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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Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Darkness at the Top of the Stairs, and Beyond

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At Disneyland, after you board your doombuggy and ascend the stairs, do you ever notice a little rocking
and wobbling as you swing to the left?  I suspect this is done deliberately; if so, the intended effect is seldom
experienced nowadays, if ever.  Is this another long forgotten relic from Mansion history?  Or is it my imagination, hmm?


Discombobulating Bob

Here's a little experiment you can do with (1) a blindfold, (2) a chair or stool that spins freely and smoothly, and (3) your best friend Bob. Blindfold Bob well, and ask him to report his movements as he perceives them. Make sure you aren't too close to a wall or anything else that would give the ear telltale clues about the revolutions of the chair. Spin him to the left with a single push. He'll tell you he's turning to the left. Let the chair slow down on its own. If it's a good, free spinner (that is, it spins a long time when you push it), Bob will probably tell you he's come to a halt before he has stopped spinning. Now reach over and stop the chair before it has stopped on its own. Bob will tell you he is now turning to the right. He's sitting perfectly still right in front of you, convinced that he is spinning slowly to the right. He won't be dizzy either. Have him remove the blindfold. Now he's dizzy.

The very first time I rode the Haunted Mansion (August 14, 1969), the Limbo area was very dark indeed.  By the time I got to the top of the stairs it was pitch black, and I had no idea what was coming next.  When the little bump and wobble occurred, I picked up a sensation of spinning but wasn't 100% sure about it.  All I know is that at that moment I could not tell if I was moving or stationary, spinning or not spinning. "Now what happens?"  I remember it well, because that was the first and only time I was ever genuinely frightened on the ride.  When the doorway of the first room began showing its pale rectangular opening in the darkness, I was your woozy friend Bob for a few long seconds.


Like I said, I'm not certain, but I suspect that the wobble was put there for the purpose of disorienting the rider in the darkness.  It might still work if (1) it's your maiden voyage and if (2) your eyes are still sufficiently unused to the dark by that point.  I can't tell, because once you know what the doombuggy does, the effect is gone forever, and if even the tiniest, dimmest light is visible (and that's usually the case), the effect will not work even the first time. If any of you Forgottenistas have ever experienced this effect, I'd be interested in hearing about it.


After passing through the darkness, you are mocked by being offered a choice, only to discover that you no longer have
the power to choose.  This is another long forgotten chapter from the tale that is "your journey through a haunted house."


The Two Corridors of Doors

This should have been obvious to all of us all along, but over-familiarity with the ride tends to obscure it.  According to the narrative logic of the ride, at this point you are offered a choice between two corridors of doors, one to the left, one to the right.  The one on the right is better known as the Endless Hallway, but it is just as much a "corridor of doors" as the one that goes by that name.  Since the choice between the two is actually made for you by your doombuggy, it is easy to overlook this element of the "plot."  But take a look at the blueprint:


You swing out of what is supposed to be inky blackness at the top of the stairs into a dimly lit room,
and if the swing simply continued along the same arc, you would go right into the Endless Hallway:


While you are still looking in that direction, however, you are sucked into the
other hallway and dragged down it backwards, as if a vacuum were pulling you in.

At Disneyland and Tokyo, the pseudo-choice between the two halls is made from a room with yellow wallpaper that is discontinuous with the wallpaper in either hall, the red and black stripes of the EH or the demon-mask damask of the Conservatory and COD.  In other words, neither hall presents itself as the obvious continuation of the room you are in.  This is also true architecturally, thanks to the irregular shape of the room.

Note that we've got the three primary colors at work here.  " So what? " you ask.  Beats me, but note that we've got the three primary colors at work here.

Orlando, on the other hand, long ago replaced their yellow wallpaper with the demon-eye kind, making the whole room continuous with the Conservatory and COD.  In doing so, they conformed the area to what you see in the scale model from years earlier when the HM was being designed, but by doing so they also diminished the sense of choice between two equal options.  The Endless Hallway is now clearly perceived
as a departure branching away from the periwinkle path.  Phantom Manor has always been that way.

