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, 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.


Monday, June 21, 2010

The Missing Door

In the Conservatory of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion, directly across from the coffin, on the other side of the tracks, you'll find a door, and to the left of the door, you'll find this:

Nice, but so what?  Curiously enough, there's supposed to be a door there.  It's on all the blueprints . . .

. . . and in the Orlando and Tokyo Mansions, there is a door there.  Here's a side-by-side, with DL on the left, WDW on the right.

It's supposed to have a clack-clack phantom knocker on it, and again, at Orlando and Tokyo, that's what you get.

So where's the door, and why the mirror?  The answer is: No one seems to know.  The mirror has always
been there, at any rate.  You can glimpse it in the Osmonds special from March 1970:

The answer is probably something mundane.  Perhaps the door frame came out of the mold defectively, and there was no time or money to cast another one.  (Like other HM fixtures, it's fiberglass.)  So they had to improvise.  There is another possibility, however, and this is admittedly speculation.

One effect the Imagineers were reportedly contemplating for the Corridor of Doors was a "girl in the mirror" gag.  The following piece of concept art comes from a later time, but I understand that the effect it shows was kicked around by the original Imagineers as well:

A form of this effect was eventually used—at Phantom Manor, in Paris.  (And, I might add, you can find it other places: the Cheshire Cat in the mirrors in The Mad Hatter shop and Mickey in a magic mirror in his Toontown house, both at DL.)  One can't help wondering if, by some small chance, the missing DL door was deliberately omitted, and the innocent looking mirror now hanging there was actually intended for something much more sinister, but the gag was scrapped for some reason or other.

It is a tribute to the Haunted Mansion (and to the geekiness of its fans, I suppose) that a trivial find like this one engages the imagination.  I doubt that a missing door in It's a Small World would get blogged anywhere.  But the Mansion Imagineers have created an environment that encourages you to enjoy the illusion of a house that's more than a house, one that's almost alive.  Looking at some concept art, you can see just how far Imagineers like Claude Coats were willing to push the surreal nature of the building itself.

So for those who are happy to absorb the atmosphere of the place, the missing door becomes something intriguing once you're aware of it.  You could almost think it may appear someday, or better, that it is there right now but you can't see it.  *cue the eerie organ music*

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Mansion Gets Organized

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the well-known fact that the organ in the Disneyland Haunted Mansion's ballroom is the same one used in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  You can get that bit of trivia at any ol' blog; Long-Forgotten readers demand more.  More ye shall have, and yet with no more calories than with those regular Haunted Mansion blogs.  It's amazing.

Harper Goff was a Disney genius of the first water.  It was he who designed the Nautilus and all of the sets for the classic 20K film.  One prop that gave him some trouble, however, was Captain Nemo's pipe organ.  The normal procedure was to go to the usual prop houses and arrange for an organ transplant to the 20K sets.  But he couldn't find anything suitable, so in desperation he began scouring the classified ads in the local papers.  He lucked out.  Some guy not too far away had an organ console in his garage that he was willing to unload for cheap.  When Goff saw the instrument he was delighted, because not only was it a handsome piece, but it had all the stops and keys intact (a rare thing with old junked organs).  The owner was pretty tickled as well: that idiot from Disney paid him a cool $50 for an old organ console that didn't even work.

Decked out with a nice set of fake pipes (fiberglass, just like the sets themselves in 20K), the prop served its purpose, and when the 20K sets were put on display in a Disneyland Exhibit, the organ was a crowd pleaser, judging by the number of photographs around.

Two years later Ken Anderson was given the assignment of designing a Haunted House for Disneyland.  His plans always seem to have included a ballroom with an organ in it, played by an unseen organist, and viewed from a balcony.

For the organ itself, he was happy with an old-fashioned pump organ, a popular fixture in wealthy Victorian houses.

