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.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jean Lafitte and the "Mega-Theme" Temptation

Updated August, 2015, March and October, 2017, and October, 2019

The solid, factual core behind today's topic is plenty fascinating in its own right, but the phenomenon goes beyond that core.  If you extend it both backwards and forwards in time, what was merely a fascinating example of "lost imagineering" (to borrow a phrase from the old 2719 Hyperion website), becomes something mysterious and intriguing and perhaps a little ominous as well.  Something wicked this way comes.

We will start where everybody starts when discussing this topic.  There is a curious, bricked-up, sunken archway in the esplanade along the river front, out in front of the Haunted Mansion.

What that is, is the tip of an enormous imagineering iceberg, an ambitious concept that came to naught.  Or so we are told.  The first published discussion of it, I do believe, was by Kevin Yee, in a book he co-authored with Jason Schultz, 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland.  Number 27 on the list is the mysterious archway:

"A canal in New Orleans Square, labeled "1764," is all that remains of a plan to unify several themes in the land.

"The plan called for a crypt next to the Mansion that led into an underground catacomb of treasure and dead pirates, culminating in a pirate-themed hideout on Tom Sawyer Island. The pirate theme would have focused on Jean Laffite, a real-life pirate from the early 1800s in New Orleans. Laffite’s name might be familiar to frequent Disneyland visitors from the Pirates of the Caribbean loading zone, where a sign reads "Laffite’s Landing." The date 1764 was derived by subtracting 200 years from the birth date of one Imagineer who worked on the project.
[Editor's note: this was Matt McKim, son of legendary Imagineer Sam McKim.] FURTHERMORE: Before its replacement with La Petite Patisserie, there was also a Laffite’s Silver Shop in New Orleans Square. Having a Jean Laffite identified as the "owner" of the Haunted Mansion would have united Pirates of the Caribbean with the Mansion and the island into one underlying theme, an unusual feat for an entire land. Though unrealized, the plan lives on in the form of this barricaded "crypt."

This was the brainchild of Eddie Sotto, a brilliant Imagineer who joined WDI (then WED) in 1986 and eventually became Senior Vice President of Concept Design there.  He left WDI in 1999 to form his own company.  In subsequent conversations, both public and private, Sotto has vouched for the accuracy of Yee's report and supplied further details about this amazing project.  The esplanade was redone in the early 90's in order to improve the area for Fantasmic! viewing (and whatever other shows might come along).  Sotto had the cryptic archway put in at that time as a kind of "note to self" with regard to the Jean Lafitte project.

The entrance to all of this was NOT going to be the riverfront archway but a crypt across from the Haunted Mansion.
In March, 2017, Sotto published one of his concept sketches, showing that crypt:

From there, you would tunnel through a series of secret chambers lined with skeletal victims of pirate/privateer Jean Lafitte (or "Laffite"; you see both spellings).  These tunnels were inspired by the catacombs of Paris.  It would represent a sort of macabre tribute to Lafitte's fallen comrades and shadowy conquests.

Rumors of hidden treasure.  There was a smuggling theme in all of this too.  Anyway, you would eventually emerge into the hold of a buried ship on Tom Sawyer Island, and ascend to the surface there.  Fort Wilderness would be replaced with another, capsized ship, full of treasure, covered with foliage and serving as a pirate hideout on the island.  There would be lots of things for the kids, like a cannon-firing arcade and a saloon where you could get pop-rocks mixed in your drinks (pop-rocks being a big candy fad at the time), this latter feature in imitation of Chinese pirates, who mixed gunpowder in their grog, Sotto tells us.

Update, Oct 2, 2017: Sotto has published still more concept art from this 1998 project proposal, along with a description of the whole thing.
You can see it at his blog site HERE.

Like Yee says, the project would have combined Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and Tom Sawyer Island under an umbrella mega-theme, revolving around Jean Lafitte.  Disneyland's grand poobah at the time, Paul Pressler, looked at the proposal, said no, and that was supposedly that.

Sotto has repeatedly said that the original inspiration for this big idea came from (1) the "Laffite's Landing" sign in POTC, and (2) the historical fact that the island of Barataria lay off the coast of the real New Orleans and served as a hideout for Jean Lafitte and a base of operations for the clandestine smuggling and selling taking place between him and the residents of New O.  The presence of Tom Sawyer Island across from New Orleans Square naturally suggested Barataria to Mr. Sotto.

Sotto boned up on Lafitte and found him to be a fascinating character, very much tied into the history of America at the time (early 19th c.).  He sided with the U.S. against the British in the War of 1812 and was a significant player at the Battle of New Orleans, where he rubbed shoulders with another equally colorful character, Major General Andrew Jackson, who later rewarded Lafitte for his "patriotism" when he became the nation's seventh president.  Much of the fascination with Lafitte lies in his ambiguity: a pirate? a smuggler? a patriot? a hero?  Take your pick.

So far, what I've given you are just the facts, ma'am.  But at this point . . . mysteries begin to multiply.  First of all, it is hard for me to believe that the "Laffite's Landing" sign really is the Disneyland artifact that first inspired this grand idea.  However much the sign may have boosted it, I would think that the suggestion was ultimately *ahem* anchored in a different Disneyland artifact.  [NOTE: See now Mr. Sotto's remarks in the Comments section.]

When the esplanade was redone, a lovely garden patch was incorporated, with a ship's anchor in it.  Note well:  this was done on Sotto's watch.

.                                  You did notice the plaque, didn't you?

When I first saw that, I figured it must have come from the hand of Sotto himself.  It obviously fits in with the Lafitte ├╝ber-theme.  No wonder it's so close to the mysterious archway.  The problem is, it didn't come from Sotto.  Previously, the anchor had been sitting out in front of the Golden Horseshoe.  Here it is in 1989:

The plaque, the plaque!  Lemme see the plaque.  Gotta see the plaque.

Hmm.  Okay.  But 1989, you say?  Then it could still be a Sotto artifact, theoretically.
Well, no.  Here it is . . . in 1964.