Walt DIsney World                                                                    Scale Model

(By the way, since people sometimes ask, yes, the wallpaper color is periwinkle.  The original paper at
Disneyland is mottled with a lighter and a darker shade, and it has never been replaced or redone.)


". . . putting the wink in periwinkle since 1969."

Getting back to Orlando, in 2007 WDW added the effect of eyes coming out of the darkness and fading into the walls, an excellent effect that more than atones for the replacement of the yellow paper years earlier.  There wasn't really any compelling reason to retain it, because after all, 99.9% of the riders at any of the Mansion locales have probably never noticed the "choice" motif anyway, discontinuous wallpaper or not.  You could argue that it was the original Imagineers themselves who nuked it, thanks to the last-minute inclusion of the floating candelabrum in the EH, which instantly made it a much more forbidding sight.  In a real haunted house, most people would not go in there if they had a choice, not with a ghost standing right there, so naturally they head for the other egress.  If this analysis is sound, then the sense of two equally attractive
(or unattractive) options was seriously compromised before the Mansion even opened.

If you're skeptical about this notion of making a choice between two halls, note how similar the two entrances are,
both of them square openings framed with nearly identical wooden beams and bases, and both adorned with looping
drapery. Have you ever noticed how alike they are?  No?  And you call yourself a Mansionologist!  You make me ashamed.


Obviously, the two hallways are also similar in that both of them are lined
on each side with identical doors, and the same design is used in both halls.

The halls are both "endless" too.  The EH is almost literally so, by dark ride standards anyway.  Believe it or not, it's the same length as the Grand Ballroom, and there are 12 doors, six on each side, before you get to the mirror that multiplies them still further.  As for the Corridor of Doors proper (that is the official name), it has a limitless and otherworldly feel to it, and this, my friends, is imagineering magic at its finest.  Magic I say, and I'm feeling inspired.  Even as I write, I can feel the left brain fading and the right brain taking over.  Feebly I resist, but all for naught.

The Corridor of Doors!  Ah, the beloved COD!  Let us cast a hopeful spell, a charm against destructive Imagimeddling.

"Within this hallowed hallway, where normally noisome noises annoy not, may every entrance ever entrance.
May the present perfection of every way out outweigh every impulse to improvise.  Leave it alone, damn it."

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

I'm not saying that the Corridor is my favorite part of the ride (I'm not denying it either), but I will
tell you this: when someone says that it's their favorite part, I know I am going to like that person.

Every ingress is outré

The COD may evoke a sense of endlessness, but how many doors are there, really?  If you don't already know the answer, take a guess right now. Yes, now.  Before you move on.  You'll need to decide if you want to include the Conservatory as part of the COD.  If you do, that'll add one more door to the DL tally, and two more to the WDW/Tokyo (remember the Missing Door?).  Those are the doors on the wall opposite the coffin.

Now guess.














dee dee dum . . . Done yet?  Don't overthink this; just take a guess.


Oh come on.  Okay, look, I didn't mean that thing about being ashamed.




And the answer:

Without the Conservatory, there are only two doors on one side and four on the other before you reach the Clock Hall, and one of those is an emergency exit.  You thought there were more than six, didn't you?  I suppose it's possible that some among you who honestly did not know the answer to begin with may have guessed correctly.  Some.  But I'd be willing to bet that none of you underguessed and most of you overguessed. Thanks to crazy angles and clever twisting and turning, the COD seems longer than it is, and the doors seem more numerous than they are. With inspired architectural imagineering like that, who needs a mirror?

Don't get all excited about the "wild wall." That just means, "removable wall."

How exactly is this pseudo-labyrinthian illusion accomplished?  And don't say "imagineering magic."
We are men of science.  The artsy-fartsy right side has had its fun; now show the left brain some respect.

You have a presumption of rectangularity born of lifelong experience with buildings that you bring with you into any room.  You expect right angles at the corners and opposing walls to be parallel with each other.  Stop looking at that animated gif.  I'm talking to you. This presumption makes it quick and easy for your subconscious to give you a nice feel for the size of the room you enter.  But if you are going down a hallway backwards, and the walls are set at crazy angles, and even the width of the hallway varies unpredictably (something easily overlooked—see the blueprint), your poor little subconscious never gets the data it needs in order to comfort you with even a rough sense of the limits of your environment.  Ordinarily that job is done in an instant.  I don't know this for sure, but what I suspect is that the frustration of this automatic process translates into an exaggerated sense of the length of the hallway.  Perhaps this is because experience has shown that when it takes your subconscious an overly long time to give you a report, it's often because the place is huge.  Okay, now you can look all you want.


