Can you imagine Native American dancers traveling to Germany and being compelled to do the polka in their feathers instead of their tribal dances? It's absurd.

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    1. The point here is that the GH explicitly claims that the ghosts are from all over the world, when in fact they really aren't.

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  14. Haunted Mansion Fan ClubFebruary 26, 2013 at 6:43 PM

    Sorry HBG2. I guess I misunderstood. I somehow thought that the point was that the Imagineers were biased against other cultural views of death. Didn't mean to get political. I get it now.

    :)


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  15. They claimed the ghosts were from all over the world cause it sounded good. So what? Now are we going to subject the Haunted Mansion to "Political Correctness" just like they foolishly did a few years ago to Pirates of the Caribbean? What's next -- quotas for the ghosts? I'm glad they didn't include many from other cultures, if for no other reason than because in this PC world of today everyone would be focusing on it, and whether such representations were "acceptable" or "insensitive"! (BTW there are no "Native Americans" because that is a factually incorrect PC term invented by the Left; in point of fact there are no humans "native" to the Americas. Besides, every reputable poll shows that most American Indians do NOT want to be called "native Americans").

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