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.


Monday, December 6, 2010

The Haunted Mansion: It's Magic!

In the previous post I suggested that the Haunted Mansion represented a watershed moment in 1969, signaling that from then on, not every new "E-ticket" attraction would necessarily be bigger or more technologically sophisticated than the last one (or pretend to be).  Originality?  Craftsmanship? Solid showmanship?  Yes.  Always.  Adding one more ball to the juggling act with each new outing, ad infinitum?  No.  I also discussed whether this was an accidental or deliberate change.  But in the end, what the HM actually is interests us far more than what it was not.  We've discussed HERE and THERE and everywhere some of the major thematic threads running through the ride, as well as its overall "three-act-play" structure.  But judged strictly as a form of entertainment, the Mansion has come to be recognized over time as something unique and special, a positive expression of something that wears extraordinarily well.  I've been trying to put my finger on it for a long time, and I think I may have come up with something at least worth putting on the table, submitted here for your approval.

For our purposes here, I think we can ignore the graveyard scene that serves as the show's climax.  There's nothing very mysterious there.  It's essentially Pirates of the Caribbean with dead guys.  Really, isn't that what that part of the show boils down to?  I'm not knocking the graveyard jamboree—it's great, but it isn't that scene that makes the ride unique, it's what comes before it.  In fact, almost everything that comes before it.

In a word, the Haunted Mansion has the feel of a magic show.

I have argued in a whole series of posts that Ken Anderson was the true father of the Haunted Mansion.  The Anderson episode stands at the beginning of the story.  At the other end of the story, it's easy to see the impact of the final team on the project as well.  This is almost too obvious to talk about.  After all, the final show script was written by X. Atencio (including the Ghost Host narration), and every single character and every single painting in the place goes back to a Marc Davis sketch.  All the jokes are his jokes.  And everyone credits Claude Coats for the creepy, moody environments found in the first half of the attraction.  Okay, we've got the beginning and we've got the end.  What about the in-between team?

That would be Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey, hand picked by Walt, teamed up and given the haunted house assignment in 1959.

"I still think these look better than those dopey musical instruments."

"Heh heh.  This is going to be good.  Just as Walt opens the door..."

Walt literally told Rolly and Yale to go and play, and for two years that's what they did, reading ghost stories and building haunted house gags and gimmicks.  When the HM team was expanded after the World's Fair, both of these guys stayed on.  You know, Forgottenistas, I would never have said this until recently, but I've come around to the idea that these guys may be the ones most responsible for the unique strategy of the Haunted Mansion, its approach as a piece of entertainment.  In the end, it is this that explains its repeatability, its staying power.  No small thing.  [Edit: see now Rolly's recent remarks about Yale, quoted in the Comments section below]

Rolly at play, following orders.

Yale at play, following orders.

As I've mentioned at least twice before, both of these guys were card-carrying magicians (in Rolly's case, we should say "still is").  I've come to see that fact as crucially important.  We have also seen that a lot of the things you encounter in the Mansion go back to stage tricks and gimmicks used by Victorian-era magicians, phony mediums, and elaborate cabaret acts.  We've sat in the audience at Davenport Brothers shows and have even been seen hanging out at the Cabaret du Néant, feeling strangely at home.  Rolly himself has said, "The illusions Yale and I were perfecting were based on the 'black art boxes' and 'spirit cabinets' that had been used for many years by magicians" (Surrell, p. 20).

Magic.  There's something magical about it.  I'm not talking about the "real" magic of wannabe sorcerers and voodoo priests, or the fantasy magic of Tinkerbell; I'm talking about good old rabbit-out-of-a-hat, pick-a-card-any-card magic.  The stuff you loved as a kid (and you know you still do).  Me, I could never get past the Main Street Magic shop or Merlin's in Fantasyland (RIP) without going in at least for a quick peek.  I loved to watch the demonstrations.  Incidentally, that's how Steve Martin started his career, in case you didn't know.  Here he is doing magic in one of the Disney magic shops, circa 1960.

While you're looking at Steve, I'm looking at those "Chinese" boxes and "devil" tubes on the shelf.  When he brings one of those brightly colored devices down to the counter and starts showing all of us that it's clearly empty, you know what's going to happen, more or less, but how can you resist?  You have to see it.  You want to take that "how did he do that?" feeling out of the shop and let it roll around in your mind.  It is a pleasurable frustration.  And that sense of surprise and curiosity will entertain you anew every time the memory returns.  "You know, I still can't figure out how he did that."

