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).

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Monday, September 3, 2012

The Haunted Clock

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You see an ominous grandfather clock, forever striking thirteen, as the shadow of a threatening hand slowly descends.  The stuff of nightmares, no?  This is another brilliant Haunted Mansion tableau only briefly glimpsed and yet easily grasped.  It works because the imagery is familiar enough for you to need only a glance in order to read it.


As we have done with many other Mansion marvels, we're going to explore the cultural background which helps to explain why this scene makes immediate sense when you experience it.  Then we'll look at the creative process among the Disney Imagineers leading to this particular showpiece.  We'll finish with a few Clock Hall trivia items that need a good home.  If all goes according to plan, when we're finished, you'll know more about that damn clock grandfather clock than you really wanted needed to know.  Yet again your Mansion obsession has lead you to lovely Disney concept artwork rarely seen, to juicy backstage photos, and to a surfeit of mostly unimportant but nevertheless fascinating information, all for the low, low price of "free."  Mmm baby, does it get any better than that?  You betcha!  (Wait . . . did I get that wrong?  I did.  I got that last part wrong.)

(The Disneyland clock in 1990.  Not that the date matters.  Nothing here has ever changed.)


Ghost in the Machine

The first thing to say is that there has always been something vaguely unsettling about grandfather clocks.  They're about the same height and girth as a human being, they have a face, and for centuries the clock was by far the most complex piece of machinery most people knew, the closest thing to artificial intelligence.  Long before radio and robots, it was the clock that seemed eerily human.  It's never taken very much to anthropomorphize grandfather clocks in odd or whimsical or sinister directions.

(pix from here and here.  Hat Tip to Grinning Ghost for pointing out the left pic.)

This cultural hangover continues into our own time.  Grandfather clocks have been standard props in scary movies as long as they've been
making scary movies.  They're right up there with suits of armor when it comes to creepy things standing around in dark old houses.  

(Chaney takes the gold, no contest, but the girl must settle for a bronze. That clock squeaks out a silver in a tight competition for second place.)

So is it any surprise to learn that scary grandfather clocks inside of dark rides are nothing new?  Foxxfur,
over at the Passport to Dreams blog, has posted an industry ad for a spookhouse clock.  "You'll jump ten feet!"


And if it's a creepy grandfather clock costume you want, check out this.

It's a small step from this general eeriness to the notion of haunted clocks, and sure enough, in popular culture haunted clocks are a widely-known phenomenon.  A good musical example is "My Grandfather's Clock," a lively little ditty written in 1876.  I guess it's sort of a folk classic.  We used to sing it in school when I was a little kid.  It's been recorded by the Everly Brothers, Burl Ives, and Johnny Cash, among others.


Stories of "genuine" haunted clocks have been around a long time and continue to be plentiful.  In a recent posting by columnist J.D. Mullane, he describes in detail the strange ways of a grandfather clock he inherited from his sister after she died.  It won't run, can't be fixed, but it chimes at peculiar times, especially when there is a dangerous situation threatening one of the children.  Mullane's column triggered a number of responses from readers about their own creepy clocks:

      "On our first wedding anniversary, my parents gave us an anniversary clock. Not expensive, but I loved it. It kept perfect time for years. Mom passed in 1990. After a few years, it stopped. Changing batteries didn’t help. Because I loved it and it meant something to me, I kept it on the mantel. When we moved, the clock went with us and had its place of honor on a new mantel. But it was quiet, and the pendulum didn’t move.
      Until one evening when my husband and I sat in the kitchen. The clock chimed. Looking at each other, we went to the clock, but it clearly wasn’t working. Puzzled, we forgot about it. Later that evening, my son was in a minor auto accident. Over the years, the clock chimed randomly, always announcing something, not always bad, most of the time good. It got to the point that when it chimed, I would say, ‘Hi, Mom.’
      (On) Jan. 6, 2012, my dad passed away. Dad was a major do-it-yourself handyman. There was nothing he couldn’t fix. ... The clock still randomly chimed, until then. About a week after we buried Dad, we sat in the kitchen talking about him over a glass of wine, and damn, the clock chimed at 10:59 p.m. The next day, while dusting the mantel, I freaked out. The pendulum was spinning and the hands were keeping time! 
      While it doesn’t chime every hour, when it does, it is usually at night and always at one minute to the hour. Guess Dad is still working on it. Between the random chimes I have a connection to my parents, who I miss tremendously. The clock stays, as is."