It gets better.  Before this, the anchor had been on display in front of what is today the River Belle Terrace area.  Here it is in the 1950's:

The plaque, the plaque!  You wanna see the plaque, right?  So did Dave.
(Daveland, you rock.  I want all you readers to go to one of his sites right now, and . . . I dunno. . . buy something.)

The fact is, the anchor has been around since opening day at Disneyland, and the plaque has always read exactly as it does today.

What is also curious is that the plaque has been lovingly maintained all these years, which seems a little odd for such a minor DL artifact.  It's been redone several times, as you can see from the photos above.  Even this one from the 90's, which needed a little touching up but was not really that bad . . . 

. . . was replaced with a temporary and then a permanent new one, which is at least the fourth version, and possibly the fifth.

Well, maybe Sotto just forgot about the anchor and left it out inadvertently when he was talking about his earliest inspirations for the Lafitte thing.  And maybe its careful maintenance is just that, an example of unusually good maintenance.  Interesting, but there are no mysteries here.

Maybe not, but there are mysteries a-plenty coming up.  Like I said, Sotto left in 1999.  But it is clear that someone has continued to carry the torch for this project.  First of all, there's the Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island thing.  You may think that it is simply Disney's attempt to cash in on the pirate mania sparked by the wildly successful POTC flicks.  Of course it is, but it is also obvious that it is drawing inspiration from several of Sotto's ideas; e.g., wrecked ships on the island, hidden treasure, secret tunnels, pirate hideouts.  Well why not?  Those were good, fun ideas, based on a pirate theme, all ready to pull out of the dead letter files when the POTC craze hit.

Yes, of course, of course.  But why this utterly unnecessary name-dropping, then?

Much weirder and harder to explain are the other Lafitte cameos from the 2000's.  Buena Vista pictures wrote an official backstory to go with the Haunted Mansion movie (2003), called "The Legend of Gracey Manor."  There you can read about secret passages and tunnels connecting the house with both a graveyard crypt and the river front, useful for smuggling.  This was all very handy since the builder of Gracey Manor had a "secret association with pirate Jean Laffite," and the Graceys could use the tunnels to hide, as they did, for example, during the War of 1812, when they hid from the British.

(screen caps from

At the movie's official website, a condensed version of "The Legend" could be found.  The reference to Jean Lafitte wasn't there, but the hiding-from-the-British thing was retained:

None of this made it into the actual movie.  It's just needless name-dropping, with obvious allusions to Sotto's concept.

In 2006, premiered an exclusive audio file, "Nuptial Doom", an elaborate retelling of the original backstory for the Haunted Mansion, based on the old Ken Anderson sea-captain tale.  You know the one:  Girl marries mansion's owner and later discovers he's a bloodthirsty pirate.  Murder.  Suicide.  Ghosts.   The story is told by Kat Cressida, the voice of Constance.

It's credited largely to Kat Cressida herself, but a lot of WDI talent shows up in the "special thanks to" column, including some pretty big names.  Anyway, in "Nuptial Doom," we learn that the sea-captain owner of the Mansion was "a compatriot to Jean Lafitte himself," with a passing reference to the War of 1812 for good measure.  More completely needless name-dropping.

We've mentioned Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans alongside Lafitte.  Whole books have been devoted to exploring their rich and complex relationship.

Of course, if you had a special interest in Old Hickory, you would have wanted to drop by Fort Wilderness years ago and see his tableau there.

When the Fort closed in 2002, many of Jackson's props were put into the attic of the Haunted Mansion, including such personal effects as his uniform, his boots, and his chair (and LOTS of other stuff too).  When Constance moved into the attic in 2006, with all of her wedding junk, none of Jackson's personal items were removed.  If anything, they were placed in even more conspicuous view.

.                                      That's from 2002

The tendency to retire props from the Fort Wilderness tableau into the HM attic actually goes back to the 90's.  The second, gold-framed Geo. Washington portrait (seen above) moved there in 2002, but in doing so it was only following the lead of the earlier, James Madison portrait, which probably went there in 1995.

Recall that one element of the Sotto mega-theme ties the Mansion into the Lafitte universe by making him an owner of the house at some point, according to Yee.  Are Jackson's effects merely a typical example of recycling of props and nothing more?  If this phenom were standing alone, I'd say yes.  But in view of all the other creepy goings-on, I can't help feeling a little more conspiratorial.  For his part, Sotto denies any involvement in this transfer of Jackson props, and doesn't even know anyone from WDI personally who would be responsible.  He had no knowledge of it, and as far as he's concerned it's a big nothing.  A coincidence.  Similarly, he had no knowledge of the other Lafitte name-dropping and allusions to his concept in the movie background materials or in "Nuptial Doom" until they were brought to his attention.

There's more.  For awhile there were popular outdoor pirate shows in New Orleans Square, with comedy and music, another way to play off of the pirate craze inspired by the POTC movies.  They had a platform—not far from the anchor and the arch, actually—and some interesting props.

Hmmm.  Pirate smuggling activity.  Not really an element of the POTC movies, was it?

.                                                                          (pic by Frogberto)

Plus, any Mansion fan worth his salt immediately recognized the portrait.  It's the greatly-missed April-December changing portrait, removed from the HM in 2005 in order to make room for "Master Gracey."

(Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it's neither "April" nor "December."  It's "June."  As many of you know, the April-December portrait was originally supposed to have four phases, not two.)

Looking at that platform, you'd almost get the impression that someone was trying to tie the POTC and the HM together in some way, and that the Someone was just as interested in the old Sotto mega-theme as in the POTC movies.

Furthest down the list of possible manifestations of this Lafitte shadow-theme is The Chair.  We thrashed this one around quite a bit over at the "Long-Forgotten" threads on Micechat.  Suffice it to say, it has been noticed that Connie's husband Reginald, Jack Sparrow over at POTC, and Edward Gracey in the HM movie, all use the exact same chair.

