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: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is 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, April 26, 2010

The Hitchhikers in the Mirror

Info from newly rediscovered documents confirms much of what
follows and adds details (in red).  Updated August 29-30, 2013 and May 1, 2014.


You know the drill.  As the show winds down, you go past a set of mirrors, and in the mirrors you see one of the hitchhiking ghosts sitting beside you.  But it was not always so, says I.  If you rode the HM during its opening week, you would have seen something else in those mirrors.

This was the original "Long-Forgotten Haunted Mansion effect," and it remains one of the most intriguing.

I rode the HM on Thursday, August 14th, 1969 (I was 14).  There's a lovely story about how I got to ride during opening week, but that's for another time.  There has also been a mighty tempest over when exactly the HM first opened, but that's another post as well.

Going past the mirrors, what I remember seeing is clouds of faceless, wispy spirits surrounding and mobbing the doombuggy.  They were undulating and following along with you as you scooted past.  Very cool.  But on my next visit, no more than a few weeks later, the wraiths were gone, and I was startled to see the familiar effect that we have there now.  "Hey, that's different!" was my reaction.

Flash forward 35 years, and the Internet has provided a means for HM fans to discover and communicate with each other.  I dipped my toes into Doombuggies.com at my brother's suggestion, and—what a cool site.  Mansionology has been a secret vice ever since.  Well anyway, here was my chance, I figured.  Surely someone else remembers this effect, right?  Wrong.  I dropped an email to "Chef Mayhem" at Doombuggies.com and to Chris Foxx at the now-defunct grimghosts.com.  Here's what I wrote to the Chef on Aug 4, 2002:


And the similar email to Chris six days later:


No luck.  Neither had ever heard of my wraiths.  Well, let's throw the question open, shall we?  I started a thread on the DB.com chatboards and described the effect yet again:

"One of the things I remember from my first ride on the HM, opening week 8/69, was that the HHGs did not reappear in the mirrors.  Yeah, they were standing there as always as you entered the crypt, but that was it.  Instead, in the mirrors there were wispy ghosts much like the graveyard wraiths surrounding the buggy as you moved along."  (I still have copies of the relevant sections of that discussion thread.)

All of this tedious stuff is necessary to show that I was making these wild claims well before...

THE... the... the  BLUE... lu... lu... lu  PRINT... int... int... int

...came to my attention.  One of the participants in that chatboard discussion mentioned a HM effects blueprint in his possession with some curious items on it.  He graciously sent me a copy.  Eventually I was able to get a much cleaner copy of the same b-print (thanks to Datameister at Micechat).

The HHG-in-mirror effect is produced by a set of 15 rod puppets on an oval track behind two-way mirrors.  The room is oddly shaped, being custom built for the ghosty-go-round.  Here's an old b-print that shows the set-up as it is today:


You can see the oval track and how it fits the room.  But on the effects blueprint I got from the poster at DB.com, there is no track; instead, there are three projectors focused on a wavy screen marked CURVED BACK PROJ. SCR'N :


Whoa.  This b-print is dated 4-8-69.  The original date on the other b-print is illegible, but it was updated on Feb 7, '69, and its last update was 4-7-69, the day before the other b-print was produced.  Thus, our projector system is on a b-print that was the direct successor to one which shows the effect as it is seen today.  Even without this info, it is plain that the ghosty-go-round was always what was planned, since the room itself is obviously shaped around it.  In contrast, the projector system obviously does not fit the room very well.  Look at all the wasted space.  So, what gives?  Why does the effects b-print which is actually closer to opening day have this funky substitute?