It's a world of playing cards, metal rings, rubber balls, gaudily painted wooden boxes, glass tubes, and silk handkerchiefs.  In part, it's the low-tech quality of these tricks that makes them so much fun.  I don't know why that is.  We are being fooled—and we know we are being fooled—by devices cleverly contrived but basically very simple, manipulated by sleight of hand.  When you learn how one of these tricks is done, you typically feel a little foolish, because the answer is usually so ridiculously simple.  You were taken in by a series of faulty assumptions, often based on optical illusions.

The point I'm trying to make here is that with magic, there seems to be an inner bent that runs exactly opposite to our more overt bent toward technological progress.  If you need lasers and computers to make the elephant vanish, that's good, but if you can do it using only smoke and mirrors, somehow that's better.  And it's more delightful for both the magician and the audience.  Like I said, I don't know why.  "No complicated Machinery or Glittering Apparatus for Deception Used," brag the Davenport Brothers on one of their posters (see below).

I've mostly been talking about "close magic," parlor magic.  Stage magic has a quality of its own, of course.  It's theater; it's a show.  But in the sense we've been exploring, it's not that different.  You see the trick.  You know there's probably a simple explanation.  You can't figure out what it is.  You love it.  And remember, the golden age for this sort of thing was 100 years ago.

If we tour the Mansion with this kind of mentality, it soon begins to feel like we
are wandering through a huge magic show.  It evidences a magician's instincts.

The first trick is the stretching room.

1969 in 3D.  Do the "magic eye" thing and the gargoyle will jump into your lap.  Like magic.

It's presented as a puzzle for you to solve.  Until the very end, you're not scared—how can anyone be scared while they're staring at a guy in his underwear standing on a powder keg?  "Is this haunted room actually stretching?  Or is it your imagination?"  This is classic misdirection.  The truth, of course, is that it is neither a hallucination nor a matter of supernatural stretching.  The smooth patter of the Ghost Host is deliberately designed to lead your mind away from the truth and put it to work trying to choose between two impossible options in a false dichotomy.  What you really have is a complex system of telescoping panels (and at Disneyland, it is pretty complex, compared to WDW, Tokyo, and Paris).  This is disguised to your eyes, in part, by the innocent-looking striped wallpaper pattern, without which the illusion could not be done.  And your brain naturally assumes that a framed portrait is a rigid thing, but if the "wooden" frame is actually foam rubber, it can be rolled up!  Hadn't thought of that, had you?  There's nothing here that the Davenport Brothers team couldn't have appreciated.

And that includes the elevator.

The stretchroom elevators were custom-built for Disney by the Otis Elevator Company.  Oddly enough, this wasn't the first time Otis had been called upon for this sort of thing.  One of the Davenport Brothers' stage managers, Harry Kellar (b. 1849), left the DB's in 1873 and developed his own highly successful magic act.  (In fact, he eventually came to be known as the "Dean of American Magicians".)  Kellar's most famous illusion was "The Levitation of Princess Karnac," a truly spectacular trick that made its debut in the 1890's.  Kellar developed this illusion with the help of the Otis Elevator Company.

Goin' up?

Incidentally, Kellar kept the famous "spirit cabinet" in his act, the prop which had been invented and used so effectively
by the Davenports.  Kellar found oodles of new uses for it, including the materialization of a disembodied human face.

I only mention it because, you may recall, Madame Leota was originally going to be facing the opposite direction and was going to be produced by a projection from the "spirit cabinet" behind her, which is still there today.  You have to wonder whether Kellar served as any kind of inspiration.  We may never know.  If there was a connection, it is by now long forgotten.

Moving on from the stretching room, we find ourselves in the changing portrait hallway.  The current, 2005 version of the portraits is produced in a manner that may not be too different from what the Cabaret du Néant was doing in the 1890's, as we have seen, but the original changing portraits were done using back projection, with custom-made slide projectors developed by Yale Gracey.

Slide projectors are pretty low tech.  At, the Chef talks about the 18th century "magic lanterns."
That's all fine and dandy; they did use magic lanterns for ghostly illusioneering in the 18th century...

...just like they had in the 17th century...

...and even before that.  Magic lanterns go back at least to the early 15th century:

"Well yeah, but Yale Gracey came up with a rear-projected system using a special
two-slide projector that allowed one picture to dissolve into the other, and back again."

*yawn*  Such 18th century stuff...

Funny thing, but from day one, it seems like the primary purpose to which these projectors were put was scaring the crap out of people.