This was more interesting when we thought the chair was a unique design, but in fact it's pretty common.    The upholstery, however, indicates that yes, it's true: the Sparrow and Reginald chairs are probably recycled props from the HM movie.  And if we didn't know that there was this subterranean impulse trying to tie the POTC and HM together under one theme, "recycled movie props" would be all there is to say about it.

Not conspiratorial enough for you?  Alrighty, hold on to your tin-foil hats:  note that Reginald and his chair are precisely where a portrait of April-December hangs in the photo of the attic scale model.  Happy now?

Oh no . . . the tentacles!  the tentacles!
Okay, I'm sorry, but this is where I get off.  Time to get a grip and pull back from the brink.
"Set down the keyboard, sir, and slowly back away."

There's an argument to be made that this is all just a string of coincidences, because these things are far, far too subtle to be deliberate show elements.  For example, who would ever notice that Andrew Jackson's uniform or his chair from the old Fort Wilderness tableau is now in the Haunted Mansion attic?  Surely not one rider in 100 million.  The same goes for some of this other stuff.  It must be Disney thrift or laziness at work, and the (admitted) curious resonances with the discarded Jean Lafitte mega-theme must be put down to coincidence, since most of them cannot reasonably be considered show elements.

But I think we make a mistake if we box ourselves into a choice between "deliberate show element" and "coincidence" as the only two options.  There is also something I would call "manufactured clues," executed with an eye to the future.  If I were an Imagineer of standing, and I hoped ardently that this Lafitte thing might some day be resurrected and realized, then heck yeah I'd be tempted to plant little things around to make it feel more real, more inevitable.  Does not Sotto himself admit that the mysterious walled-up arch was a sort of "note-to-self"? It's a hyper-geek thing.  Manufactured clues. Putting something tangible in there that gives you a private buzz, a creative tingle.  Some of it may be discernible by the public, and some of it not.  Of course, one reason to do some of it at a level that the public can sense is to make the thing seem natural when it appears.  Plaster a big "Lafitte's Tavern" sign on the building on TSI years in advance, and when Lafitteland finally debuts it seems a little less foreign; why, it's almost familiar.  Like it's been there all along.

Do I have a suspicion about who is behind all of this, who is carrying the Lafitte torch?  Yes I do.  Will I name this person?  No I won't.

[Edit, August 24, 2015: The person of interest here is no longer in a position to push forward these ideas, and so they have apparently fallen dormant. At least for the present, don't expect the Lafitte thing to gather any further steam.  The  same person was responsible for the Constance addition to the Mansion, which was the first step in another elaborate storyline, this time involving the bride and the actual Ghost Host (who is the Hatchet man and not "Master Gracey"). While this person was in charge, WDI took a zero-tolerance policy toward anything suggesting that "Master Gracey" was the Ghost Host. Now that this person is gone, it doesn't seem like WDI cares very much about that distinction any more.]


On March 11, 2011, Eddie Sotto ("Dr. Bitz" in the Comments) went from skeptic (pretty much) to believer (pretty much), when he saw the following new bulletin board at Disneyland:

This first came up in the Comments section, and I thought the new data belonged here in the post itself. Most of this is right out of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom Sawyer's island is indeed called "Jackson Island," and Tom, Huck, and Jim Harper stay there for a few days playing pirate and are presumed dead. But this sign suggests that Jean Lafitte once used the island as a headquarters, which is not in the book.

In this post as originally written, I said this: 

"Now, finally, the "mega-theme temptation" of the title.  It's exciting and fun to spin out a full-blown reality.  A master theme that combines several attractions sounds just too, too cool—to the person doing it.  Also to the people learning about it and experiencing it—for awhile.  Then it gets boring.  You need to have room to create an imaginative construct of your own and not have someone else's foisted on you.  That's why I'm against "official backstories" on principle.  I've been robbed.  Someone else's imagination is boxing in mine.  They can't see that, or feel it, precisely because it IS their own creation, the product of their own imagination.  "Why doesn't everyone else get off on my personal vision as much as I do?  I don't get it."

"No mega-themes, please, Lafitte or otherwise.  In that regard, leave the Mansion (and POTC, and TSI) alone, so future guests can breathe and dream their own dreams, and so they can make their own connections, or none at all, as they please."

But now, in 2019, I must take back much of this, because newer evidence makes it increasingly clear that the Pirate attraction and the Haunted House attraction were born joined-at-the-hip. It was always pirate ghosts and ghost pirates when Walt and his team were dreaming up New Orleans Square, and yes, Jean Lafitte was in the middle of it. See, for example, THIS, or THIS, or THIS. So Sotto and his phantom followers have not been foisting a mega-theme on originally disparate attractions so much as returning to the true and original DNA of the whole area.


  1. Well done post. I am wondering is the construction/remodeling going on in the Rivers of America might lend itself to the points you are making here?

  2. wow! You never fail to amaze me!

  3. The recent improvements and changes to the ROA don't seem to me to be related to the Lafitte thing in any way.

    And thanks to all for the kind words.

  4. So convincing with a pirates do tell tales sign next to the June portrait. And is that an implied noose? Jury says guilty.

  5. Once again, thanks for the terrifically informative and riveting post!

  6. Oh my goddess, Ms June & HP ref blow my mind!
    - kc

  7. Well. Quite a story. I only want to say that the Anchor tie in, although being there since I was a kid, was not present in my mind as this whole "Lafitte Island" thing came to me while vacationing on the beaches of Hawaii, where I am ironically writing this post now! I did a series of sketches and paintings of the whole Lafitte's Island concept (which you have posted) from a grass hut on the beach between Pirate history books, so I was more into the story of the man Lafitte and recalling the sign over the load area of the ride than the anchor I had forgotten in Frontierland. I later realized it when I got back, and that was a bonus. There was a proposal we did for the HM enhancement where you were invited to a "dance macabre", Mardi Gras NOS theme and every guest got a "mask" which would allow for a 3D ride experience, but we never got very far with that. My initial goals were never intended to become a mega theme as much as put a crypt in front of the HM dedicated to Lafitte and solve the island story. I'm happy it ties together as I love when history solves problems. This would work with the movie story very well. I guess the process of finding a logic for your thematic proposals is based in history and the Lafitte memoirs are riveting. For more on Barrataria see the movie called "The Buccaneer".

