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, September 4, 2010

All in Vane

Some of you regular readers from the Micechat "Long-Forgotten" threads may well have wondered when this post was going to show up.  "The weather vane post" was inevitable, given the number of times the topic wandered in and out of the threads.  I hesitated, you know.  It's an exercise in ludicrous hyper-trivia, or it would be, except there are two reasons that taken together are barely enough to justify treating the topic here.  One of them is a purely practical note and the other touches on thematics and history, much more in the Long-Forgotten vein.

I questioned whether "vein" is a good word to use in a post about a weather vane; in other words, whether I, while surveyin' the subject, would flood the post with bad puns.  I tried to stand firm against the withering gale of enticing ideas that the temptation was conveyin' to my mind, but it was more than I could weather.  Vain it was, to resist.

Okay, here we go.  The Disneyland Haunted Mansion weather vane looks today pretty much like what you see on the 1962 blueprints.

But it wasn't always so.

Preliminary site work on the building began at the end of 1961, and by December of 1962 it was pretty much finished, with mostly landscaping and things like that slopping the project into January of 1963.  

Here's the vane — all shiny-new — in December — '62.

A year or so later, still looking good:

But darker days lay ahead for our brave little weather vane.  Sometime after January of 1964, the back sail dropped off.  For you nautical types, that would be the "main sail."

The good news is, this situation didn't last long.  The bad news is, that's because it got worse.
By July of 1964, the front sail had also dropped off.  (Let's see...that would be the "jib.")

The vane continued in this vein for a long time.  You would have thought they might fix it up for the grand opening in 1969.
Instead, the years roll by — but a hundred years, to a steadfast heart (and to an overworked maintenance staff), are but a day.

As late as June of 1972, we still had one sail hanging in there.


(See how the cropping on that photo acts to sorta foreshadow what comes next?  Dang I'm good.)

Yes, sometime after the summer of '72, the third sail (i.e., the "fore sail") finally threw in the towel and joined its compatriots, still lying about on the roof.  Perhaps it cried, "There's always my way," as it bid the boat adieu and leapt to its doom.  I'll pause so you can daub your eyes.

This sorry state of saillessness continued year after year.  But a hundred years—oh, wait, we already did that.

About the time they started working on Splash Mountain in 1987, someone noticed the shameful condition of the weather vane and took pity on it.  It actually got fixed.  For the first time since 1964, our brave little boat had all three of its sails.

Alas for our happy ending; they did a crappy job.  Sometime between May of '92 and the end of '95, after some bad weather or perhaps a worker's inadvertent jab, the jib was off the job again.  (Still reading?  You must have the patience of Job.)

As we've come to expect by now, this fractured state lasted for a long time.  Someone finally put the weather vane out of its misery.  Unless it went up for a time during the gap in our photographic record, it looks like it was gone entirely for about two years.

As if that wasn't bad enough, when they put it back up it was still missing the jib.  And thus it finished out the 90's.

For the first Haunted Mansion Holiday in 2001, it was still a two-sail affair, but by the second HMH, the weather vane had finally been restored to its original glory.  Maybe it got fixed when they switched back to classic Mansion after the first HMH.  Anyway, it's been fine ever since.

I hear those fingers drumming.  Let's get to the "so what" paragraphs.  On a practical level, this phenomenon is very handy with undated Mansion exterior photos.  If the vane is visible, you can use it to assign an approximate date.

Thematically, the sorry tale of the weather vane is troublesome for a cherished theory held by some HM aficionados, who hold that the ship weather vane has always been a mute testimony to the real backstory of the Mansion, the old sea-captain tale, going back to Ken Anderson.  In reality, it's obvious from our photo study that nobody cared very much about that thing on top before the 21st century.  The short-lived telescope on the balcony (1997-2001), on the other hand, is doubtless a nod to the old backstory.

But other things adduced in its favor, like supposedly "nautical" props in the attic and the "ship" weather vane, tend to shrink a bit under scrutiny.  It's not a ship anyway; it's a schooner.  In size, it's like a small yacht or a fishing boat.  Oh sure, a sea captain might own a schooner or two, but it's not the kind of vessel you imagine when you hear "sea captain."  The Haunted Mansion weather vane was probably an off-the-shelf item.  You can get ones like it without difficulty.

You can connect the weather vane with the sea captain thing if you want.
It's certainly agreeable to that kind of backstory.  But there's less there than some people realize.