Let's turn and look at the follow-you busts.  They're one of the easiest effects to figure out, but it doesn't even matter, because it's still delightful long after you have learned what it is.  A visual trick, an optical illusion.  You know all that, and yet you still move back and forth a little, enjoying the look of the effect, dontcha?  The convincing force of the illusion still pushes back against the protests of your cold and certain knowledge.  Can there be any doubt that much of the charm of the follow-you busts lies precisely in how simple the trick is?

If it were properly lit, the Limbo load area would be a mammoth demonstration of another gimmick from the stage magician's bag of tricks:  painting things flat black and keeping them in dim light, so that something looks like nothing.  Old as the hills.  Plenty of magic tricks use this gimmick, but it's the ghost shows and phony séances that relied on it for their very existence.

Of course, it's too bright in there nowadays for the effect to work, so look for it only in blogs, my children, an illusion gone with the wind.

On to the next.  Tell me, Forgottenistas, exactly how long did it take you to figure out that the Endless Hallway was a simple mirror trick?  First ride?  Second?  Okay, and once you had figured that out, how long did it take before it lost its charm and became boring?  Me neither.

"I know it's just a mirror, but it looks so cool!"

The Conservatory scene, with Coffin Guy, is the first real detour out of the world of the magic shop.
It's basically a POTC-type tableau, a stage peopled by mechanical actors.

Yet even here we're being led down the primrose path by the magician's hand.  It's hard not to fill in the blank produced by a pair of hands and forearms.  You know there's probably nothing more to the guy, and yet in your mind's eye you can't help but "see" him in there anyway.  This is a mental glitch long exploited by magicians.  If you see a piece of the pencil going in here and another piece sticking out the other side in the right place, it takes real effort to keep your brain from concluding that it's one full, continuous pencil, and the magician is going to use any number of subtle distractions to rob you of the opportunity to apply that mental effort.  In the case of Coffin Guy, you may be aware that they are suckering you with a fill-in-the-blank gimmick, but your (completely irrational) resistance to accepting this fact can become a form of entertainment in its own right.  We enjoy being tricked, that's all there is to it.

But if you think imagining a complete Coffin Guy from a pair of hands is a neat trick, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The Corridor of Doors.  There, now you have seen nothing—nothing masquerading as something.  Same principle as Coffin Guy from the wrists on down, but here taken to an extreme.  Theatrical stagecraft relies a great deal on the viewer's unthinking assumption that there's got to be something behind a carefully crafted façade, but there are plenty of magic tricks that use the same principle.  In this case, there's something about a door set into a wall that makes it practically impossible to dislodge the notion that there's a room on the other side.

You know there isn't anything on the other side of most of those doors, but just try to convince your stubborn imagination of that.  Such a deal!  Whole rooms of angry ghosts created out of nothing but sound effects and a few simple animations.  The illusion is irresistible, so you may as well declare a cease fire and bask in the fun, creepy, temporary reality created by the deft exploitation of your mental quirks.

We've reached the Séance Circle.  We've already discussed this room HERE and HERE.  In large measure, it's a reproduction of a real fake séance or ghost show such as you might find in the Victorian age.  We can add one more fun detail before leaving, however.  In those earlier posts we learned that the three instruments flying overhead in the inner circle—the horn, the tambourine, and the bell—were not random choices.  Those were the flying instruments commonly seen at Davenport Brothers shows.

Well, it seems this little tradition was passed down faithfully.  We've seen that Harry Kellar, a former DB employee, went on to become a successful magician in his own right.  When Kellar retired, the magician groomed as his successor was Howard Thurston, who became a major figure in the world of magic as well.  Anyway, on some Thurston posters, there they are, across the top:  horn, bell, tambourine.  This brings the Davenports' traditional triumvirate of tinkling, tooting, and tambourine twirling out of the mid-19th century and down to the mid-1930's.

On to the next.  We have delightful proof that Yale Gracey looked upon what he did with the Grand Ballroom as essentially a magic trick.  Being a professional magician, he was entitled to membership in the exclusive Magic Castle in Hollywood, and reportedly he was a frequent visitor.  He gave them something very special:  his working scale model of the Haunted Mansion ballroom.  It's still there today, on proud display, with a Haunted Mansion plaque on the front and a GGG soundtrack added for good measure.

Copyright The Magic Castle

Yale, Yale, Yale.  What about Rolly Crump?  After the collapse of the "Museum of the Weird" project, it's sometimes hard to pin down Rolly's contributions to the finished attraction.  Rolly had (and has) a bold and original imagination, and Yale was a brilliant special effects man.  I have to think these two magicians egged each other on, creating and making, making and creating.  Hard to tell how much of Yale's work had Rolly's hand in it, but there can be no doubt that it was there.