This may explain why a good, twisty dark ride can seem long and uncramped, even in a small area.  The original Disneyland
dark rides (Snow White, Peter Pan, Mr. Toad) were smushed into surprisingly small rooms, and yet you scarcely notice it.


That presumption of rectangularity is also why a lot of "forced perspective" tricks work.  They take
advantage of your long-trained subconscious expectations about normal architecture.  It really isn't fair.


Going Forward Backwards

Scooting the doombuggies down this hallway facing backwards was a stroke of genius, for at least two reasons:

First, you experience a hitherto unknown feeling of being taken against your will, or at least without regard for your will.  No one would walk down an unfamiliar path backwards.  You are being dragged by some force, a "perpetual levitation" presumably supplied by the Ghost Host. Earlier, your doombuggy's ascent of the staircase and entry into the yellow room merely mimicked what would be your own perspective and pace if you were walking voluntarily.  At WDW and Tokyo, this leisurely stroll also includes the portrait hall, library, and music rooms.  But an alien force took you over as you were faced with the choice of two hallways, and before you could choose, it sucked you into one of them and is now pulling you along.  The "choice" was a mockery, you see. Its purpose was to demonstrate to you that your decisions no longer matter at this point: You are captive.  A sense of absolute helplessness sets in for the first time, horrible and sickening, and how cool is that?


Second, by going backwards you notice the animated doors and hear the sounds coming from them as you pass them, which leaves open the possibility that it is you who are getting the ghosts so riled up.  If all this commotion were in front of you as you moved along, you would see that they were already upset before you got there. You would know that it wasn't something you triggered and that therefore they aren't specifically mad at you. And that wouldn't be nearly as scary, would it?  These guys are good.


So there you have it, at least one and maybe two more plot elements in the Haunted Mansion experience that somehow
slipped into the realm of the long forgotten.  Just when we think there can't possibly be any more, there are possibly more.

That's all for now.  Please step out to your left.

This post serves as a warm-up for the next post, a humdinger and a barn burner telling some untold
history about the Corridor of Doors and featuring some delightful artwork never before seen.


24 comments:

  1. You never cease to amaze. Who would think there was so much going on in the COD. I can't wait for the next installment.

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  2. Are there any artful or actual shifts in elevation as you "fall back" down the hallway? I always have that feeling a bit -- perhaps some foreshadowing of our final decent into the graveyard? Naw. -- but as you point out there's quite a bit of sensory misdirection involved in that corridor. I always assumed that there was some kind of perspective force involved with the doorways that made it feel like we were falling away.

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    Replies
    1. Blueprints show the floor is level throughout that part of the journey, but I know what you mean.

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    2. Having ridden the DL, WDW Mansions and Phantom Manor with frequency, I feel hyper-attuned to that little dip every time I'm at Disneyland because it just doesn't happen on the other versions. Must be some sort of aberration in the track that has been deemed not worth fixing.

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  3. Those imagineers were subtle buggers.

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  4. Wow, this is awesome. That's all I can say.

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  5. Please write a book!! I will pre-order today!

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  6. Your description of the shape of the Corridor of Doors and the presumption of rectangularity makes me think of the scene in The Haunting where Dr. Markway is describing the architecture of Hill House to the rest of the party, and says that there's "not a right angle in the place."

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  7. Shhh! You're directly quoting the next post.

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  8. I'm hoping this is not too far off topic, but when you mention that the Doombuggy motion in the dark that left you feeling as if "I could not tell if I was moving or stationary, spinning or not spinning. "Now what happens?" actually brought to mind another attraction that did a very similar thing "Adventure through Inner Space", now in that case, of course the intentional disorientation was to help you not notice that rather than going straight up the "mighty microscope" you were actually going out one side to get you into the big rooms where the show took place.