  1. I had read somewhere that the vane was a little tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean, and always pointed in that direction. Not too sure about that one, but it was the first explanation I had heard.

    The little schooner looks good to me. Much more ambiguous than the bat, anyway.

  2. No, it's a real weather vane; that is, it turns and points with the wind. Interesting rumor about the POTC, though. I hadn't heard that one. I agree about the schooner vs. the bat (at WDW). It's more intriguing. Can you imagine trying to coax a discussion like this one out of that bat? You've exhausted the subject in one short paragraph.

  3. What I'd really like to see is a post all about the Jean Lafitte mega-theming, detailing the various references to Lafitte, things like Reginald's chair and other props, and the smuggler's tunnel. I find it all very fascinating and exciting- if there's anything I like best about Disneyland, it's the visual storytelling that suggests something more complex than a first ride-through would suggest...
    It's difficult digging through the threads to find related posts, you see.

  4. Dude, this was an awesome deconstruction of something that most guests never notice. Looks like Disney maintenance didn't either. I completely agree with you about the "backstories" that tend to pop up. They usually materialize after everything is already in place, and don't hold up to much scrutiny. Looking forward to more...

  5. I just noticed that in "The Legend of Gracey Manor," a backstory concocted to go with the 2003 HM movie, there is a reference to the weather vane. Ambrose Gracey, the shady sea-captain builder of Gracey Manor, "placed a golden sailing ship weather vane upon the top of his home as a marker for visitors." According to, this backstory was written by a team at Buena Vista Pictures in cooperation with the film makers, and it's copyrighted 2003. It's possible that the vane finally got properly repaired in 2002 for the express purpose of using it to plug the old sea-captain backstory.

  6. Good stuff, even the Mansion's vanes have a wealth of information tied to them.

  7. Although (brace yourself for a shock) I have two disagreements.

    I don't think the treatment of the vane disproves the notion that it's a "holdover"(that's what most folks see it as, not as a "tribute", cherished or otherwise, per se) of the sea captain story. All it proves is that they didn't notice or care about it's condition and nothing more. As for it being bought off the shelf, again, it proves nothing but that to get the vane they chose to go a less expensive route. So? Do you not find that of all the many designs they had to chose from that a ship was selected at all telling? As for it not being the kind associated with a 'sea captain' so what? Most laymen don't differentiate between different types of ships like that, to them a big ship is a big ship. Could it be that who ever was responsible for the holdover/tribute/whatever either didn't care that the boat type didn't exactly match because of this or simply made a mistake? You are a bit quick to say that is "less there" based on some very superficial items.

    Second, this esoteric argument that the ship is a better vane than the bat is absurd. While the ship may make for more blog fodder and be more supposedly "ambiguous" (a dubious virtue at best and I would say it is more incongruous than "ambiguous") it is far less fitting visually and thematically and does not contribute to the overall spooky atmosphere of the Mansion. The main goal of an attraction is to entertain and present a coherent and unified experience. The bat accomplishes this by adding another layer of eeriness to the exterior of the Mansion and thus the experience as a whole, the ship fails to.

  8. If the weather vane was intended to keep a foot in the door for the old sea captain story, then why didn't they buy a full-sized sailing ship design rather than a little schooner? The former are at least as easy to find (if not more so) than the latter. Postulating that the weather vane purchaser may have erred through nautical ignorance is special pleading (it's per the blueprints, so the supposed ignorance runs deep). Postulating that they went with a schooner because they figured most people don't know the difference assumes that it was a little easier to get their hands on a schooner type than a full-sized ship type, but even a casual survey of commercially available, off-the-shelf weather vanes disproves that. It would have been as easy, or easier, to get one that is just plain right all the way around, if "a sea captain lived here" was indeed the message to be sent. As for the bat/ship comparison, I'll stand by my argument (which is hardly "esoteric"): The bat is obvious haunted house decor, the ship is not. Therefore, the ship is more intriguing.

  9. I agree, the bat is too obviously reminiscent of typical "haunted houses". The HM is not supposed to look haunted from the outside, it has a deliberate show flow.

  10. at least the bat has never fallen off the weather vane ...sorry couldn't resist

  11. Actually for me personally the bat in Florida acts comic relief. When I was little the first time I saw that sinister looking house on the hill I didn't want to go anywhere near the place, but my dad pointed out the cute little bat on the weather vane and told me "it's more funny than scary", the bat is what convinced me "it'd be ok".