    Eddie Sotto

  8. Thanks very much for reading and commenting, Eddie ("Mr. Sotto" sounds too darn formal, even from the get-go, so I'll presume). I take you at your word, completely. The way that anchor plaque fits in with your big Lafitte idea is so natural that it's amazing to learn that it was entirely out of the creative loop. It even has that cryptic ending, pointing away from itself to something bigger. Almost eerie. Since the plaque has been there forever, I would have to wonder whether it was possibly a subconscious influence. After all is said and done, the ultimate roots in the creative process are mysterious. Things come out of the Deep that we didn't realize were there. That sort of thing. A fascinating business.

    As for mega-themes, if my suspicions are correct that someone at WDI (and I think I can guess who) is still deeply in love with your idea, it is perfectly possible that he/she is more inclined than you were to present it as a genuinely all-embracing mega-theme, in a manner far more blatant and heavy-handed, perhaps, than you would have wanted. So I don't see any conflict between this post and your remarks to the effect that tying together attractions and mega-theming were never really the goals when you developed the Lafitte concept.

    Again, thanks for stopping by. Feel free to stroll around the grounds.

  9. With this I find hope for the ships anchor located in Thunder Mesa near the riverboat landing. This was to be a monument for all the miners lost at Big Thunder Mountain and for their souls final voyage.

  10. It may have been subconscious. The motive for the whole Lafitte Island idea, believe it or not, was saving money and the Island as an attraction. The park was looking into closing attractions to save operating cost and the Island was a candidate among others like the Peoplemover and the Skyway. I thought that if there was a way to do the tunnels under the river and lose the cost of the rafts, then you could do something better on the island and have a greater capacity as the rafts limits the number of guests. So all this lafitte stuff was in my head as you point out and since I had been to Le Catacombes in Paris, eventually thought that something cool and spooky like that would make a historically logical passageway to the Island, what what would the story be? what real characters populated the POTC? "Lafitte's landing" was the closest location to the island. I may have thought about the anchor, but probably realized it later. I was focused on the connections between the edge of NOS and the sightline of the island. I loved the POTC and thought more of that would be cool, but visually seeing more Pirate stuff from the Mark Twain bugged me too much as it was Frontierland. how do you connect the story? When I read how Jean Lafitte was captured supposedly in Galveston Bay Texas, this made the connection of the West and Piracy, so I dug further and learned of Barrataria Bay across from NO. Wow. While on vacation this aspect got more interesting. I learned of Andrew Jackson and their relationship. It just got more interesting. In the concept art for the island all of the pirate stuff was below ground to hide it visually. Capsized ship hulls covered with earth, etc. i thought that seeing pirate elements directly was too on the nose and would hurt the wilderness look.

    Eddie Sotto (Shrunken Ned)

  11. I remember in the late 50's seeing Yul Brynner as Lafitte in the "Buckaneer" with Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson. With each showing you got a free Buckaneer eye patch which came in handy for my Halloween costume. It's great to see Andrew Jackson's personnel articles from his TSI Fort residence, now in the mansion. They were the basis for the Tokyo Disneyland interiors at their TSI Fort modeled after Disneyland. Hope to do a story on that adventure someday.

  12. Bravo, folks! Perhaps the most interesting article you've written yet, Dan. It just sucked up my entire lunch time. Oh, and thanks for the June painting plug. Man, I love that painting!

  13. Cool. Very interesting info, and amusingly counterintuitive ("this was a way to SAVE money??"). Your train of thought during this creative process is instructive and relevant today. I've come around quite a bit on the big "Pirates-in-Frontierland" flap. With or without the Lafitte element front and center, you've still got New Orleans Square right there, and all by itself it testifies to a place and a time where pirates and frontiersmen inhabited the same world. I agree, it should be possible to acknowledge this historical chapter without setting up crude visual clashes.

  14. Yes. The thematic frontage of the "Old South" embodies most of the public areas of the River going back to the Plantation House Restaurant, Aunt Jemima's and Magnolia Gardens. So Walt probably mused, what this area needs is some Pirates. TSI mirrors this frontage, so to me it was a natural growth of the Lafitte's Landing. If he departed from there, where could he end up? Barataria? Harsh, cliche'd visuals of a pirate "hideout" make it an oxymoron. Keep it mysterious and subtle.

    I know that it does not look like "saving" money, but long term making the island generate revenue (cannon shooting gallery and pirate drinks, extended hours, add'l guest capacity, etc) minus the cost of running and staffing the rafts would eventually be cash positive. It also could have been marketed to a degree.

  15. Great article!

    I admittedly prefer Western theming for Tom Sawyer's Island (in fact, in retrospect I could have done for more Twain references... it was my love for the island that actually got me around to reading the book). But I also really enjoy meta-themes. Not overt, beating you over the head things, but puzzles that you slowly piece together as you ride more of the rides. Tokyo Disneysea does an excellent job of that with the Atlantis/Mnt. Prometheus storyline running through a few attractions. The unifying Lafitte thing would have been interesting.

    Anyways, I wanted to add that Lafitte's Anchor is probably my most favorite joke at Disneyland. I love how subtle it is!

  16. 1764 was significant in New Orleans history. France was a bit over-extended and was having great difficulty administering the government of Louisiana. In 1762, France ceded the territory to Spain in a secret deal. The French residents didn't find out about it until two years later, when Acadian families began arriving in New Orleans, prompting a mass riot in New Orleans in 1764.

    Spain erected The Cabildo, the seat of their local government, at what later came to be called Jackson Square. The facade for Pirates of the Caribbean is loosely paterned after this building.

    The edge of Jackson Square was referred to long ago as "Pirates' Alley". The dense jungle of the Everglades grew right up against the square, making it easy for Lafitte's pirates to slip right into town unnoticed. This set-up is echoed in the close proximity of Pirates of the Caribbean to Adventureland's jungle and tree-house.