Another source of info about the HM as it was in the beginning is newspaper reports and reviews of the new ride.  Pre-opening publicity stories that mentioned the HHGs began to appear in the Spring of '69:


"Ghostly hitchhikers trying to jump aboard" sounds like the effect as it is seen today.  There was a press preview of the ride at midnight, August 11, with the 12th slated as the official opening day.  A few reviews of the newly-opened HM appeared in the papers as early as Tuesday the 12th, but most were published Wednesday the 13th.  Among all of these, a handful make passing reference to the HHG-in-mirror effect.  Tony Lawrence in the Hollywood Reporter, Aug 13, gives a rather ambiguous description that could fit either effect:

                                                   

In a review published a day earlier (the 12th), Sandi Mosley in the Orange County Register describes what sounds like our current effect:


If this was all we had, we could reasonably conclude that whatever that b-print showed, the Gus-Ezra-Phineas roulette we all know and love was there by opening day.  But there is another review that sounds altogether different.  This is from Keith Murray's review in the Pasadena Star-Times, published on the 13th:

                                             

What is this "peering into the fog" business?  And why does he apparently see only himself in the doombuggy?  Hmm.  The wraiths I remember did indeed look like a swirling cloud of spirits.  Now the evidence is getting murky again.  How do we reconcile Mosley and Murray?  Assuming they are both providing good faith, reasonably accurate accounts of what they saw, there is only one way to do it that I can see.  Mosley is explicit that she rode the HM at the midnight press preview Aug 11/12.  Her review appears on the 12th.  Murray nowhere claims to have been at that preview, and his review appears on the 13th.  It is possible that he rode sometime during the day of the 12th and wrote his review for publication the next day.  Mosley's and Murray's rides could have been 12 hours apart, or even more.  Was the ghosty-go-round there for the midnight showing and then hastily replaced by our projected wraiths?  That would explain it, but is there any warrant for such a scenario?

Of course there is, or I wouldn't be wasting your time (or mine).  Something must account for the alternate set-up behind the mirrors, after all.  What we now know from newly discovered material evidence is that the projected wraiths were simply the backup for the HHG ghosty-go-round.  It probably could have been set up in a matter of hours.  Look, it's not complicated.  Here are the two side-by-side:



Okay, now let's superimpose them:


See?  The wavy screen sits right in front of the HHG track, about where the low curtain stands in this photo:


Edit: In 2014 this 1969 schematic came to light, showing both of the effects superimposed, exactly like above.


And why would they need this backup?  Because if the ghosty-go-round goes down, they will douse the lights on the motionless hitchhikers, and now you've got the guests riding past mirrors looking at themselves and nothing else.  That's intolerably dumb.  You have to put something there.  You need a backup effect if the planned one fails.

Did they anticipate such a failure?  You bet they did, that's what the blueprint is all about.  In addition, there is the intriguing comment made by show author X Atencio in Storyboard magazine.  Speaking of the HHGs, X said:  "It was kind of an afterthought, though.  It didn't come until the ride was practically put in there."  Based on this, both Doombuggies.com and Surrell's Haunted Mansion book (at the time of this writing the two most authoritative sources for all things HM), claim that the HHGs were a last-minute addition to the ride.

Bull crap.  The problem with X's remark is that what it says is literally impossible.  The show building went up in 1968, and the HHG-in-mirror gag is plainly visible in 1968 blueprints.

The idea itself is much older, going back to Ken Anderson's plans for a DL haunted house in 1957-58.  Guests walk down a hall with mirrors on each side showing ghosts accompanying them.  Traveling ghosts looping around a central barrier that hides their return, coupled with clever use of two-way mirrors—yep, it's all there.



The best explanation for X's flub is that the originally-planned HHG effect—the one that is there today—did not look like it was going to be ready by opening day.  The problem could have been something as simple as an unavoidably delayed shipment of a vital part.  So a temporary effect was worked out and constructed, something to have in the mirrors until whatever demons were ailing the Gus-Ezra-Phineas show were exorcised.  (We now know that this backup effect was built in the middle of April.) But the Imagineers wanted to show the press what the permanent effect was going to look like once it was up and running, so they managed to get the ghosty-go-round jury-rigged and working for the midnight showing, and then they immediately went back to their backup.  They were still using that on Thursday when this geeky teen rode.  I suppose that X's memory of this frantic mess was a little hazy, and that's why he spoke misleadingly to Storyboard.