Someone might object to this whole presentation on a couple of grounds.  First, isn't a lot of the stuff I'm talking about here more accurately described as stagecraft?  You can find fake doors all over the place in Disneyland.  The HM is a show, isn't it?  You could even say it's a type of theater, and what is stagecraft after all but clever deception?  There is no need to turn every prop on the stage into an abracadabra moment.  Second, aren't other rides, like Pirates, also loaded with this sort of "magic"?  What's so unique about the HM?

As to the first objection, yes, it is stagecraft we are talking about in many cases.  The difference is that here, in the Mansion, that stagecraft has become the very substance of the presentation.  It's not something employed as background to the "real" show, it IS the show.  As to the second objection, yes, of course there are lots of tricks in the other rides (in many cases thanks to the same guy, Yale Gracey).  But the answer to this objection is the same as the answer to the first: in those rides the tricks are background to the "real" show.  Yale invented an astonishingly realistic-looking fire, using a sheet of plastic, a fan, and an orange light bulb.  The burning town in POTC makes good use of it.  Another Yale invention, the fireflies in the Blue Bayou lagoon, is an excellent trick.  They are simple and yet amazingly realistic.  The fire is breathtaking, the fireflies are delightful, but nevertheless, they are never the focus of the show; they are only part of a beautifully done background.

One last comment, taking up a point I've hit a few times along the way:  repeatability.  Magic tricks are fun to watch, even when you know how they're done.  They wear well that way.  When you don't know how the Leota effect is done, or Pepper's Ghost, you tend to overshoot the mark in your attempts to figure it out.  That's where all those silly mutterings about "holograms" come in.  Like I said earlier, it's typical of magic tricks that they're usually simpler than you think, not more complex.  But after you know how the ghosts are produced, you are still amazed at how convincing the illusions are.  We need little coaxing to voluntarily forget what we know for a few moments and believe our lying eyes instead.  It all makes for a very durable entertainment experience.

The "magic show" quality explains the Mansion's deliberately lower tech performance than some other rides, and in the end it may also be the secret to the Mansion's longevity.  Thank you Yale.  Thank you Rolly.

Oh, another addendum.  There's a little matter I forgot to mention.  Is it any wonder that one of the earliest and most popular Haunted Mansion souvenirs was a magic book?


  1. I believe you have hit the coffin nail on the head. The Haunted Mansion is the ONLY attraction where I get lost in the illusion. On Pirates, or Indy, or whatever I'm always aware that I'm on a ride. But in the HM, I suspend my sense of reality and just let the "magicians" do their stuff.

  2. I know you are making a case for the HM being a moving show of illusions. You kind of have no choice in that you can't do hard core scare or gore, so that's what you do.

    This may sound ridiculous, but to me the "Enchanted Tiki Room" was more of a "magic act" in that it was the ultimate example of a continuous reveal. This "Chinese Puzzle Box" of a theater revealed surprises again and again as more and more things came to life, by falling from above, rising from below, transforming on the walls, etc. It built to a climax where the whole place was "alive" and virtually nothing was inanimate by the end. Even the windows had lighting and rain. It all successively paid off like a jackpot. It was not illusion like the HM, but did surprise and amaze in it's day by bringing things to life. I see it as the benchmark for all AA shows. Even the notion of using the chirping of birds as a syncopation for the score. Pure Disney Genius.

  3. It's not called the Enchanted Tiki Room for nothing. I agree that in some ways it has never been surpassed. Of course it had the advantage of being a sustained show in one location, so that you could have the buildup you describe. There's a parallel with the HM here, in that originally Rolly and Yale created longer gags in fixed locations on a walking tour. Rolly speaks of rooms coming to life, a phrase that can just as easily be applied to the Tiki Room. When you hear him talk about it, Rolly sounds like he's never forgiven them for turning the HM into a ride, even though he seems to concede that there was no alternative.

  4. That's interesting for sure. I know that as a kid the ride was a let down, even the big queue room with the spider was discordant from the house. A friend of mine was saying that they felt the same thing as a teen when they saw it. The stretching room is the closest thing to a Tiki room "reveal" in that it begins as one thing and builds into another. The ceiling evaporates, the pictures stretch and the sound moves. There's even a thunder storm as a supernatural warning in it's finale! I wonder what happened to "Rosita"?

    I've done walk-thrus and the "Catch 22" is that for it to work you can't make it "too interesting" and have any kind of capacity. You end up with a show that "pulses" guests in clumps from show scene to show scene at similar intervals. You end up with a cadence that is not too satisfying for a herd of guests. Sleeping Beauty Castle allows you to skip the mini scenes you have to fight to see. the scenes cycle quickly too.

