Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that its 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).

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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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What is a Doombuggy, Anyway?

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Updated December 28, 2012

A trivia item known to most hardcore fans is the fact that the term "doombuggy" occurs only in the "breakdown spiel," when riders are told to remain seated in their halted "dooooombuggy," as X pronounces it (that's his voice).  Theoretically, you could ride the HM your entire life and never hear the word.

Breakdown Spiel


Less well-known is the fact that "doombuggy" was used in press releases given out for the grand opening, so it's been an official term since Day One.  It's a pun on "dune buggy," of course, firmly dating the whole business to the late 60's.


That is soooo groovy

Yes, but what is a doombuggy supposed to be?  When it comes to conveyance vehicles, the Haunted Mansion is admittedly inferior to the Pirates of the Caribbean.  The small boats you use to sail through an imaginary Caribbean port town are perfectly suited to the world you are entering, requiring minimal suspension of disbelief.  That's how you would do it, if you were really in a position to do it.  But I've never heard of a real haunted house with a string of pods snaking through it.

The Ghost Host refers to them as carriages, but I'm not inclined to take that too literally.  If they're carriages, where are the wheels?  Like the prohibition against flash photography and the mention of safety bars, it's a concession to reality that you're supposed to tolerate as part of the price of having an experience like this.  Guests need to be informed in advance that they're going to be getting into a vehicle and had better be ready to pair up with "two or three loved ones."  "Carriage" is just about as neutral a term as you could expect under such circumstances.  What else could he call them?  "Vehicles"?  "Conveyances"?

But within the imaginative world of the HM, the doombuggy must be something, right?  I've heard it all. "It's a hearse."  "It's a coffin."  "It's what he says it is, a carriage."  "It's a chair."

None of these is satisfactory.  If they had wanted them to be little hearses, it would have been easy enough to supply some appropriate decoration.  That's what they did, for example, for the Haunted Castle at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California:


(pix by RegionsBeyond)

Well, are they coffins, then?  X. Atencio's first impulse, as a matter of fact, had been to outfit the omnimovers like coffins:

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You've got the same problem.  If they're supposed to be coffins, why don't they look like coffins?  They're not armchairs either.  Gimme a break, you're floating through a house in an armchair?  That's a bit . . . much.

What they really are is exactly what they look like:  nothing!  They're shapeless, featureless blobs, painted flat black, which in itself is a sure sign that you're not supposed to "see" them at all.


Nope.  Don't see nuthin'.  Blank.  Zip.  Nothing there.

To illustrate the idea, I like to point to Bunraku, a traditional form of Japanese puppetry.  The puppeteers are in full view, but dressed and hooded in black.  By the second act, the puppeteers often dispense with the hoods, because by then you no longer "see" them.




They often have several puppeteers working the same puppet, as in this 1935 photo.
Doesn't matter.  They aren't there.  

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"Dum de dum dum, you can't seeeee us!"

It's really the same principle as ignoring the plainly visible strings on a marionette, just a more extreme application.  That's how it is with the doombuggy, except that you're the puppet.  Gulp.

You walk into a strange limbo (at DL anyway), where the boundaries of the world you've entered seem to dissolve, where "inside" and "outside" have no meaning anymore.  This was more explicit in Claude Coats' delicious concept artwork, but it's plain enough anyway.




You are still on foot; you are still walking.  But even though you're scared, for some unknown reason you find yourself ascending the stairs and continuing to walk through the house, under the influence of some strange compulsion, some unseen manipulation of your will.
[But see now the update below.]



Eventually you step outside through an attic window onto a small porch, and then you fall to the ground through a tangle of bare trees, but gently upborne by that same, unseen, manipulating force, so that you land uninjured (evidence that your Host is actually benign).  I used to resist this interpretation, preferring the scenario spelled out in the "Story and Song" narrative, wherein the characters find a set of steps at the end of the balcony and get down that way.  But the normal railings of the porch abruptly change to a twisted set of black pipes, obviously intended to look like random tree branches in the dark.  There are no railings for the steps at the end of the balcony, because there are no steps.


Besides, Frank Allnutt, WED public relations manager at the time the HM opened, wrote a summary of the ride, dated April 8, 1969, and it leaves no doubt as to what you're supposed to imagine at this point:  

Mortal visitors escape "outside" the mansion, only to suddenly "fall" backwards off the roof.  They descend past grasping, demon trees, then find a terrified night watchman and his dog, standing, frozen with fright, at the gates of a misty cemetery.

There is less certainty about whether you "die" from the fall and join the party or not.  Some people think so, but I doubt it.  The spirits continue to either ignore you or have fun trying to scare you (the pop-ups).  In other words, you're still not one of "them," not yet, anyway.

So pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.  The Mansion is still the walk-thru attraction it was always planned to be.  Trust me, there's nothing there, even if it's nothing with a safety bar attached.

Update 12-28-12.  The earliest known official reference to the conveyance system is a press release from early in 1969, announcing the opening of the ride later that summer.  I have here a March 23rd clipping that says that the Mansion will provide "perpetual levitation for moving guests through the haunted halls...."  So apparently you aren't walking under some strange compulsion but being carried by some mysterious and invisible force.  (You're only "levitating" if you can't see anything holding you up, right?)  It comes to the same thing.


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19 comments:

  1. I still say they're supernatural carriages, drifting along "wheel-lessly."

    Take away the horse and wheels from the carriage in this photo, and you basically have the Doom Buggy:
    http://rightproadvisors.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/horse-buggy.jpg

    Plus, the hitchhiking ghosts scene would imply that you're in a vehicle.

    Note that in the record, in which the characters do walk through the mansion, the hitchhikers aren't even mentioned.