      "My cousin, Gerri, passed away two years ago in September. Her brother cared for her and was very good to her until she died. Well, just a few months later, our families all got together for Thanksgiving at the brother’s house. Dinner was out on the table, and Gerri’s brother gave a toast to Gerri, and we all raised our glasses to her. He said some really sweet things to his sister, and we were all missing her and wishing she was with us.
     Suddenly, a clock on the buffet started chiming. The brother stood up with a really funny look on his face, and then he told us this: The clock had not worked in over a year. It was sent to a repair shop, but could not be fixed. It just started working right after our little toast. It works to this day. So it must be that our loved ones can somehow communicate to us through clocks. I truly believe this."

     "Many years ago, on our first anniversary, my husband bought an anniversary clock with a chime. It stopped working (they always seem to stop working, no matter who owns them), and we took it to clock repairmen. But ... it wouldn’t work. I left it in our house, always in a place of honor, so everyone could see it. It’s really a beautiful thing.
     (My husband) died five years ago. A few months after he died, I was still missing him, and then the clock began chiming. It was on what would have been our 54th wedding anniversary. The clock now works and keeps good time. I can’t explain it, but I know what I want to believe."

There are plenty of stories like those out there (a few more here if you like 'em). Some of these creepy time pieces have been acting up for quite a while.  Birr Castle in Ireland reportedly has an old haunted grandfather clock in it:


And this ornate timepiece, which belonged to Frederick the Great of Prussia,
did the "My Grandfather's Clock" thing is 1786.  It died when he died.


And guess what?  Sometimes these haunted clocks strike thirteen.

    "I am the fourth owner of a grandfather clock that was first purchased by my grandmother's brother approximately 100 years ago.  Great Uncle Telemac was a man of wealth who could neither read nor write but went on to start one of the largest insurance companies to date. When he passed away, the great clock stopped, and no amount of coaxing would get it to start again. It sat in the dining room of his house in Montreal, Quebec, and when the family was gathered around the dining room table to hear the reading of the will, the clock started again with no outside influence.
     The clock is a seven foot tall unit that has a series of three weights that have to be pulled up by chains to wind it. When my grandmother Blanche died, it again stopped working and would not start. My mother was given the clock by her sister and had the clock shipped a thousand miles to her house. For weeks the clock would not run. When she received a copy of her mothers will in the mail, the clock again started.
     I was living with my mother at this time, and we had gone to town. We found the copy of the will in the mailbox, and when we went into the house we found the clock running. When my mother passed on, the clock struck thirteen and would stop and run in spurts. The clock thus far has been behaving itself, with no other episodes."


     The Sherman House in Plover, Wisconsin is reputed to be haunted.  It's a renovated 19th century building, and it has been plagued with poltergeist activity since opening as a restaurant in the 1980's.  Among other things, they've got glasses flying off the shelves, a massive front door that opens and closes by itself, and a mantel clock that strikes thirteen at midnight.



Make of it what you will.  I tend to credit at least the sincerity of a lot of these accounts, because in many cases it would be
so easy to "improve" the story. ("And the clock stopped precisely at the moment of Uncle Fred's death!  I swear it's true!")

The motif of a haunted clock that strikes 13 as an evil omen
appears in pop fiction and cinema as well.  This is from 1954.


A 1942 Sherlock Holmes movie uses the motif.  In Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (with Rasil Bathbone), not only do we get a clock that
strikes thirteen just before someone dies, we also get a creepy raven and long dark hallways with suits of armor standing around.