    On the other hand, if walk thrus are that bad, why do the Knott's haunt maze attractions work so well? Likely because the scare factor keeps you moving and it's about getting out. The other thing about doing illusions in a ride is that you have control of where the guest can see it from and how long they can look at it. Walk thrus usually have a wide viewing angles. the ability to get close and lack of control. Even still it would have been more thrilling to do that.

    Eddie Sotto

  5. I can see that each format has distinct advantages and disadvantages. I admit that I'm biased toward the Anaheim original to begin with, but I have to say that I've always thought it was the winner in the tradeoff with the other Mansions. Yes, they have two whole extra scenes, but we have that wonderful changing portrait hall where you're still walking, which is something that just can't be beat, especially if you game it shrewdly.

    Here's something I wrote in 2007:

    As for the magic of riding the HM with hardly anyone in there...YES. One trick I've used when it's crowded is to position myself to be last out of the stretchroom, and then lag behind, until everyone has gone around the bend. If the CM's aren't paying much attention, you can have a few moments to yourself in the portrait hall. Stormy landscape and lightning in the windows, paintings eerily flickering, busts staring, spooky music playing--my favorite spot in all of Disneyland.

    And here's something that filmmaker and self-confessed Mansionoholic Guillermo del Toro said recently in July of this year:

    Q: What’s your favorite moment on the ride?
    A: Everything. I tell favorite moment is a very freaky moment, actually. When you come out of the elevator, and you wait in the portrait gallery, and you let the group go—the group you were in—there’s about three minutes between elevators, and the moment when you are alone in the portrait gallery, with no one behind you and no one in front of you, it actually is very scary.

    As most of you probably know, del Toro is going to be writing the script for a new HM movie.

  6. I want to take up the Tiki Room/HM comparison again. I think the two are fundamentally different types of entertainment. "Amazed-and-impressed" is one thing. "Amazed-and-baffled" is another thing entirely. No one is or was baffled by the Tiki Room. That's because "fancy robots controlled by computers" is a fully satisfactory explanation to most people, and most people know that's what they are looking at. They are impressed, but not puzzled. But a good magic trick amazes and baffles. You CAN'T figure out how it works; it seems impossible. And strangely enough, after you learn how it works, you continue to find it amusing to watch. (Is it because you now know its "secret," and not everyone else does? Is it because you continue to be fascinated by what a strong illusion of something impossible it continues to give?) Anyway, I would argue that these two types of "amazement" are utterly different types of entertainment, and that the reason the HM wears so well and seems so unique is because it follows the magic route, not the other one. The only "magic trick" in the Tiki Room that can be compared with the HM's tricks is the rain outside the windows, which looks so real that I'll bet most people think there's water running out there. Everything else in there is "robots controlled by computers," delightful, extremely impressive, but NOT baffling.

  7. Unless you see the Haunted Mansion as a bunch of computer controlled holograms. I have always found it funny that holograms have been the explanation for the ghosts in the Mansion.

    I was pretty "baffled" by the enchanted fountain as a kid. How that water rose so high was pretty unbelievable.

  8. I'm easy; two magic tricks in the Tiki Room then, if you count the fountain.

    The hologram thing is interesting. My hunch is that the "holograms!" crowd accepted the HM as a continuation of the breathless upward spiral of 60s entertainment technology at Disney. I guess they had to wait for CBJ before the house of cards collapsed for them. But that's history now. What about the people who today think it's all holograms? I could be wrong, but I suspect that the hologramists are not among those who feel that there is something unique and long-lasting about the way the HM entertains. They may like the ride, but they're not Mansion geeks and wouldn't want to be. I also have a hunch that for a significant percentage of them, it's not "It's all holograms" but rather "It's just a bunch of holograms." There is no mystery left in it for them. Paradoxically, it's much more permanently interesting (I think) when you find out it's reflections off a piece of plate glass or it's a movie projection onto a white mask. You marvel at the quality of illusion produced so simply, and the entertainment value of that form of marveling just doesn't seem to want to quit.

  9. I can very well remember the exact moment I understood the mirror trick - it was just two or three years ago.

    I am the type that loves magic tricks - as long as I can't see how it works. I always try and figure out how the trick it done, and if I can't, I am really impressed.

