Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Let's Get Real

Whoops, Long-Forgotten's first anniversary slipped past while I wasn't looking, but it's not too late to say thanks to all the readers, and especially the commenters, for making this blog such an enjoyable project throughout this last year.  Many have put kind words of praise and generous thank you's in the Comments sections, often  without a direct reply from your Host.  I assure you that I have seen and appreciated them all, even if I haven't personally responded in every case.  Thank you all.

This seems like a good occasion to ask the question, What makes the Haunted Mansion so different?  Why does it generate and how does it sustain this level of interest, the kind that can fuel blogs and sustain entire websites for years, to say nothing of books and movies?  Pirates of the Caribbean is arguably a more perfect ride, but nothing else in the Disney parks produces anything close to Mansion mania.

I think the Haunted Mansion may be more psychologically seductive and intriguing than other attractions because, unlike most of them, it never asks you to stop being yourself in your own world.  In your imagination, you do not have to go either backward or forward in time (Main Street, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Tomorrowland).  You do not move into a fairy tale or cartoon world (Fantasyland, Toontown), nor do you picture yourself in a remote, exotic part of the real world (Adventureland, the Matterhorn).  You do not imagine what it would be like to be a cowboy, a pirate, an astronaut, a bobsledder, a fairy tale hero or heroine, or an animated mouse.  At Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, you imagine only that you are in New Orleans, today, visiting a very normal-looking old house that is reputedly haunted.  The only big imaginative leap you are asked to take is to accept the premise that ghosts are real.

(pic by Laurie O)

If you want to understand the unique and enduring fascination that the Haunted Mansion holds for so many people, it is essential to recognize that this attraction is an artistic representation of a real house in the real world as it exists today, and it's in a familiar locale, not off in some remote corner of Zanzibar.  The only fantasy element in the presentation is the assumption that ghosts and ghostly activities are real.

What kind of ghosts?  Friends, this is what the scary-vs-silly, Claude-vs-Marc controversy really comes down to:  On the one side were Imagineers (Coats being the best-known) who wanted to restrict the HM to non-fictive ghosts.  On the other side, Marc Davis wanted both non-fictive and fictive ghosts.  By "non-fictive," I mean the types of ghosts that some people believe really do exist, the poltergeists and the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall types.  This would also include literary and cinematic ghosts that are meant to scare you, as if they were—or could be—real.  By "fictive" ghosts I mean the kind that are obviously invented purely for entertainment purposes.  Casper the Friendly Ghost and that sort of thing.  One place you find an abundance of those spooks is in comic songs, the kind that had their heyday in the 30's and 40's and of which Grim Grinning Ghosts is a good latter-day example.  Including these patently imaginary spirits would help keep things light-spirited.  Marc won that debate, and we got both kinds.

One result of this mixture is a quiet but important division in the audience:

If you believe ghosts may possibly exist, then about half of the denizens of the HM are sheer fantasy.
If you absolutely do not believe in ghosts, then all of them are sheer fantasy.

It's as simple as that.  It will make a difference later, you'll see.  First, let me give you my take on the ride.

(pic by monstersgoboo)

You enter what looks like a real house.  Immediately you are met by a ghostly voice.  Nothing coy about it: ghosts are real from the get-go and no apology.  In short order you discover that the ghosts are able to manipulate the very fabric of the building, including its furnishings and artworks, so that you don't know whether you're hallucinating ("is it your imagination?") or these things are "actually" happening.

The ghosts are evidently bent on disorienting you and unnerving you.  The top part of those portraits seemed  real enough when you came in, but that lower, elongated portion, so ridiculous, so unrealistic—is that actually there too or just a ghostly trick?  Those paintings are funny, but they're pretty macabre.  Maybe they're an implied threat?  The Host's mocking question goes unanswered.  You don't know.

Egads, not only can they manipulate space, but also time.  Look out the window.  What, is it night already?  When did that happen?

Dude, it's like Rip Van Winkle in here.  Or is that all a trick too?  You don't know.  That Ghost Host sure is chatty.  Can you trust what he tells you?  You don't know.  He explains that this house is a retirement home for ghosts, and it's jam packed with them.  Sure, why not?

Before you know it you're being moved involuntarily along your way (What are these things we're sitting in?  Oh well, it doesn't seem to matter much).  It's getting scarier.  The ghosts seem threatening, hostile.  At one point they even seem to be attacking you.  It happens in front of a clock that only confirms that your senses of space and time are putty in their hands.  Thirteen freakin' o'clock?  Where am I?  If this were really happening, you would have bolted the house by now.

And yet, and're still curious, aren't you?  You'd still like to see one of these ghosts, despite everything, wouldn't you?  Come on, show yourselves already.