Sherlock Holmes Faces Death


Tick Talk

Like so many other ideas, the Mansion version of the haunted grandfather clock originated with the Father of the Haunted Mansion, Ken Anderson, as we can see from a sketch he produced during his pioneering labors on the attraction in 1957-58.  I wish I had a bigger, clearer copy, but what we can see is plain enough:  a normal-looking clock with a ghost inside the cabinet.


Later on, another Imagineer came up with his own idea for a spooky clock, one that had nothing in common with Anderson's version.  In 1964, Rolly Crump sketched a "Grandfather Coffin Clock" for his Museum of the Weird project (which, as you know, was never incorporated into the ride).  He also had a maquette made up.  The little model is interesting in its own right, as it is far from identical to the sketch.



Rolly may have drawn some inspiration from a 1933 Mickey Mouse short,
"The Mad Doctor," which also features a coffin clock with skeletal hands
on its face and a skull pendulum reminiscent of Rolly's skull clock weights.


(Hat tip to Waltzing Ghost at MiceChat for drawing my attention to this parallel.)

He may very well have found inspiration in real world clocks as well, like this charming
specimen, once the property of the Countess of Rosslyn.  The skeleton is that of her Italian
secretary/lover.  They say the Countess never recovered from his death.  Well, yeah, I'd say not.


And then around 1968, yet another Imagineer came up with a haunted clock.  X
Atencio went back and developed Ken Anderson's original idea, but the wickedly
bladed pendulum could be a nod to Rolly's clock, as well as being an Edgar Allan
Poe allusion, as was the One-Eyed Black Cat that X had in mind for the ride's host
character at this time.  (Note the cat's evil eye peeking out from behind the clock.)



Since none of these looks much like the clock we finally ended up with, there must be missing pages to our history.  There are probably more sketches out there, by Claude Coats or (more likely) Marc Davis, sleeping soundly in some forgotten file.  Anyway, once it had been decided that (1) no ghost would be visible until Madame Leota worked her wonders, and that (2) the clock would come before the Séance room, the ghost inside the cabinet had to disappear, as ghosts are wont to do anyway.  Nevertheless, the fixture itself sprouted a few spectral countenances.  The demon face framing the clock face is the obvious one.  I'm sure that many (if not most) of you have long been aware of it.


Less well-known is the face on the tip of the "devil's tail" pendulum.  It's right there inside the cabinet where Anderson's and
Atencio's ghost would have been.  Behold, a remnant.  It is all that survives from what we now know was a much bigger idea.



The Real Chill That Came Later

Have you ever noticed that the Ghost Host tells you, "The real chills come later" immediately after the biggest scare of the ride?  Well, if he isn't lying, the only thing he could realistically be referring to (in my opinion) is this scene in the Clock Hall.  It's the climax of Act One in the three act play that provides a broad and basic narrative for the attraction.  As we've mentioned before, the shadow of the hand coming down on you (someone behind you?) is the closest thing to an actual attack in the entire ride, the only undeniably hostile act directed against you personally.  Up until then, you may have suspected that the Ghost Host and the rest of the ghosts are hostile, but there have only been hints and suggestions in that direction, not real evidence.  Until you enter the Clock Hall.  Yep, here's a real chill that came later.


We're not going to discuss the shadow hand, since we covered that subject thoroughly enough in
previous post.  As you may recall, I suggested that this effect was inspired by Nosferatu (1922).



The Haunted Mansion's Clock really is a stroke of genius.  It would have been so easy to get it wrong.  In the first place, we can't very well have our doombuggies stop while the clock in front of us chimes 13 times (hoping all the while that the riders will actually keep count), so in order to convey the concept of "striking 13" in a split second, the Imagineers simply put the 13 right on the clock, a visual clue, and they had the minute hand run backwards at a rapid rate, signifying in an instant the uncanny and the anomalous.  Aurally, the clock simply ticks and chimes continually:

The Clock Hall


The show details are critically important.  If the minute hand had spun forward, no doubt we would all be sitting here postulating about time speeding up in the Mansion, with the hands agreeing with the number 13 in pushing us forward in time unnaturally, blah blah blah.  On the other hand, if a normal clock face were presented (e.g., with a "12" at the top), but the hands were spinning backward, we would all be chattering about a possible trip back in time.  But we haven't got that either.  The "13" points forward unnaturally and the minute hand sweeps backwards, equally unnaturally, leaving the viewer confused.  It's Tulgy Wood signposting, pointing two different ways at once.  You cannot make sense of it, so your only recourse is to throw up your hands and recognize that you are lost.  You have entered a netherworld, a surreality that follows its own uncanny logic.  Think Alice in Wonderland . . . 

"Well," thought Alice, "if it's thirteen o'clock, then I must certainly have gone further than I have ever gone before, and I shall be very late for lunch, but
if the hands are going backward, perhaps I am going backward too, and in that case it will soon be breakfast again.  Oh dear, this is all very confusing."

Yeah, think Alice in Wonderland, except this time the dream is a nightmare.



Time Pieces

Time now for a few random items to throw into your ever-expanding box o' trivia.

(1) The haunted grandfather clock appears in all of the Mansions (Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, and Paris), but each one is slightly different, especially with regard to the hands.


WDW has these weird, bony fingers (see the nails?), Disneyland has what look like leeches, Tokyo
has hands reflecting the artistic stylings of its Japanese setting, and Phantom Manor has snakes.

(2) Only the WDW clock face actually has thirteen marks on it; the others simply put a 13 where the 12 would be.

Walt Disney World's clock face

(3) One of the animators for The Simpsons used to be a HM butler and is still a big fan of the ride.  He's been known to sneak
little Mansion tributes into Simpson cartoons.  That includes a cameo by our clock during a "Homer's nightmare" sequence:

(Hat tip to "Dapper Ghost" at the Doombuggies.com chatboards for spotting this one.)

(4) There is a door to the left of the clock as you face it.  It's the only thing
in the Clock Hall other than the clock.  You can see part of it in this photo:


No one ever seems to notice this door, and you
don't find many pictures of it.  Here's the WDW door:


Normally, I don't take you Forgottenistas on backstage tours, because frankly, there isn't anything particularly wonderful to look at most of the time, unless you thrill to the sight of unpainted plywood and swoon whenever you see 2x4 framing.  In this case, however, I'm making an exception, because that door really does lead to some interesting things.  Step all the way in, please, and make room for everyone.

Originally, the door was for access to the projector for Madame Leota's face.  You will recall that she was going to face the other direction, looking toward you rather than away from you as you entered the room.  The Imagineers turned her around sometime in mid-1969, probably because they realized that there would be no way to avoid people seeing the projector as they swung by.  On the blueprint below, you can see the little room (yellow) with the projector (blue) behind the clock (red).  The projection would have come out of the wooden "spirit cabinet" which is still sitting right there behind Mdm L.


But after the projector was relocated, the room continued to be useful for providing access to the audio-animatronic ghost sitting on the mantelpiece in the ballroom, the one with his arm around the bust of "Aunt Lucretia."  As we have argued elsewhere, it's possible that Mantelpiece Guy was a fairly late addition to the HM.  You can see him (blue) on this WDW blueprint, drawn up a few years after the one above.


You climb down a ladder to get to the platform where he sits.  Contrary to the blueprint, there are actually two figures: Mantelpiece Guy and a black copy of the Lucretia bust that lines up with the real one on the mantelpiece.  (This is to ensure that anything behind the bust will be blocked out realistically when reflected in the glass that produces the "Pepper's Ghost" effect.  Confused?  It works like this . . . oh never mind.)


Concept art for the Aunt Lucretia bust


And now, the real reason for our backstage trip.  If you should happen to be
down there and look over Mantelpiece Guy's shoulder, this is what you see:



Okay, that's enough.  Let's get back before somebody sees us here.