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    Replies
    1. Actually, that's an excellent observation. They knew from ATIS what an omnimover in the dark could do, and perhaps they tried to do the same thing at the top of the stairs.

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  9. I remember the feeling of the illusion of choice when I first went on my first ride-thru. I honestly thought that the path would end up going down the Endless Hallway before heading into the Conservatory and then the COD, scaring the heck out of an otherwise very rational 11-year old. It is interesting how in the narrative the floating candelabrum puts a ghost in the more attractive path (one where you can see at least some dim lights) and forces you down a dark hallway which you are in a Mansion that you are really starting to believe is haunted. Most people after having seen floating objects also wouldn't have chosen to go down a dark hallway where who knows what is waiting. You really get a sense of "This was a bad idea to come this way, maybe I should have taken my chances with the floating candle" once you're in the Conservatory. Also I'm guessing the ghost holding the candelabrum is existing the timeframe of the Mansion when it didn't have electricity because it either doesn't notice or doesn't care that there are lights on above it. Granted the lights are very dim, but still. It just seems odd to have lights on in a place where the focus is on a floating candelabrum. I guess it's to show off the "endlessness" of the hallway, which you wouldn't be able to see otherwise.

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  10. My first time riding, It seemed as if the buggies were turning from side to side in that pitch blackness. I have to say was really unnerved, and on the edge of my seat from the suspense. (My brother's first ride through, he also thought the next stop would have been the Endless Hallway.) As the Doombuggy crept up the stairs, the feeling of helplessness started to overtake me, and was realized as the cars rotated backwards. Years ago I used to say, "the ride takes you where you don't want to go." Moving backwards through a corridor where things are trying to get out was the first time I was truly frightened (this was as my imagination started to run away from me "What if what's behind those doors gets out?"...)

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    Replies
    1. Well there you go. Apparently I wasn't the only one discombobulated. That's great to know.
      Incidentally, Fen, one of your suggestions about the COD will feature in the next post (accompanied by an appropriate hat tip, of course).

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  11. I absolutely loved this post! I never consciously considered the EH as a possible route -- that recolors the whole experience.

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    1. Thanks. And you know, it's not like they'd tried to keep it a secret. "This is the Endless Hallway, a misty passage beckoning you to enter, but offering no end." --Kurt Russell's narration for the 1970 Osmonds TV special.

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  12. I've been reading your blog off and on for quite some time now (I keep losing the link for some reason, but now have it bookmarked and followed so hopefully that's the end of that bit of failure on my part) and I adore it. I had the chance to see the WDW Haunted Mansion in 1999 when my family went for the Christmas/New Years celebration, but being 12 years old at the time with a 6 1/2 year old sister in tow, I and my little sister both chickened out.

    This blog has made me realize that doing so was a massive error on my part (even though it was completely understandable since I was a kid at the time) and has also made me swear that the next time I have a chance, I'm going to go on it, irrational fears be durned. I love all the history behind this and your photo evidence is some of the best I've ever seen for behind the scenes pictures. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to the next post!

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  13. I'm actually really glad you did this post, because it's one that I can personally relate to. Having only rode DL's Mansion once (that was my maiden voyage) back in 2007, & WDW's many, many times since then, I always remembered me being a little uneasy when the Buggy wobbled, & I missed that same feeling when I was at WDW. I thought it was just my imagination in the dark or shoddy memory, but nope, turns out that wobble IS there. Is it still implemented today?

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    1. As far as I know, yes.
      I'm glad I posted this too, since I now know that a number of others have also noticed the wobble, and it has functioned as an "effect" for some, whether deliberately or not.

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  14. I certainly noticed the wobble as a kid when my family forced me on. I would shut my eyes tight during the whole experience and the wobble was one of the few effects that worked on me whether I liked it or not. Still I hadn't given that effect much thought after I got over my fear and fell in love with the ride.

    I love your blog because you make something that I love "fresh and new" again with your observations. Keep blogging!

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  15. Since I was just at the Mansion, I found this very useful and somewhat nostalgic. Thank you so much for the intriguing post!

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