    When America expressed an interest in purchasing New Orleans, France re-aquired Louisiana from Spain. Spain never really wanted the territory to begin with, and was more than happy to return it. If they had known how much America was willing to pay for New Orleans, perhaps things would be different.

  17. Thanks Ezra. I like our Pirate Alley connection to Adventureland.

  18. Some of these comments bring up a point. It would be interesting to know (but impossible to find out) how much Walt succeeded in using DL to stimulate interest in history, literature, and science. I think everyone would concede that the parks have always stimulated interest in the visual arts, but I wonder just how many people first read Mark Twain or first got interested in rocketry or forestry or ocean science or American history because of Disneyland. The "educational" side of Disney was always part of the public package, and at least in the area of film there are obvious successes to point to. Nature films used in schools, etc. But with regard to the parks a cynic might say that it's a pompous gesture, a bid for broader legitimacy and respectability than an amusement park can realistically deserve. He's skeptical whether you'd ever really find a submarine technician who first knew that's what he wanted to be after riding the Disney Subs. I think the cynic is probably wrong, but it's hard to get a feel for the extent of the parks' success in this area.

    1. Well, in my own case and career that is exactly what happened.

      I first visited The Haunted Mansion in late 1969 or 1970, at about age 11 or 12. I was terrified to go in there the first time; by the time I emerged from the exit, I was first back in line to ride again.

      I was so captivated by not only the techniques used to create the visual effects, as well as the spiritual aspects suggested by "happy haunts" that I found myself learning all I could about visual effects for film and stage, and shamanism, world religions, and occultism in my teens.

      It did not take long for me to know this was the kind of magic I wanted to make for a living.

      These days I'm a visual effects artist, supervising VFX work on films and TV. Including STAR TREK NEW VOYAGES.

      So, it did happen for me, cynics notwithstanding!

    2. It’s Oct 2022. I have always believed that Disneyland was a ‘sampler’, an ‘introduction’ to the wider world, an invitation for you to discover ever-more about a million things suggested and seen in the park; such as history, design, literature, business, science, gardening; even nature itself, and the occult in this case (also economics, how to best spend those ticket books?).

      I became an architectural designer because I was intrigued with the finishes within Disneyland and especially how all it’s spaces fit together. I garden because I could see great examples of what was possible in scale and texture, fragrance and color. I started my own company after understanding how DisCo. works as art and commerce. These topics and so many more have propelled me through a life full of incredible experiences I would not have otherwise encountered.

      Disneyland isn’t just beautiful or merely fun, it is profoundly INSPIRATIONAL (those “Dreams” in gooey corporate parlance).

      Here, a decade after this amazing ‘boundless book’ was first published, it is still endlessly fascinating to learn further details. … with years more reading to go (hoping / presuming we’ll get into the huge glass panes, elevator innovations, wallpaper details and although EDL, perhaps the bride-in-mirror-skull).

      Thank You for your outstandingly good work.

    3. You're very welcome.

    4. Whooops, guess I mean dozen rather than decade. But always…thanks. Fun time traveling.

  19. As usual, a fascinating read (and, of course, this particular comments section is even more fascinating)! Again, great job on a fantastic blog!

  20. Well, I can't speak for others, but can that I became interested in American history because of the park for sure. I fell in love with tall ships because of the Columbia. Same with the Mark Twain and Steam Trains. When I was probably 9 or 10, I begged my mother to buy me a serious architectural book on New Orleans so I could find the origins of all the facades in NOS. I spent the following years learning to draw the details depicted in that book from memory which informed my love of architecture and period details today. Ironically, that background of reality helped me to do the same for Main Street in Paris. Over the years I would become interested in different periods or want to visit the real inspirations for "Nature's Wonderland". As an imagineer Herb Ryman stressed how much research plays into what you design as it gives your project a richer reality. I would safely say that most astronauts were inspired as kids by movies or media that began in the fantasy realm of inspiration, like Jules Verne or Star Trek. So there is an analog to dreaming or being immersed in something and eventually doing.

  21. Interesting stuff! And I have to agree, space exploration is an excellent card to play against the cynics and skeptics. I don't think anyone would be surprised to find out that most astronauts were nuts about space stuff even as kids. Well, someone put those stars in their eyes. What would be so surprising about finding out it was Flight to the Moon in some cases? It's depressing that even some people with the tag "Imagineer" on their lapel see entertainment value as the only value and seem like they could care less about historical accuracy or educational potential.

  22. If I don't respond individually to all you people who are paying such nice compliments, it doesn't mean I don't see them or appreciate them. You are all welcome, and I am glad this blog has an audience.

  23. I already mentioned the influence of Disneyland on my appreciation for Twain. It's actually from two sources, the first being the Claymation movie The Adventures of Mark Twain and the second being the Mark Twain Riverboat and Tom Sawyer's Island. I now consider Mark Twain one of my favorite authors, and the Riverboat is the only DL attraction poster I have in my apartment.

    Another major, but particular, influence Disneyland had on me was the Grand Canyon Diorama. Okay, sure, it's a diorama along the DLRR... Then I found out that there was a real steam train that took you to the real Grand Canyon. And so I went on a Grand Canyon Railway travel package.

    The Enchanted Tiki Room did provoke an interest in Tiki pop culture, which has exploded all over my bathroom. And the castles in Anaheim and Paris were instrumental in nurturing my love of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale as a whole, whether Disney's film or Tchaikovsky's ballet or Dore's art or Perrault's story.

    Finally, and this is perhaps a little more like a feedback loop, Disneyland became a major field of study in the course of my undergrad in Museum and Heritage Studies. When you're talking about exhibit design and themed space, Disneyland is the elephant in the room that nobody in the field talks about. But they should, and I did.

  24. I've said this on the wdwmagic thread, but Herb Ryman said more than once that "bad taste costs no more". His idea of good taste however, included putting historic depth into the design to help suspend disbelief.