The Imagineers responsible for creating the actual Haunted Mansion gave numerous interviews over the years in a myriad of publications, especially Rolly Crump, X. Atencio, and Marc Davis.  It is curious that in the published comments, rarely do they mention Ken Anderson and his pioneering labors in 1957 and 1958 on what would eventually be the Haunted Mansion (X does mention him at least once).  I have to think this is a fluke rather than a snub, perhaps the result of the questions asked and the material discarded in the editing process.  Whatever the reason, it took a long time for Anderson's contributions to be fully appreciated.  We'll have a full post on that later.  I'm pointing it out now because you will never find a clearer example of how later Imagineers made direct use of Anderson's ideas than this organ gag.  Although the sketch above doesn't show it, Anderson eventually conceived of a number of other instruments in use along with the organ, floating around the room.  That gag was used too, but it was transferred to the Séance circle.  Meanwhile, Anderson's pump organ with its ghostly musician leaving his footprints on the pedals was taken over wholesale by Claude Coats and by X. Atencio, along with an ensemble of other musicians.

Meanwhile meanwhile, another Imagineer had ideas of his own.  Walt Disney personally recruited Rolly Crump to work on the Haunted House in 1959 because he recognized in Rolly a wild and original imagination with a penchant for the weird and fantastic.  That quaint old pump organ didn't really suit Rolly, who felt that it was important to present guests with things they had never seen before.  Rolly's organ console was, you might say, a little unorthodox.

No matter how much the other Imagineers might balk at Rolly's ideas as "too weird," Rolly held a trump card:  Walt loved his stuff.  When Rolly built a small model of this organ, that was the one Walt used to demonstrate the Pepper's Ghost effect for viewers of the television program celebrating Disneyland's tenth anniversary in 1965.

Walt decided to put Rolly's surrealistic material into a "Museum of the Weird," separate from the Haunted Mansion proper.  But what about the ballroom organ?  What's it going to be guys, this crazy thing or the more staid Anderson-Coats-Atencio pump organ?  Or are there going to be two pipe organs in the attraction?  Walt's death in 1966 left questions like that without a supreme arbiter, but in this case, the question answered itself in that same year when the old 20,000 Leagues exhibit permanently shut down and work began on an all-new Tomorrowland.  Somebody realized that the Nemo organ was now available, and it was probably an easy decision to save a few dollars and some time by grabbing it for the Mansion.  So much for the pump organ.

When Marc Davis sketched his concept for the organist, he seems to have had the Nemo organ in mind, judging by the fan-shaped organ pipes.

This is even more obvious in Collin Campbell's painting, based on Davis's sketch:

But the Nemo pipes were a fiberglass shell, and the big "N" medallion wasn't something you could just snap off.  Besides, if they just plopped the same organ into the HM ballroom that had been on display in Tomorrowland for over ten years, plenty of guests would likely recognize it for the salvage job that it was.  The solution, of course, was to design a new set of pipes, and ta da, it was Rolly Crump's old design that came to the rescue.  That pipe set remains the single largest survivor from Crump's disused "Museum" designs to make it into the finished HM.

The rest is details.  What happened to the other musicians?  Marc Davis liked the idea of a ghostly musical ensemble, but he conceived of it as having its own tableau rather than as an adjunct to the ballroom organist.

When this tableau was nixed, there went what once was going to be the organist's companions, and he became a solo artist.  Another Davis idea did survive, though: the banshees floating out of the organ pipes.  Very cool.  The cloudy spirits were solidified into skull-like heads, and the practical effect was simply a ferris-wheel device, reflected spookily in the glass.  This device may possibly have been inspired by the bats flying around in the forest scene in Snow White's Adventures, over in Fantasyland.  This would not be the first nor the last borrowing from the park's original scary dark ride.

The end result is one of the Mansion's most memorable characters.  In glorious 3D for ya, once again.

Only the DL organ is "real."  The WDW and Tokyo organ consoles are simply plywood mockups, modeled on the original.  Between the 20,000 Leagues movie and the DL Haunted Mansion, that original instrument may be the most frequently viewed pipe organ console of all time.

I wonder what that guy did with his fifty bucks?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Are Imagineers Geeks?