    So when I rode the Phantom Manor last summer, one time it just made *click* (appropriately enough in the ballroom) and everything was clear. The whole ride I was deeply depressed; the ghost thing was always the one trick that made the ride a really magical attraction for me - I had always tried to make it out, but I never wanted to.
    When I found out that evening that you can even get a glimpse of the "real" Blue Fairy in the Pinocchio ride when you turn your head, the day was quite ruined...

    Incidentally, only three weeks later I read a book describing the making of "The Nightmare before Christmas", and in this book, I first read about Pepper's ghost - I was so glad that I had had the opportunity to discover the answer to my favourite secret on my own!
    Since then, I stumbled across so much information to this trick, that I am quite surprised how I could overlook it for so long. And of course, it still has a lot of charm on it's own - due to its simplicity.

    Well, in the meantime got over it. I guess I really enjoy the ride just as much as before, and thus I totally agree to the things you stated, HGB2. But still, it was great when there was this unsolved mystery that I could really enjoy as a perfect magic trick...

    PS.: My sister is still unknowing, and I promised her, not to tell her (and she has gone through all these guesses, from holograms to giant movie screens). I have to confess, I do envy her...

  10. Don't feel bad. I still like not knowing EXACTLY a TV works.

  11. Such a great post! If I get some time the next time I come back to CA, I'll sit down with Rolly and see if he can pinpoint exactly what was his and what sprung out of earlier gags with Yale. I do know that Marc didn't hold Rolly's work in very high regard, so it is likely (and Marc told me as much regarding the 'Museum of the Weird') that a lot of Rolly's ideas were squashed...

  12. Getting you to "sit down" at all would be a miracle Chris! You are so busy. We miss you, hope you're home soon.

  13. Chris, if you can do that, it would indeed be fantastic. There are so few now from the Mansion's early days who can shed light on the creative processes. As for the Marc/Rolly clash, what intrigues me at this point is how much Crumpishness Marc did seem to preserve, despite his dismissive comments. Marc's well-known concept art for the portrait hall, for example, seems to me to have some Crumpish qualities, not least of all the color palette, and that surreal gate with the hands that Marc sketched and then built (and is still in his house, I believe) looks like it would be right at home in the Museum of the Weird. Okay, it's perhaps a little more sedate than most other MW artifacts, but then, it's pretty hard NOT to be.

  14. Thank you so much - you've summed up my feeling about the HM exactly. It's a celebration of - a loving tribute to - stagecraft. It's a simple trick done on a grand scale. The main appeal of the parks for me is that I feel like I'm not only watching a show, but that I'm a PART of it. This feeling is the strongest in the HM. I'm right there on stage with all the scrims and projections, just like a real show, and I feel a connection to all the old-time showmen who've gone before.

  15. @Eddie - thanks man! All us Merritt's miss home... That said, I'm working on something with some really cool pepper's host effects (that I can't talk about yet) - but I have high hopes for...

    @Dan - Marc did indeed have a contractor make the "hands gate" in his home (I have a pic somewhere - let me see if I can find it) - unfortunately it came out a bit chunkier than his sketch. But it is interesting to see. Marc did have his share of wacky stuff in his designs as well. His deep red "spikes" on the walls for his initial version of the portrait hall hewed much closer to the Museum of the Weird than I think he'd care to admit! He told me that he wanted to give a sense of something dangerous in the architecture. Ultimately, in the end, I think the more subdued approach that Coats took was the superior one. The balance that Coats gave to Marc's gags cannot be understated - less is more in this case & it works beautifully at the CA version to this day. I never got to meet Claude - I wish I had. I have about a million questions for him! Eddie was lucky enough to...

  16. Looking at the concept art, I get the impression that when he first came on to the project, Marc was more accepting of Rolly's approach, but he made it more and more his own as time passed. I don't see how it could have been otherwise, since (1) he was walking into a project that Yale and Rolly had already worked on for two years, (2) he must have known that Walt liked Rolly's work and had hand-picked him for the project, and (3) Marc seems always to have had a high regard for Yale and his endless ingenuity, and I don't suppose Yale would have easily countenanced a dismissive attitude toward his talented teammate.

    Incidentally, I should have pointed out more forcefully in the post that the much-admired stretching gallery must be credited exclusively to Rolly and Yale (and whatever talent they may have tapped). It was built into the building when it went up in 1962, so of necessity its design goes back to the 59'-'61 Crump/Gracey team. Again, what a pity it is that we don't have Rolly's stretching portrait designs to compare. Chris, if you do get to sit down with him, I'd love to get any details we can about those.

  17. Do you have any interior shots of the Mansion "shell" back in 62-65? It has always been a mystery to me as to how much was done back then. You can tell in the aerial views that there were the two rooms, but how much hardware was installed early on makes me wonder. Thoughts?