    BTW- George Lucas's favorite place on earth as a kid was Disneyland.

  25. Even at the level of raw entertainment, DL is for everybody. There are parents in the park every day who happen to have expertise in some field that is touched upon somewhere in the park. When Disney "gets it right," their experience is undoubtedly enhanced. They may be surprised, perhaps delighted, to see that someone actually cared about, e.g., accurate plumage on the Tiki Room birds. It may be another 100,000 guests before that detail is noticed again, but how long does that take in a place like DL or WDW? "No one will ever notice" is a bad gamble!

  26. Good point. I know that on the DLP Steam Trains we did historic things that only hard core "Railfans" would notice or appreciate and they seem to.

  27. I have to agree that Disney lands, movies, & themes have generated interests that touch lives for years to come.

    As a kid, I loved 20,000 Leagues & the Jaws (not Disney of course)films which nearly had me pursuing a career in Marine Biology. I still remember riding the Submarine Voyage as a 5 year old (1985)and being disappointed that my Dad wouldn't let me hold back to meet Captain Nemo. As for designers, I am in awe of the work Harper Goff did on the Nautilus for 20K. It would have been easy to simply make a cool prop, but he approached the project as though it were a real submarine. Nearly every feature has a realistic & functional purpose. (for more on the Nautilus, check out the forums at

    I teach high school US History and LOVE all of the little historical details one can find in the various rides, especially POTC. My hat is off the those who work the imagineering departments. Thanks for making years of dreams a reality if only for a few hours visit!

  28. Wow - I don't check this blog for two weeks & look what happens! Color me gobsmacked again.

    I too developed an interest and appreciation for history based upon my early childhood experiences at the park. Even 19th-century advertising became of interest to me after seeing some of the antique signage Eddie Sotto designed for both Main Street at D/L and EDL.

    As for all the Lafitte stuff, other than Eddie and Matt talking about that bricked up tunnel they did for the Fantasmic seating rehab, I certainly never gave it any thought. It was never brought up to me when I did that "fun map" for Pirate's Lair several years ago...

    Great reading and great discussion!

  29. I have to say, I really do love these ideas, and I like what Pirate's Lair adds to the island- I know it's not to everyone's taste, but I like it a lot.
    This all really adds to my personal interpretation of the Haunted Mansion, rather than take away from it. This is because I really hadn't given much thought to the backstory of the ride until recently, and there were a lot of gaps I couldn't fill to my satisfaction. I think this mega-theming does it quite well.
    I also think that it's rather unlikely that the average visitor would really object to it...

    And besides, like any other Disney attraction, they don't have to rub our noses into the story. I think there's still room for inference in all this...

  30. I'm enjoying the audiobook version of "Patriotic Fire". Thank you for posting it to consider. Recommended.

  31. My take is that the mega theme is so subtle that only those who want to dog for it can see or find it. I never intended to use the Laffite name on or in any direct connection with the Mansion, only on the Crypt leading to the Island in the adjacent graveyard, so the connections there are very vague. The POTC ride itself has virtually no connection save to say there is a sign no one sees over the dock as they are busy boarding. It's more the NOS to TSI connection that makes it compelling. So all I'm saying is that you can have a backstory that is very very below the radar and still do what you want. The Columbia has a very strict historical story but it doesn't prohibit me from imagining what I want and enjoying "the days of wooden ships and iron men". I do feel that the ship having a strong foot in history informed the design and detail to the point where it made the work compelling and not cartoony so I could layer on the fantasy. Too many projects today have little basis in any research so they look and feel fake and kitchy, the details falling flat, so having an historic backstory, even if it's only to inform the design enough to suspend disbelief is necessary.

  32. I am in full agreement.

    I hope the readers of this post (by FAR the most popular one so far at this blog) are also taking the time to read the comments, which have been a great supplement. Eddie Sotto's comments ("Dr. Bitz") have been enlightening. Had this project gone through as originally planned, I no longer think it would have been the wet blanket I once feared it would have been, pushing everything into a single meta-narrative. As for whether or not someone at WDI is planning/hoping to make something of it, readers will no doubt differ. I've presented a string of clues that point that way, IMO, and the person I have in mind is in a position where he/she would be capable of producing them, but I'm sure there are plenty of others who will weigh the evidence and in the end put it down to coincidence. Honest, folks, I'm not usually a conspiracy nut.

    At this point, I just hope that IF I'm right and IF the project is revived in some form, it will be done along Eddie's lines, with the same sensibilities governing. I would have no problem with that.

  33. I'll notify the Laffite estate of your sentiments :-)

  34. I would love to see the Laffite Blacksmith Shop appear in New Orleans Square. It's too bad the silver shop is gone. I know there is no audience for this, but a great historic Coffee and Beignet bookstore would be so nice. I think the annual Passholders might enjoy a "slower" concept with a coffee and authentic pastry atmosphere. Why not learn the backstory when you have the time?

  35. Here's a picture of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop for our loyal Forgottenistas:

    Thanks, Dr. B, for mentioning it. I'd never heard of it, but it certainly sounds like an interesting place. Heh. One source says it's been called the "oldest continually occupied bar in the United States." Continually occupied? My first thought was, "Are those guys in trouble with their wives or what?"

  36. It was also a gay bar for quite some time, so they must really be in trouble with their wives!

    Either way, getting some depth back into the area would be really welcome. Even some books and other historic stuff in the Rogue's Gallery store. Museums do well with Museum shops, so maybe a few select pirate books would be great in there.

    I'd love to see the Laffite thing play out more in Club 33. Maybe the club could showcase the backstory of New Orleans in a dining room with a few artifacts and some pieces of eight, etc. In DLP we did that with the Walt's Restaurant so Europeans could understand the references we used for the lands.

  37. That sounds great. It would take some willpower, however, for the powers-that-be to go in that direction and resist the opposing pressure to homogenize Disney specialty shops into flavorless plush toy and t-shirt outlets. I do wish DL had a real book store, for example. "Belle's Book Shoppe" in Fantasyland would be nice.