The easy—and correct—answer to that question is, "Some are, some aren't."  Since once in awhile an argument hinges on whether or not some random detail in the HM is the result of pure geekiness, it's helpful to demonstrate that the phenomenon really is there.  I think a good example can be seen in the attic scale model photos that we've referenced more than once already, comparing them to what is actually there.

As many of you know, they build a scale model of the whole attraction beforehand and photograph it to death, using this as a tool for interior design, finding unforeseen problems in presentation, fine-tuning arrangements of group figures, etc.

The photos are not generally intended for public consumption, although many do eventually get published in various Disney books and magazines.  They're fun to look at, no doubt about it.

Anyway, it seems to me that the Imagineers who revamped the attic contents for the Constance overhaul in 2006 were Haunted Mansion geeks.  They went back to the old scale model photos and incorporated details from them that the public could not possibly be expected ever to notice.

Let's take a look.

This 1969 shot of the Hatbox Ghost corner of the attic model has some curious props in it.  There's an unusual red couch of some kind and some items suggesting the presence of a Victorian-era big game hunter:  a water buffalo head and an elephant's foot umbrella holder.

Flash forward to 2006 and check out the Reginald tableau in the Connie attic:

Notice also that this tableau has two globes in it, which seems like a bit of overkill, doesn't it?  Why have two of them so close together?

Compare this scene with its counterpart in the scale model, and the global mystery is solved by another appeal to the geek factor.  It turns out that the smaller globe is placed almost exactly where its miniature twin sits in the old photo.  Someone might argue that this is a coincidence, but after the example of the big game hunter's red couch, I'm inclined to think it's deliberate.  If the responsible parties ever happen to click on "Long-Forgotten" and read this post, all I can say is . . .

. . . BUSTED!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Ballroom Dancers: The Disaster that Wasn't

Updated June 1, 2012

The Grand Ballroom scene is the Haunted Mansion's masterpiece, a jawdroppin', show-stoppin', eye-poppin', head-choppin' (Connie! get out) spectacle, and it's not surprising that some amusing trivia has come out of there.  Everyone knows that the DL organ console is Captain Nemo's, a prop from the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea movie.  Another bit of trivia that's fairly well known is that they failed to take into consideration the fact that the figures are reflected—and therefore reversed—and so the ballroom dancers depict the ladies leading the men, which is no doubt gratifying to someone with feminist inclinations ("See?  In the afterlife they finally wise up"), but it's generally regarded as an embarrassing goof.  "I screwed up," admits sculptor Blaine Gibson, with characteristic modesty.

Actually, dancing etiquette was the least of the problems they had with the dancers.  They almost had a disaster with this effect, but that bit of trivia has lain quietly hidden.  Sometimes something is "long forgotten" because someone swept it under the rug and hoped that it would be forgotten.

The effect itself is simple, just a bunch of mannequins spinning on turntables (perhaps too simple—Rolly Crump has been known to criticize it as too obvious).  There are six couples in all, two sets of three on two adjacent turntables.  The blueprints tell the story.

They store junk anywhere and everywhere inside the HM's.  Hey, if the guests can't see it, it doesn't exist.

Strangely enough, in some early photography, there are only three couples, not six.  That's what you see in this pre-opening publicity photo, probably taken in the summer of 1969:

It's even on film.  Filming the interior of the HM has always been difficult, so the detailed ride-thru footage done by WDI (then WED) for their own in-house use quickly became available in edited form as stock interior footage for the HM.  It's endlessly recycled, and you still see snippets of it any time they want to show something inside the Mansions.  The famous Disneyland Showtime TV episode featuring the Osmond brothers (aired March 22, 1970) made heavy use of the WED footage.  The main point of interest here is that this film was shot well before the HM opened, once again, probably during the summer of 1969.  And in the ballroom scene, there are only three couples swirling around ("You can see right through the dancers!" says Donny.  Yep, and it doesn't take long, since there aren't very many to see through.)

Some party.  Looks kinda lonely out there.