    Did the "old ladies" that were rumored to have died in the HM fall into a an empty pit? ;-0

  18. I've never seen any photos, but the blueprints floating around are interesting. They don't show any actual hardware, but then, I don't think they're that kind of blueprints. They do show that the basic elevators as we know them were part of the plans. These are all from 1962:

    And the pit wasn't empty when the old ladies fell in. That's where they kept the snakes.

  19. I discovered your blog thanks to some fellow foolish mortals over at, and I read every single post in a matter of about 18 hours. This is superb research and makes for delightful reading. I have been a hardcore Mansionite since my toddler years, and to finally see an in-depth review on the attraction's history, creative minds, details (literary, historical, cinematic, cultural, and religious), technical aspects, and inherent "artiness" is like an early Christmas gift. Thank you for doing this. My only regret at this time is that I don't have a new post to read right this moment.

    If I may make one suggestion for a future post: I've never been to the DL original (hope to some day soon, I'd love to see the changing portrait hallway and actually walk through the front door), only the stately brick abode in Orlando. To the left of Splash Mountain, in an otherwise uninteresting corner, is a small wooden sign. It reads "Gastley Mansion" on it, only the word "Gastley" is scrawled out and the word "Haunted" is written above it in red. While taking a backstage tour, I asked the cast member about it, hoping to hear an exciting new bit of trivia about my beloved mansion. He knew precisely nothing and admitted as much.

    I've heard one interesting theory on this (and seen the subject kicked around on the Doombuggies boards) about "Gastley" being the name of a character who was being considered for a storyline, a doctor who did horrible things to his patients. Many of the books in the library are medical documents, as if to confirm this, though that seems a coincidence. Have you heard about this sign or seen a picture? You can find it on the web easy enough. I'd love to see you tackle this subject with your usual flair.

    Sorry for the long comment. Anyway, keep up the incredible work! This is the most interesting blog I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and that's the truth!

  20. Thanks for the kind words, Hardenbrook. I appreciate it. Eighteen hours, huh? I knew it was building up, but gee willikers.

    "Gastley Mansion" is probably not worth a whole post. As best I can tell, it's a Pokemon allusion. No, seriously. I understand that there's a "haunted gastly mansion" somewhere in the bowels of the Pokemon video game, which debuted in 1998. If the WDW sign is older than 1998, then the direction of influence goes the other way, and the mystery of its origin remains. If the sign is an inside nod to Pokemon fans, then it looks like they misspelled the misspelling of "ghastly." What we need is a screen grab from the game and a date for the WDW sign.

  21. Walt Disney himself referred to the Haunted Mansion as "The House of Illusions" in the 10th anniversary of Disneyland special:

  22. In a funny way, Indiana Jones (and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye) is a grand show of Illusions except they are done so well, most never even know they are being tricked. From the massive corridor and rolling ball illusion, to the 3 "choice" room trick, to the motion based vehicle itself, it's a few great sleights of mind. I know it's not positioned that way, but it was the next step up in the scale of big illusions for sure.

  23. Indy provides an excellent parallel AS WELL AS an important contrast to that elusive quality at the Mansion that I'm trying to pin down in this post. The Indy illusions are indeed impressive. Those are tricks that any magician would admire, but the big difference is this: At Indy, "most never even know they are being tricked," as you correctly point out. I'm sure that most guests think there really are three different doors, that the bumps during the ride are in the road, not the car, and that the rolling boulder scene is what it appears to be, and you really do back up. The HM is NOT like that. You know you're witnessing an illusion almost every time one is presented to you, and there is, therefore, an implicit challenge in each case (namely, to figure out how they did it). That challenge is part of the entertainment, the psychology of its approach, and it is curiously undiminished by the discovery of how the illusions are achieved. It is in this way that it resembles a magic show and Indy does not: in your conscious awareness that what you are witnessing are illusions.

  24. True enough. If you would have known they were "effects", we would have failed. Those "illusions" are not uncanny, but rather support an implausible reality. I was not debating your premise of a "magic show", but rather that Disney had indeed continued to grow and improve in this area. The craft is still very alive.

  25. BTW- The "Spirit Cabinet" disembodied head gag did turn up in the Adventurer's Club at Pleasure Island. Executed with an actor, versus a projector, it still featured a disembodied head that "floats" and speaks.