  38. Good idea. The reality is, who wants to walk around the park with a book? They sell the Walt books on Main St. I guess AP's might just sit and read it right there, they've done everything else.

  39. The book store(s) would need to push PROMINENTLY the free mailing aspect. Make sure everyone who comes in the door knows that if they buy a book, Disney will mail it home for free, so they won't have to carry it around and get it all wet on Splash Mountain, etc. Disney has created some charming, richly atmospheric library scenes (Mr. Toad, Beauty and the Beast, the WDW HM library), and I would think that a truly attractive shop wouldn't be hard to design. Surely it would do at least as well as that Heraldry shop that went in when Merlin's Magic Shoppe went out (*sigh* which I still haven't forgiven them for).

  40. Agreed. I still like combining the books with coffee and beignets like the Market House. More of a European cultural idea. The Creole Cafe should be amazing people watching but it's a cafeteria. NOS should feel more Parisian. Kind of gathering place for AP's to hang out. "Meet me at Laffite's".

  41. I'm wondering if this new rumored Haunted Mansion movie might have something to do with those interesting points in the backstory by Buena Vista pictures. That's the first thing I thought of when I read that backstory intended to promote the original movie.

  42. I would be surprised if the new HM movie makes any use of the Jean Lafitte thing. It sounds to me like del Toro wants to take it in a whole new direction.

  43. So today at Disneyland I read an article on a bulletin board that supports Lafitte on the island (Jackson Island) beyond physical evidence.

  44. And the tie-in with Tom and Huck is interesting too. That's good stuff, thanks.

  45. Fascinating history.

    That's one of the really fun aspects of the history of the western states... often there were so few people around in the early days that the figures we know of tended to know of and interact with each other. I find that even researching LA and OC history.

    Dr Bitz, I couldn't agree more with your "fake and kitchy" comments. The tendency to barely scratch the surface of theme is such a prevalent issue with the company these days. I tend to feel like the marketeers especially have no concept of what "dreams, wishes, belief" etc. mean. They've tossed them around so often with little substance to back them as to drain them of any meaning that may have remained. Specific ideas are so much more interesting than vacuous general terms.

  46. The new piece of evidence that "Dr Bitz" noticed, right there on a public bulletin board, tends to support the overall thesis here in more than one way. It puts Tom and Huck not on an island called "Tom Sawyer Island" but one called Jackson Island, which really gives all these shadowy Andrew Jackson connections a boost, and it explicitly speaks of Jean Lafitte on that island, where the only clue to date in this regard has been the "Lafitte's Tavern" sign. Seems to me that Mr. Sotto here has migrated from a rather skeptical position to... well, at least to one that sees us crazy conspirators as maybe not quite so crazy after all.

    1. Here's an update four years later: "Jackson Island" is in fact the name of the island in Mark Twain's book.

  47. This has been a fascinating read, indeed. For what it's worth, I bring books to Disneyland all the time. In fact, last fall I had to make the tough decision of cutting my weekly Disneyland trip to bi-weekly, or bringing my studies to the park with me. I chose to experiment and see how distracted studying in the park would be, and, to my delight, I actually enjoyed studying at Disneyland! I always had a reward waiting for me once I finished. Now, it is not uncommon to find me in the French Market with a latte and Mickey-shaped beignets, briefing cases. (Not making this up; I have pictures. Ironic, isn't it?!)

  48. Chad:
    Try the upper level of the Plaza Pavilion ;)

  49. Well, I never thought anyone was "crazy", but now that the park is supporting the story, it is of course, becoming more "real" and I kinda like the" Jackson Island" reference. The "fringe" aspect to me was assuming those loose recycled Jackson props from the Island in the HM attic were intentional. I still doubt they were thinking in those terms. More than anything, I'd love to see a subtle, historically based overlay take hold that does not stifle the attractions. the bulletin board was a nice touch and perhaps in video games or RPG's this could be a better way to experience this. Even get deeper into the Columbia and Capt. Gray and supporting that.

    When we end up with a "Lafitte's Pirate Churro" stand you can count me out.

  50. I may bring a copy the Lafitte memoirs to the Island and geo-cache them so there can be a secret library right there.. thoughts?

  51. Would "geo-cache" be hiding the book where someone may actually find it, or putting it in a place where no one would likely discover it? Manufactured Karma!

    "Pirate churros." Reminds me of something that came out when they were redoing the island for Pirate's Lair. Seems the demo crew discovered a case of 7up and a case of Coke inside some rockwork around the entrance to Injun Joe's Cave, unopened and in mint condition. Rumor has it Tom was all about 7up, while Huck preferred Coke. Well, it sure beats "Kilroy was here," but if you're going to leave something like a time capsule, I would think it would have been more intriguing to leave a copy of Huck Finn or something.

    You wonder how much of that goes on.

  52. I was thinking of creating our own in park library of reading material.

  53. How would that work? A reading room, where books don't leave the area, or what? Sounds interesting.

    You know, I'm now hoping this Lafitte thing—which must certainly be peculiar to DL—will be our firewall against that awful stuff in the WDW queue. I am already convinced that the Constance saga is slated for expansion sometime in the future (incorporating the Ghost Host and probably the HBG into the tale), and if the Del Toro movie is a big hit there will be pressure to add something to reflect its original contributions (a la Jack Sparrow at POTC). If a Lafitte-Jackson layer is also going to be added, they surely wouldn't be so dense as to add yet another whole story layer on top of that, would they? The cartoonish Dread family and their dorky murder mystery? Tell me they couldn't be that dumb.

  54. No, we just hide a book that we can share when we go to the park. I'm sure it will get found (probably sooner) and tossed eventually, but it would be fun to have a secret "stash". "Geo cache" means using a pre determined GPS coordinate to mark the location. I wish the Keystone on the Lafitte arch was removable!