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  2. Bunraku is interesting because I found myself both watching and unwatching the puppeteers. I was in Japan last November and went to Gion Corner in Kyoto, which is where the middle Bunraku picture is from. And I did notice the men, maybe because it was relatively new to me and I "knew" to look for them. As I said though, while consciously watching them, I was also unconsciously not. It's... interesting...

    Anyways, I think you're spot on with how you're not supposed to notice the Doombuggies. They're nothing. Stop looking at them! ^_^

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  3. To me, the doom buggies are inseparable from the ride. It is a mostly smooth and silent, which helps you float along. Also, it is one of the few ride vehicles where you are forced to see a specific perspective. And it is an awfully tight squeeze if you are over 5'10".

    Since the Ghost Host mentions it specifically at the beginning of the spiel, it has always been an integral part of the attraction. Sort of like it is keeping you safely ensconced while riding.

    Great article!

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  4. They're like death coaches specifically designated to give tours through the mansion.

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  5. It may be worth mentioning that the doombuggies play no role in the "Story and Song" narrative. Mike and Karen could have boarded some sort of mysterious carriage during their tour, but they do not. They walk up the stairs.

    The absolute lack of any decorative features or any identifiable shape, plus the flat black paint job, are the things that most convince me that they're supposed to be "invisible." And the GH's (and X's) references to them do not go one whit beyond the absolute minimum required by the logistics of the ride. That's just my take; your mileage may vary.

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  6. Fantastic post.

    I don't like to think that you "die" after the attic. I feel like that wouldn't be in the theme of the rest of the attraction... Then, what happens after you walk out of the attraction? You're suddenly alive? Killing the guests makes for a weak storyline. I guess Toad's okay with that.

    LOVE that Claude Coats boarding artwork.

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  7. It's a fair point that the hitchhiking ghosts play off of urban legends that involve vehicles. The gag itself goes back to Ken Anderson (as we've seen), with people walking along and seeing ghosts accompanying them in the mirrors. Similarly, X's skeletal ghost in a coffin-like vehicle is using the same gag but also without allusion to the rich store of HHG urban legends. Reportedly, the idea of making this mirror gag based on those stories was a pretty late idea that came from a female employee (not an "official" Imagineer), and everyone instantly saw what a good idea it was and went with it. It may be that the price for doing so was to introduce a slight inconsistency, an acknowledgment that you are indeed in some kind of vehicle, despite all the features that encourage you to ignore it as a big nothing!

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  8. Yes, theoretically you could ride the Mansion without hearing the term "doombuggy", but as the ride gets stuck so often, it's almost impossible to avoid.

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  9. Is it possible that it is YOU they are hitching a ride in?

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  10. If that were the intention, you'd expect to find something like it in traditional legends about ghostly hitchhikers.

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  11. Hello,
    could you please let me know where comes from the bunraku photography from 1935 you add here?
    Thanks!

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  12. I'm afraid I can't remember where exactly I found it. It can be seen in several places on the internet. Here's another one that gives the date as 1935:

    http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/index.php?/topic/28245-old-photos/

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  13. Someone said something about Toad... I do know You are supposed to be in Toad's crazy dream in that ride, so the Hell thing kinda makes sense. Like you wake up from a dream and hey, no Hell anymore!

    -Mel

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  14. Haunted Mansion Fan ClubFebruary 26, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the important fact that when you look up at the outside of the mansion as you "fall" through the window into the graveyard, the mansion is a completely different architectural building than the real Antebellum building facade. I'm not sure what style the mansion is when looking up at it from the caretaker's angle, but it certainly ain't the Anderson/Shipley Antebellum mansion. Maybe... Victorian?

    Ooops. I wonder who is responsible for that major continuity screwup.

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    Replies
    1. That topic is tackled in the post, "The Ghostland Around Us, Beneath Us."

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  15. It's pretty ambiguous (I'm guessing on purpose) whether or not you "die" in the Haunted Mansion. The woman at the end says ""Hurry back... hurry back," she pleads. "And don't forget your death certificate! We're just... dying... to have you..." And then the sign says "Dead End: Prepare to exit to the living world."

    So, are you a ghost who returns to the "living world" long enough to visit the local government office and carry back proof of death? Or are you living the entire time, and the ghosts are only biding their time until your actual demise allows you to join them "for real"?

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  16. Before my childhood 70s trip to Disneyland, I had seen a brochure mentioning the mansion. I think I was most excited about this one, even then, but in my mind I visualized a dune buggy rolling through a haunted house. There was simply nothing else I could think of. (Wonder Bug was probably on TV then, or had been.) I guess I never thought about what the younger generation thinks of that term, no doubt, "what is a doombuggy" will send them here...

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  17. One interesting way to support the theory that there is nothing there is the fact that the Doombuggy is only mentioned when you need to know that it exists. You hear about it right before you load it, using the nondescript name, right when it breaks down or stops, just so you don’t panic, and finally at the end they gently ease you back to reality through the Hitchhiking Ghost. The Hitchhiking Ghost come right at the end of the ride, when you have fully forgotten about your “carriage,” and act as a transition, they destroy the illusion of floating in nothing ness (which is necessary to avoid guest from riding the attraction for eternity), and yet they still remind guest that ghost do exist through one final trick. The Ghost Host also takes this moment to remind you about the safety bar, something he only mentioned once before…. Personally I find the “there’s nothing there theory” very accurate to how they make you feel throughout the attraction, because the first few times I rode the ride, I only remembered that they exist and to exit because a voice I didn’t recognize surprised me by speaking in place of the Ghost Host and it told me to exit with my left foot first. Basically they had to shock me into reality so that I would exit.

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