How come three couples, not six?  Because they thought they could get by with a single turntable with three revolving couples, multiplied with mirrors.  Again, the blueprints tell the tale:

Well, why not?  Multiplying objects with artfully arranged mirrors was by now an old Imagineering trick.  They had used it to create a swirling mass of ghostly spinning wheels in the original Sleeping Beauty Diorama walk-thru (and in the 2008 remake of this attraction, this scene was restored):

More recently, they had used mirrors to create a vast sea of water molecules out of just a few models, over at the Adventure Thru Inner Space:

So what could go wrong?  With a V-shaped mirror, you quadruple the object within the V.  See, like this:

Yes I know that the figures aren't reflecting themselves accurately in the mirrors.  This a rough sketch, just to give you an idea.  It actually looks pretty good.  I set up three chessmen on a phonograph turntable and grabbed a couple of mirrors, and it wasn't hard at all to visualize twelve couples gettin' down to that funky sound.

Alrighty, so what's the problem?  Well, the scene above is the view from the doombuggy when it's directly in front of (and above) the dancers.  But of course the dancers are visible the whole time you're scooting along the balcony.  We need to start with more of a side view, like this:

.       Whoops, wait a sec.  We forgot to put up the mirrors.

.         Oh snap.

You know, I sure hope they figured this out before they ordered those huge, expensive mirrors.  There is no sign of the mirrors in the publicity shot or the film footage we looked at above, but I suspect that they knew by then that they had a little problem here and a second turntable with another three couples was in the works.  Maybe it was not yet built or not yet installed.  The thing is, they were still counting on the mirror effect in April.  That's when the blueprint above was done.  That means that there was a maximum of four months (and possibly much less than that) for them to (1) notice the problem, (2) kick themselves for being so stupid, (3) come up with a solution, and (4) build and install it.

By comparison, Blaine's little "screw-up" with the ladies leading the men was small potatoes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Museum of the Weird Book by Grillot de Givry

In the previous post I showed how Marc Davis made good use of Émile Grillot de Givry's Illustrated Anthology of Sorcery, Magic, and Alchemy.  He wasn't the only one.  I also mentioned Rolly Crump, who evidently rifled through de Givry for images to use in his "Museum of the Weird."  Here are a couple of examples from one of Rolly's well-known "Museum of the Weird" concept sketches:

And here y'go, darlin', or as Émile would put it, Voilà.

Here's another example, taken from a different sketch of the Museum.  Rolly borrowed an old palmistry chart in de Givry.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Which Witch?

Are there any witches in the Haunted Mansion?  At Disneyland, I believe the answer is no, but at WDW and Tokyo, the answer is yes:

She's known as the "Witch of Walpurgis," one of the so-called Sinister 11, the portraits who used to watch you as you passed down the hall at WDW (and they still do at Tokyo).  Now the eleven are scattered around inside the WDW Mansion, and the Witch of Walpurgis hangs in the load area.  Like the others, her eyes are no longer the concave, half-a-ping-pong-ball type that follow you.  That's her second demotion, you might say.  Originally, she was going to be a changing portrait.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  What she really represents is the middle ground that Marc Davis could not find, somewhere between the cartoon witches of Halloween decor and the scary, Black-Sabbat-attending witches of Western imagination, still considered very numerous and very real until the 18th century or so.  When Davis began kicking around the idea of witches in the HM, one direction he tried out was the "realistic" one.  His original concept painting for the Walpurgis Witch features some curious differences from the finished version above.

For one thing, her head was originally going to turn into a goat's head.

You'll notice that she's got a lot of stuff around her that didn't make it into the finished portrait and that they made good the loss by simply doubling the skull, which strikes me as...numbskulled.  The second skull doesn't even make visual sense as part of the composition.  Anyway, in the original, what is all that junk?  That's Marc Davis doing research into "real" witches, that's what that is.  And we even know exactly where he did the research:  Émile Grillot de Givry's Le musée des sorciers, mages, et alchemistes, first published in 1929 and reprinted umpteen times.  The English versions can't make up their mind what the title is, so if you go looking for it, you should go looking by author.  Here are two editions.  There are a lot more.  One was (or is) certainly in the WDI library, used by both Marc Davis and Rolly Crump for their Mansion research.

