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, August 7, 2010

The Séance Circle Part One: A Real Fake, Not a Fake Fake


We are going to spend some time in the Séance Circle, one of the richest and most evocative rooms in the Mansion.  According to our analysis, it's the eye of the storm, the center, the pivot, the Act Two that creates the transition from Act One to Act Three.

The Imagineers explored both spooky and whimsical approaches to the Séance Circle.  Like so many features of the Mansion, this one goes back to Ken Anderson, who seems to have favored a creepy look.

This concept sketch by Dorothea Redmond, sometimes misattributed to Marc Davis (like for instance, moi in the original version of this post), is as darkly atmospheric as anything Claude Coats might have done.

Our chief interest today, however, is in Marc Davis's concept art for the Circle.

Davis retained Ken's idea of having a séance scene, imagining a medium by the name of "Madame Z" presiding.  Typically, Marc's approach was more whimsical.  It may be pure coincidence, but this first sketch reminds me of the scene in The Sword in the Stone in which Merlin packs his bag.  Davis did not work on that film, but it would have been Disney's second most recent animated feature at the time (behind Jungle Book). There are a lot of airborne items in Marc's sketch that are similar to what Merlin put up there.

This second sketch is full of interest.  It has a head speaking inside the crystal ball, which is NOT something drawn from traditional fortune-telling craft but obviously foreshadows the direction they would go with that gag.  For the items flying around above the table, this time we can point to some probable sources of inspiration much older and more remote than recent Disney films.  We have already seen that Marc made direct use of Émile Grillot de Givry's Le musée des sorciers, mages, et alchemistes when he painted his Witch of Walpurgis changing portrait.  He probably went back to the same book for inspiration in this case as well.

The temptation of St. Anthony was for a long time a favorite subject for artists, who could let their imaginations run riot in depicting the myriad demonic manifestations that appeared to the ascetic, tempting and tormenting him.  It looks like some of those flying beasties ended up filling the air in Marc's sketch.

But a demonic assault on a desert saint is not exactly the same thing as ghostly manifestations at a séance, and as we shall see, the Imagineers eventually settled for reproducing the sort of thing you might really find in a good 19th century séance or "spirit theater" magic show.  In other words, they decided to go for a REAL fake séance and not a FAKE fake séance.

You will also notice in that last Davis sketch exactly three musical instruments floating around: a bell, a horn, and a tambourine.  Those are exactly the three that ended up in the finished attraction in the inner circle around the Leota table, as opposed to the other instruments and furniture floating around the outside circle, on the other side of your doombuggy.

In fact, there's yet another Davis sketch of the séance, seldom seen, that has nothing at all floating overhead except for those three instruments.

The choice of those three may well have come from another source, not de Givry but something closer to "real" ghost shows, as we shall see.


  1. Hi Dan -

    Again - I hate to be the picker of nits - but I believe image #2 is by Dorathea Redmond, not Marc Davis.

    - Chris M

  2. Pick away! I don't want this blog to spread misinformation. I'll be fixing the post post haste. Thanks.

  3. Egads, it's practically a new post now. But a better one, hopefully.

  4. It is quite changed! But more accurate I think... Thanks Dan.

  5. I'm a fan of the floating cat in the first Davis drawing in this post. It supports the idea that we are, ourselves, not in control of where we are floating in the mansion. But the cat does not seem to be having a bad time of it, signalling that we should not be too nervous either.

  6. Good point about involuntary locomotion.

    Besides the question of authenticity, another reason I think none of Davis's critters made it into the stratosphere is that they would have been distractions from the main show—Leota. You're not supposed to be fascinated with any particular floating item, because you're supposed to be focused on her. Just good showmanship.

  7. You are probably right that the cat would have been a distraction. Am I the only one who wishes they would do something to make the floating instruments more magical? The effect is seriously lacking, and leaves me thinking: "hey, look, they hung up instruments in here." Or would a more convincing effect also be distracting?

  8. OMG! In that last Marc Davis sketch, did anyone else see the black cat in the chair? You know, that seems familiar....

  9. Do they actually even refer to her as Leota on the ride? I know it's her official name and what they used in that movie, but I don't remember if it's ever said.

    1. There is some Ghost Host monologue in the COD that has been turned off and on several times over the course of the HM's history. Most people accept it as "official," since it keeps showing up for brief periods. In it, the GH refers to Madame Leota by name.

      "All our ghosts have been dying to meet you. This one can hardly contain himself."

      "Unfortunately, they all seem to have trouble getting through. Perhaps Madame Leota can establish contact. She has a remarkable head for materializing the disembodied."

      Here's a history:

      1) Aug 1969—ca. Sept 1969.......Lines are in (less than a month)
      2) ca. Sept 1969—Sept 1995.......Lines are out (26 years)
      3) Sept 1995—May 2006.............Lines are in (11 years)
      4) May 2006—Jan 2008...............Lines are out
      5) Jan 2008.................................Very briefly, after HMH, the 1st line is in but not the 2nd
      6) Jan 2008—Jan 2012................Lines are out
      7) Jan 2012 to the present..........On again but only for brief periods. Usually they're turned off.