    WDI did employ Jim Steinmeyer (creates illusions for Copperfield, Welles, etc) and other master "Illusioneers" to look at finding ways to use traditional optical and other simplistic tricks to reboot our effects department and go where technology hits a wall. I recall one meeting where they wanted to develop the illusion of "walking" AA figures. There was a recognition among us 2G guys at the time that early magic was the source of many of the most timeless effects in the parks and that the two worlds were very closely linked. We needed to mine that soil again.

    The concept of using candlelight or bright points of foreground lighting to "iris down" an audience (so they could not see the wires). etc came from early magic. Jim is one fascinating guy and proved to be a valuable resource for getting us to think about "Grand Illusions".

  26. That is interesting, and it reminds us again that magicians were the original professional illusioneers, and their world is still a valuable resource for ideas. Reminds me of a point made in passing in the "Thinking BIG" post: how the British government employed magicians in developing their massive decoy programs during WW2. That was good thinking by someone.

  27. I just picked up a new book called "Sleight of Mind" about neuroscience and magicians, seems interesting. How magicians depend on how we think to pull off these tricks. Especially when it comes to "misdirection". When you are designing a ride you want to control where guests look and then bring them around to something you are going to reveal. In the Carousel of Progress, you are focused on the turntable vignette stage right while stage left turntable is setting up the next scene in the dark unnoticed.

    Musee Grevin's "Palais des Mirages" is another 19th Century installation that is Tiki room-esque in it's use of turntables, projection and mirrored illusions. The video does not do it justice.

    Eddie Sotto

  28. Rolly Crump, in a recent interview, had some things to say about Yale Gracey. They seem relevant to the subject of this blog post:

    ...Marc (Davis) and Claude (Coats) went ahead and designed the Haunted Mansion but if it hadn't had been for Yale Gracey, well, his illusions made the Mansion what it is. I was there the day he came up with the idea of the head in the ball. It was kind of wild, and he did it over lunch. It was just spectacular. And I love Yale and I think he should have gotten more credit, because if you take out those illusions, it's dumb. I don't think he gets enough credit for the magic he brought to the park.

  29. Great post. If anyone is looking for a guest pass to the Magic Castle, Mike Wong offers them through his website (just search his name). Any Mansion fan would feel quite at home roaming the Castle.

    Also, Steinmeyer has just released a new book on Thurston that looks promising.

  30. As for the "Ghastley Mansion" sign (, it used to say "Gracey Mansion." Not sure when it changed, but it was Gracey at least from 2002-2006 when I stood by that sign frequently for parade crowd control.

  31. I didn't understand any of these tricks until I went online and researched them. They are more amazing to me now that I know how simple they are than they were back when I thought they were some kind of far-fetched, high-tech mystery.

  32. "Chad D." is wrong about the Gastley sign. See this blog post from 2005:

  33. "Heh heh. This is going to be good. Just as Walt opens the door..."
    If I had been drinking something when I read that, it would have come out my nose! That was the best photo caption ever!


    It's a little disturbing that Victorian-era magic trick stuff was depicted with so much demonic imagery. One would think that non-occult magicians - especially in that era - would want to stay clear of that type of image. But it seems to be a singular obsession among the magicians to depict their trickery as being a thing of devilry. Rolly Crump's imagery for the Museum of the Weord, for example, is litered with things not merely mystical but down-right Satanic blasphemy. How in the world he could possibly think that an image of the vulgar hermaphroditic demon Baphomet would be acceptable is, well, unacceptable. I have to admit that I am glad Walt axed it (though I have my own opinion as to why he did).


    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that the mansion on the cover of the MAGIC FROM THE HAUNTED MANSION book has the Shipley Mansion's original square cupola!

  34. I've mentioned it elsewhere more than once, but to Walt's generation, all of that Satanic, demonic stuff was just superstitious foolishness, and the imagery was taken no more seriously than Frankenstein's monster or Halloween decorations. This attitude stems from the Enlightenment and had come to prevail across the general culture. If you were "educated," "modern," and "scientific," you dismissed all of that as rubbish. That attitude changed, I think, with the Charles Manson murders, which ironically took place the day the HM opened. Suddenly people began to realize that some very scary, very evil people still took all of that stuff quite seriously, and it was no longer suitable for light-hearted entertainment, even for people who didn't believe in any of that themselves. Disney still features witches and demons in their films, of course (witness The Princess and the Frog), but they are pretty careful now to steer clear of overt occultic imagery.

  35. Thought this may interest you. I was able to find some scrim material that works on large-format printers and re-created the Medusa Lightning effect. I painted my own version named "Fawn." I also used a light sensor to trigger the back-light on and off. Still have yet to test it out during a lightning storm.