22 comments:

  1. Woohoo! Marvelous post. My favorite paragraphs are about why the clock's design is a stroke of genius and how viewers of the clock are whisked into a netherworld.

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  2. Wow - you stopped right when it was getting even more interesting!

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  3. The Grandfather Clock on Captain Kangaroo scared the living pants off me when I was little. My mother loved to visit the local antique shop, but I'd always end up cringing in the corner, trying to hide from all the scary grandfather clocks. And when they chimed! It was like the wail of banshees coming to get me! The shop isn't there anymore, but I still get a chill down my spine whenever I go past the street corner where it used to be.

    Grandfather clocks also make a good place for hiding murder weapons (the movie "Laura").

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  4. Shhh.

    Crap, that's just great. Well, I can always move the ax somewhere else.

    Thanks for the thanks, Craig. The netherworld thing reminds me of the Twilight Zone opening, which of course features an eerie clock during "...a dimension of time." It is indeed interesting how a disorientation in EITHER space OR time results in the same sense of wandering into a different universe. Marvelous how the Imagineers were able to communicate this sense in less than one second's time.

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  5. Another great article with fascinating detail, (as usual!) However I must draw your attention to one small inaccuracy. The b/w still from "London After Midnight" features that Master of Macabre Makeup, The Man Of A Thousand Faces, Lon CHANEY, Sr.
    While contemporary twenty-first century readers will no doubt associate the name and spelling of CHENEY with innumerable horrific grotesqueries, being a silent film era horror star is not among them.

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  6. Thanks, I shall correct immediately.

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  7. That's so awesome! I love the last picture with all the orbs...

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  8. Superior post all the way! You've outdone yourself HBG2. Well done!

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  9. Hmm... ghosts in clocks. Wonder if Hanna-Barbera took the history of haunted grandfather clocks into account when they put The Funky Phantom on the air? It's interesting how cultures have a habit of anthropomorphizing familiar objects. We have a small clock that has the same chimes as Big Ben, but the clock is small, so we call it Little Lyle. Great post!

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  10. Another fine article, sir! I am surprised that you didn't make a joke out of the last picture with all those spots, concluding that the spirits are frightfully sensitive to bright lights, or maybe you already did with another photo earlier and I haven't read it yet.

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  11. Thanks Chalky, Snow, Opie.

    Ah yes, the orbs. I thought there might be a few comments about those.

    (For those of you who don't know, pale orbs in photos like that are thought by some to be ghostly presences, at least in certain cases, while skeptics speak of dust particles in the camera flash. You can split the difference by saluting the ghosts for the diabolical ingenuity they display in their convincing imitations of dust particles.)

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  12. Bah! The photographer just kicked up some dust. Just look how dirty the place is in the other photo! Real orbs can be seen by the naked eye, whereas dust like this *only* shows up in a flash photo.

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  13. Great read, but those last two photos are magical. Never noticed the face on the clock, either!

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  14. It's just Madame Leota's kids horsing around.

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  15. A clock closely resembling the Countess of Rosslyn's is shown at the beginning of the "Time Warp" in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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  16. This blog is amazing, so much analysis of every piece of the ride. Love it!

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  17. Replies
    1. There was a Twilight Zone episode about a grandfather clock that was based on the song "My Grandfather's clock". Ed Wynn was the star. Here's a link to the episode: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734601/

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  18. Excuse me, what Simpsons episode featured the antique furniture ghosts attacking Homer?

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    Replies
    1. "Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words," (season 20, episode 6). The former DL CM who is now a Simpsons animator is Noel Cox.

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  19. You know what, I have that mantelpiece guy's vest and cravat, the silk one with the jewel. I bought them a number of years ago on ebay, they had a tag with a Disneyland barcode and the number 79, and I had no idea what figure they were from until I saw this. I'll have to post a picture.

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  20. I'm so touched by your story. Because just like you, I love my parents very much! That's why after mom has passed, there has not been any moment that I would not think of her. That's why I always make sure that our grandfather clock is in a good condition because it connects us to our loved ones.

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