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, 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; 2nd ed. 2016).

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.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Mansion Gets Organized

Several major updates! May 14, 2014

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 stop tabs 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 (reportedly, plaster covered with gold leaf), 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.

In May of 2014 reader Jonas Clark alerted us to several new details in the story of the 20K organ. It turns out that they did quite a bit more than just sticking a mirror and some pipes on the console. It was a Robert Morton electric theater organ, and like all such electric organs it did not have old-fashioned pull stops but color-coded tabs.

A typical Robert Morton console

Apparently, the organ was already dolled up and on the 20K set before someone noticed that the
tabs were anachronistic.  In this rare, early production photo of the set you can see the tabs still there:

They pulled them out and covered the ugly holes with a wooden insert covered with dummy pull knobs. The
fix-it may already have been underway when the above photo was taken, as it appears that there are already
knobs on the two wings. Speaking of those wings, they project a little too far out for an authentic Robert Morton
2 manual organ and may themselves have been add-ons, including, one supposes, the ornate corbels beneath them.

In short, Goff's lucky find was modified much more than we have usually assumed before it was ready for the Nautilus.

On, now, to the Mansion.

Three years after all this 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.  (There's a string of posts devoted to Anderson coming up, starting HERE.)  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.

Marc Davis also played around with the idea:


That Davis sketch was not published until May of 2014. In putting a set of pipes on
top, Davis was simply depicting a different style of pump organ, like this 1895 model:

Davis's sketch is a good illustration of the evolution of an idea. Notice how Marc borrows Anderson's original concept and borrows too the shadow organist innovation from Coats and/or Atencio, and then as his original contribution changes the organ style to one with the pipes prominently attached atop, taking the gag one step closer to what we see in the eventual ride.

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 this 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 made of plaster, 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/eyes flying around in the forest scene in Snow White's Adventures, over in Fantasyland. That effect was part of a 1959 update, according to one source. If correct, 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?


  1. I just arrived around these parts and wanted to thank you for a wonderful blog. About six or seven or eight years ago now, I used to frequent Doombuggies quite a lot. I feel out of practice because, after a while, it felt like one pretty much knew everything there was worth knowing about the ride. Reading Long-Forgotten, however, has begun to rekindle those smouldering embers. Thank you so much!

    By the way, Doctor of Biblical Studies? Very cool. I only have a Masters of Theological Studies and now I'm starting to wodner where the connection is ^_^

  2. Again - excellent research! Ken Anderson certainly deserves his due on the Mansion. I'm not 100% sure - but I think the original '55 version of Snow White did not have those bats with a similar mechanism to what was used in the ballroom - just the '83 version...

  3. Now that you mention it, I'm not 100% sure either. If the bats are from '83, perhaps the influence runs in the opposite direction.

  4. Many thanks for this excellent blog! My daughter and I love 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and we came here to learn more about what finally happened to the sub's organ.

  5. Another note on the 20,000 Leagues organ: That is, or was, a Robert Morton brand theatre organ console. As with most theatre organs, it had a "horseshoe" of color-coded tab keys for the stops; on these little two-manual Mortons, the stops are mostly in a straight line, with a curve at each end. Tab-type stop controls existed before theatre organs, but most classical organs had drawknobs.

    I've seen an early photo of the finished Nautilus salon in which the console still has tabs. Apparently, someone realized that this wasn't proper; the slightly smaller inset curved jamb was added to cover the slot where the tabs protruded, and was covered with two rows of knobs. Odd thing is, the added wings on the front, with nine knobs each (also not part of the original console) were present, complete with knobs, in the photo showing the console with tabs!

    1. That's very interesting! And now that you point it out, one can see how the knob-covered woodwork could be secondary. Just curious, but what is it about the console that positively identifies it as a Morton rather than a Wurlitzer (or some other make)?

    2. I believe I found your photo of the 20K organ with the tabs still in place. I'll be updating the post. Thanks for the new info!

    3. Identifying the organ console as Robert Morton; -as seen in the early photo: the stop tabs, the geometry of the horseshoe curve, and cabinet proportions are familiar. That it had the unique Robert Morton bench in the early photos is also convincing.

  6. Someone sent a link to a very detailed article about the original 20K Leagues organ, with more info and photos:

  7. Such a great post! The one really geeky thing that perplexes me is the keyboard layout. It seems like all the pictures of the Morton organs include 25 black keys on each keyboard, with 2 black keys at one end of the console and 3 black keys at the other end of the console...except for the very last pic of the organ in the 20k exhibit. There, it seems to have 2 black keys at both ends of the console, and a strange solitary black key in the middle, so that there are still a total of 25 black keys on each keyboard. It is difficult to see details of the keyboard in the 20k set photo, but it looks like that keyboard ends with 3 black keys on the right, as do the keyboards in the Haunted Mansion and other 20k exhibit pics. I wonder why they might have changed the keyboard for a period of time during the 20k exhibit, and if they did, why it would seem to be such an atypical layout.

    1. I'm now thinking that last picture of the 20k exhibit organ might just be mirrored at the center. This might also explain why the centermost draw knob looks a little strange. Still, it doesn't seem like the pattern in the wood below the keyboard is mirrored...hmmm