    BTW- I had an interesting conversation with a 1.5G retired Imagineer who had worked on Mansion and other shows during the "Golden Age". He told me something pretty interesting about Marc Davis. He was telling me that as part of his process, Marc would occasionally redesign his figures as the staging in the scene evolved. So once the sets were designed and the space became more defined, he would do a new piece of art to reflect the revised staging. He would work directly in ink and do these the same day. So perhaps this is one reason his art ends up looking like the final show we see. I thought this was worth sharing.

  55. Very interesting indeed. Almost a tail-wags-the-dog situation, but not really. We tend to think of Davis as an idea man and concept artist, but clearly he was deeply involved in these projects all the way through. He was the guy who decided when the HM would open, and he yanked the HBG. There's a picture in Surrell's POTC book showing a bunch of guys working on the animatronics of the Auction scene, obviously late in the game, right there on the set, and there's Marc in the thick of things, alongside Wathel Rogers and Bill Justice. It always amazes me how utterly un-pigeonholed those old Imagineers were. Everyone did everything and anything. Walt always seemed to want guys equally at home with a pencil or a screwdriver in their hand.

  56. So I had to laugh last night, half watching an old 1967 Wonderful World of Color special dealing with the making of Pirates and the New Tomorrowland. All of a sudden I hear the Disneyland ambassador say on her tour "New Orleans used to be the home to real Pirates like Jean Laffite". And why New Orleans is the perfect setting for a pirate ride. Interestingly enough, Marty Sklar wrote the script to that episode.

  57. So Sklar's in on it too? The tentacles, the tentacles...

  58. I was led here through a michechat newsletter. What a good read. I've got to,know if the geocache ever happened. I've never thought to use my geocache app while in the park.

  59. I haven't seen this mentioned yet, and I thought it was interesting: there's an old Disney TV movie from the 60s called "Mystery at the Pirate Inn" (that might not be the exact title). The pirate in question is, you guessed it, Jean Lafitte.

  60. I've been reading this for quite a long time now but I, regrettably, hardly comment. I often reread articles, especially the this one and the ones about the Attic Bride.

    I have to ask though... I always remembered one sentence in Susan Veness' book The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World. She says that each room in Columbia Harbor House is either dedicated to a ghost ship or ship lost at sea. Also, when you look out the windows on the top floor it faces the Haunted Mansion. This particular room so happens to be themed after the Flying Dutchman. I can't help but connect this to the Captain in the Mansion and to the Pirate/Mansion Mega-Theme attempt. I fully well know that the Pirates franchise came much later but doesn't it seem fitting for them to choose the Dutchman? Your thoughts?

    1. Never heard of that, but the DL Mansion has always had a changing portrait called the "Flying Dutchman", and WDW has had it since 2007. If anyone was deliberately making a connection, it would likely be with that, but it sounds like coincidence to me.

  61. Of course, I was talking about Disney World's Mansion and Columbia Harbor Harbor House. But, who knows? Maybe that mysterious person you had in mind lit the flame over at the World. I'm a younger reader and so first time I read Susan Veness' book I was quite little. Still, the Mansion/Pirate connection caught my eye even then. Perhaps this is because I was such a huge PotC fan since I was extremely tiny but perhaps it was because the mega-theme makes sense, even in small dosages. I am a huge fan of these types of connections. It's like seeing Rapunzel and Eugene's cameo in Frozen, it suggests that they and Anna and Elsa live in the same world. This mega-theme, however, is more like that Pixar movies theory that connects all of the studio's films, winding up with Boo from Monsters Inc. being the old witch is Brave (if you haven't read that go look it up!). It seems to me Laffitte's historical story is fits almost too perfectly into the parks and this intrigues me. How could only a handful of people have noticed?

    Also, in response to cynics saying Disney, as only an amusement park, shouldn't say they inspire on such large scales. If they can't imagine a sub technician who knew that was the job for him after Disney, then imagine a little girl who knew that she wanted to be an Imagineer after her first visit. If Disney didn't inspire her in that way then, well, she wouldn't be (re)reading and commenting on this marvelous post.

  62. I absolutely loved this read. Thank you so much for sharing the disney history with us.

  63. I happened to come across your blog through a link that someone shared on a recent FB post about this so called crypt, and I am so happy that I decided to click on your link. Thank you for sharing this Disney history. I have been going to Disneyland since I was a little gir with my parents and sisters, and when I had my own own family, I have continued to go with my husband and two sons every year as APs. I have seen the Lafitte sign in POC, the anchor, and yes, even that crypt, (and I will have to really check out the attic in HM next time around), but never thought about or realized their connection, whether deliberate or not, until reading your blog. And the bonus was reading all the comments that came after, which to my surprise included Mr. Ed Soto himself. Thanks again! I loved reading your blog. This will add to a wonderful Disney discussion with my sons.

  64. On the off chance you see this comment on this fabulous old post, I'd like to bring your attention to a piece of concept art posted today, June 29th, 2017, on the D23 website (but I would hardly be surprised if you've already seen it!). In an article with the headline "New Pirates Setting Sail at Disneyland Paris’ Pirates of the Caribbean on July 24," D23 has announced that the auction scene in the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland will change to feature everyone's favorite redhead as a pirate rather than a soon-to-be bride. That's not what I'm focused on here, though. What I'm looking at is the left side of the artwork where a woman in a pink dress is depicted to be holding a large painting of a sitting girl, waiting for her turn to hand her treasure over to the redheaded pirate. A sitting woman who, even when just barely scribbled out, looks remarkably similar to Marc Davis' April...

    1. my eye the resemblance to April-December is slight.

  65. Astounding! I'm with you. I believe wishful thinking is more powerful than canonical facts. Let's not forget how much we loved the Mansion when we knew precious little about the happy haunts. Our imaginations filled in the cavernous space between. It's a gift handed down from the beginning.

    I've been following the growing mega theme of the S.E.A. and finally got around to sharing a bit of it on my blog. Whether I'm right or wrong about the Imagineer's intent, I don't quite care. I'm simply happy to dream alongside them. Let me know what you think.

  66. I have read your blog it is very helpful for me. I want to say thanks to you. I have bookmark your site for future updates.