A painting known as the "Witches' Kitchen" by Hieronymous Francken (ca. 1610) is reproduced in the book, although de Givry lists both the title and the artist incorrectly.  LOL, as the kids say.  Anyway, here's what the painting is supposed to look like:

Like all the illustrations in de Givry, this one is reproduced as a blurry black and white.  Still, that's evidently what Marc used.  You'll notice at least three things in it that he copied into his Walpurgis Witch portrait:

A tip of the hat to Brandon "GRD" Champlin for first noticing that one.  Davis gives us a weird little gremlin-like demon conjured up on the left (actually two), obviously inspired by a similar fellow in the Francken painting.  The thing on the right is a "hand of glory," a grisly bit of occultic paraphernalia concocted from the severed hand of an executed criminal.  Thanks to its appearance in one of the Harry Potter novels, it's a bit more familiar today than it used to be.  Aren't we the lucky ones.

Let's see...what else.  The knife in a desiccated skull is pretty cut and dried.  There's also that forky thing in Marc's sketch.  That's an ordinary wooden pitchfork, and in traditional iconography until about the 18th c., witches rode on those more often than on the familiar broomstick.  Marc may in fact have learned this from de Givry, who supplies a number of good examples.

No doubt the thing that caught Marc's eye in that second one was the hidden Mickey:

The smoking gun that proves that this book was indeed the inspiration for much of what you see in the Witch of Walpurgis is the magic circle on the wall, copied directly from a reproduction in de Givry:

This one actually survived into the finished painting, so there remains at least one item that made it from the de Givry book into the actual HM with no real alteration.  That and the knifed skull.

Why was most of this groovy stuff jettisoned between the concept art and the show piece?  Was it too dark, too occultic, too liable to give some folks genuinely queasy feelings about the ride?

Doubtful.  For Davis and his generation, witches, demons and devils were just so many Halloween decorations, not taken any more seriously than the Frankenstein monster.  Rolly Crump was even going to use the ultra-sinister Baphomet symbol in his "Museum of the Weird" section of the Haunted Mansion, fer cryin' out loud, and he probably did so with Walt's blessing.

You wouldn't see that tried today, not because the general culture is currently more superstitious than it was in the mid-twentieth century, but because people now know that there are other people out there who take black magic very seriously, and it's just too creepy and too evil to be used as light entertainment.  Ironically, the single event that more than anything else fostered this change in the popular culture occurred on the same weekend that the Haunted Mansion opened its doors to the public: the Charles Manson murders.

No, the reason most of that lovely research into "real" witchery dropped out of Marc's portrait is the same reason we've harped upon time and again:  the average Joe has to be able to read these images at a glance.  People don't even know a two-pronged wooden pitchfork when they see it, let alone know that witches rode on them.  What nonsense!  Everyone knows they ride brooms.  Davis has so much "what the heck is that?" material in his sketch that it ultimately would have distracted from the main gag: a witch turning into a goat.  That's why the stuff that survived into the actual painting is so unmysterious.  Bats.  A black cat.  Skulls with knives in them (which say to anyone at one glance, "sinister rituals are going on here").  Why the magic circle made the cut, I don't know.  Perhaps it smacks immediately of "magic symbol," and that's good enough.

If Marc's one foray into depicting a "realistic" witch met with such poor success, the same thing may be said about his opposite foray into Halloween witches.  Seriously, ditch the alcohol and these drawings could easily grace a three-year-old's trick-or-treat bag.

This approach proceeded a few steps down the path toward realization before being dropped.

In the end, the only witch that made it through the weeding process was the modified Walpurgis model.  I think she represents an uneasy compromise.  She's "realistic" in appearance; there's no pointy hat or warty nose.  But she's surrounded for the most part by easily-read emblems which conjure up the cackling broom jockeys of popular imagination.