    Now whenever I see it I still think of that, it's kind of like a "wink of the eye" that tells you "This place isn't as bad as it seems". I don't know if that was the intent or not, but the 2 buildings are very different. The DL version is deceptively elegant looking on the outside, but the deeper you go inside the weirder it gets. With the WDW version you can tell from Frontierland that's there's something wrong with this place, it looks like the Addams Family or the Munster live there, which is more a reflection of the tone of the show inside.

    I don't know if the bat weather vane is supposed to be another visual pun, but I Florida they literally have "bats in the belfry"

    1. Originally, the DL HM was going to have a black cat, very Halloweenish-looking. They decided on the schooner not long before they actually began building. That makes me think that the WDW bat is actually one of the few remaining nods to traditional Halloween-type decor. There's more on this topic in theFamous Ghosts, and Ghosts Trying to Make a Name for Themselves post (Mar 2011).

  12. I've seen the cat sketches, and I agree with you that the sail boat in California is more intriguing, but the whole building is.

    They're both called "The Haunted Mansion" but the DL version doesn't look particularly haunted, it does look like "a mansion" though, it's this stately, elegant, white building with columns, if you put at bat or cat on top it would ruin that whole illusion. The WDW version on the other hand doesn't really look like a mansion, it looks more like a cross between an old factory and a mental hospital or something, but it does look "haunted" or at least creepy. It's a more theatrical interpretation of a "Haunted Mansion".

    My point is the 2 buildings are like the 2 halves of the ride, the California Mansion is more the, subtle, enigmatic, Ken Anderson, Claude Coats, sensibility, and the Florida Mansion, is more the Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, crazy, over the top, side of things. The sail boat is intriguing, and the bat is a split second gag, but I think they both fit perfectly with the buildings they're attached to

  13. I pretty much agree with all that. I'm just saying that the bat was plucked from traditional Halloweeny haunted house imagery as something appropriate to the kind of thing you are describing.

  14. Well Disney claims that the WDW Mansion is partially inspired by the Harry Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania, which has this weird looking bird on top of its side tower, but other than that there's practically no resemblance between the 2 building.

    I've heard a rumor that the most of the inspiration though, is the various state hospitals in the north east, Danvers State Hospital, in Massachusetts in particular, but also the New York State Homeopathic Hospital, The Hudson River State Hospital, The Pennsylvania State Hospital, The Allentown State Hospital, and The Pennhurst State School and Asylum.

    The common thread is they're all brick buildings with central towers, usually have some kind of green house/sun room because it was believed sunlight was good for mental illness, and since many people died in them there all allegedly haunted. They also all had horrific reputations so I can understand the Disney folks not really wanting to be associated with them, but have you ever heard any of that?

    1. Since this came to light about a decade ago, there's been a pretty sturdy consensus that it's THE inspiration for the WDW façade:

  15. oh ok, so because the shape is similar and that's it's? even thought all the architectural details are wrong. I guess I'll have to disagree with you on that because some people think this thing on the left looks like a bat from certain angles

    by the way you know in your first post you talked about is the haunted mansion an art form? do you know why it's so hard to get recognition for new art forms? "consensus"

    1. There's another factor too. An engraving of exactly that house is found in a book in the WDI (then WED) library, and it's the same book in which a photo of the Shipley Lydecker house can be found, the house that inspired the Anaheim HM.

  16. As a Bostonian, I can tell you that the weather vane looks nothing like a big ship- just Google Tall Ships to see what I mean. Bigger ships have much more than three sails.


  17. As is discussed above the weather vane is a schooner (16th or 17th century), and while not a large "Black Perl" type vessel, a schooner is faster, more agile and shallower draft than a cannon laden war ship. This is very important for a privateer or pirate needing to catch cargo ships at sea and out run ships of the British Navy.

    Unlike what you see in the movies, real pirates preferred smaller faster ships, making the schooner weather vane an appropriate choice for the Pirate Captain back story of the Haunted Mansion!

    1. That's all true, but remember, the original HM backstory has a highly respected sea captain marrying a sweet young thing, who later finds out he is really a bloodthirsty pirate. That seems to call for a more impressive ship, like in the movies; factual history be damned.