How did the backup effect work?  If I may speculate, it was yet another example of Yale Gracey genius at work.  The projectors were the same as the ones Yale invented for use in the Blue Bayou lagoon (the clouds moving on the "sky") and used again in the HM for the misty clouds moving along the wall in the Limbo loading area and on the scrims in the graveyard.


The wavy, curved screen was 40 feet long and 12 feet wide.  It was back-projected with these moving ghosts.  The curves made them undulate and gave them animation.  They were bright enough to be seen in the mirrors against the dark outside of your doombuggy, but were washed out and therefore invisible against the much brighter interior where you sit.  This delicate balance was achieved by adding new lights, both in front of the buggies (spotlights) and behind them (new fluorescent lighting).  Records show that these were installed at the same time that the backup effect was constructed, as part of the same project.  Thus, the ghosts looked like they were surrounding and mobbing you, but they were not inside the doombuggy with you.

There's a photoshop recreation of the effect HERE.

Whew.  All that for that.

15 comments:

  1. More ghosts with no pants. And, with chairs like that, I'm glad I'm standing.

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  2. Very good summation of the original "Long-Forgotten" effect, and high quality peripheral material and graphics. Great post. The blueprint overlay one is particularly helpful, and good descriptions of the "temp" effect.

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  3. I've updated the post with a few new graphics.

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  4. I've posted a (hopefully) corrected image to my post from yesterday on MiceChat. It was difficult to do with such a small image, and I had to use ghosts from a decoration in place of the phantoms. If there is anything you can add or correct, you have my permission
    ((Mr.Fenwright))

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  5. Wow...this was fascinating, really good researching, thanks for sharing it!

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  6. A deep bow of respect and gratitude for all you're doing here! :-)

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  7. I just discovered this site, sorry it took so long to find my way to the party. I can corroborate this story as well as provide a date on which the old effect was still working: Oct 1, 1969. Why do I remember this trivial date? Because it was the day of my first ride on the Mansion, a day I'll never forget (I played hooky from school)! The next time I rode it, a few months later, the HHG's were there, leading me to an amusing expectation-- that there'd always be something new in the Mansion. Took quite awhile for that to happen! Thanks for a fantastic article & website, hope I can provide a few clues & tidbits along the way.

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  8. Great! Any additional details you may remember from the early days are most welcome. Glad you found us. Sorry that all the donuts are gone.

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  9. They must not have had this "backup" installed in Walt Disney World because I remember riding it once and the HHG didn't travel with our buggies, but just sat there in the mirrors while we went past.

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  10. I doubt that curtain in the behind the mirrors pic is what you think. They used black fabric to hide parts they didnt want showing in the ball room, so i think this is the same, but just for the purpose of covering it up- maybe those were just prototype blue prints of stuff they tested...and as for the early reviews, that was before everyone knew of the HHG, so some people might have thought of it differently.

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  11. What about the three projectors? And the scrim is clearly labeled "CURVED BACK PROJ. SCR'N." Also, there is no need for a curtain in order to hide things behind the mirrors. All you have to do is turn off the lights.

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  12. When I first went on the HM in 69, I did not see any whispy ghosts, or hitchhikers. All I saw was me riding past, and I thought... how dumb. On my third visit, I was amazed by the effect and thought, "OK, now I get it... that's great!"

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  13. "if the ghosty-go-round goes down, they will douse the lights on the motionless hitchhikers, and now you've got the guests riding past mirrors looking at themselves and nothing else. That's intolerably dumb"

    Yes, thats indeed intolerably dumb... but at Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris, unfortunately it is exactly what the visitors get presented. Phantom Manor has a much different effect, than the other HM's - you (should) see the phantom grabbing after you from above the doombuggie. Unfortunately this effect is defect since several years... and you only see your own reflection in the mirrors, cause the lighting of the phantom is not working or something. Even a lot of refurbishments did not bring the effect back. And that's not the only thing which doesn't work in the PM...

    I've never seen the HM's in Anaheim or Orlando, due I live in Germany, but in february I'll finally visit WDW.

    Great Blog by the way, I stuck here for several hours reading the fascinating articles :)

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