Well, as it turns out the ghosts are having some sort of problem, but whatever it is, that creepy Leota chick fixes it, so the ghosts can at last cross over.  And the Host tells you that "they have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to materialize."  So, what does that mean?  Was all of this a test?  To see if your curiosity was greater than your fear?  By resisting the temptation to panic and run—maybe the first living visitor ever so to do—were you, then, the key to finally setting them loose?  You and those "sympathetic vibrations" of yours?  You don't know.

Whatever it was, they're out and about now, all over the place, and it turns out they aren't angry with you after all.  Hunh.  Maybe you're okay in their book, what with those "sympathetic vibrations" and all.  There's still some dark business going on in the attic.  Based on what you see, it looks like some crazy bride took out a series of husbands.  Maybe that has something to do with why this is a haunted house?  After that you go outside and down to ground level.  You pass the first flesh-and-blood human you've seen since you got here.  As it turns out, he will be the only one.  He's obviously the old caretaker, and he's not only frightened, he's astonished.  Dumbstruck.  He's never seen anything like this before.

Now, THERE'S a man whose flabber has been gasted  (pic by Don Sullivan)

Well, I guess that answers the question, Does this happen all the time, or is this a big, one-time event?  It's a party out here, and they're having a good time, and you're having a good time too.  The spooks are playing for laughs now, and you see silly things like ghosts on bicycles.

It all winds down, and before you leave the grounds, they reset your clock to the real, daylight time you were in before they began playing their little head games with you.  Or was it real?  You know, one of those parallel universe things?  You don't know.  But one of them will "follow you home," which I suppose is believable in a weird sort of way, since really, it is THEY who have visited YOUR world, the world where both this home and your home happen to be.

Was that fun, or what?

But that reading has not been without controversy.  Many people think that what you're seeing is the party these ghosts throw every night, or at least periodically.  That interpretation fails to do justice to the utter astonishment evidenced by the caretaker.  It fails to account for the frustration and anger of the ghosts before Leota works her magic and they are free to materialize.  Some of the items put forward in order to show that the ghosts do this sort of thing all the time are the present tense verbs all through Grim Grinning Ghost and the Ghost Host's safety spiel, telling you that the spirits will materialize only if you remain quietly seated, with your hands, arms, feet, legs, butts, ears, naughty bits, prehensile tails, and lawyers inside.  Of course, in English the present tense is used to describe things happening right now, as we speak, as well as habitual occurrences, and maybe the Host senses that Leota's really got her mojo on today and doesn't want you to potentially screw things up.

Besides, the notion that they have these ghost parties routinely is not Disney enough.  On these rides, it's always your lucky day.  You're always coming upon unique events just as they are happening.  You come around the corner just as the rhino has treed the safari, you escape from the burning town just as it's about to collapse, your train makes it out of the tunnel just as it's caving in.  And what do you know, you happen to be there precisely when Leota finally unplugs the clogged portal between this world and that one.  Why, it may even have been your "sympathetic vibrations" that did the trick!  I'm telling you, this is YOUR LUCKY DAY!

"Raven, it's time.  Let's do this thing."

I have a hunch that people unthinkingly pick up the idea that this happens all the time because they've been on the ride so often.  It's easy to forget that it's like watching a movie or seeing a play over and over again.  You don't know what's coming, you're supposed to mentally rewind to the beginning each time.

Another point of controversy is whether this is a realistic world with ghosts in it, or a fantasy world with ghosts in it.  This is far more subtle, but it's important.  Perhaps it's easier to assume it's a fantasy world if you're an adamant disbeliever in ghosts.  To such a one, saying that something is a realistic world, except that it's jam-packed with ghosts, is virtually the same as saying it's a type of fantasy world.  If you have a more open mind about ghostly phenomena, allowing at least the bare possibility that such things could be real, then the distinction is clearer.  Granted, the fact that brazenly unrealistic, silly spooks start showing up halfway through the ride complicates things slightly, but it's still reasonably clear that you're only being asked to accept one impossibility here, one fantastic element.

I'm convinced that apart from the ghosts and the ghostly phenomena, it's a realistic world that is put before you.  Why?  For one thing, it follows the rules.

If you are writing a realistic novel, or the script for a realistic movie or play, there are unwritten rules.  First, you are allowed one big, amazing coincidence or one, bizarre, major occurrence.  One.  If you go over the limit, you risk having your audience bail on you.  "Phony."  "Unbelievable."  That's just how it is.  Second, you are allowed to cheat a little to avoid tedium.  When the detective needs to jump out of his car and run into the building, there's always a parking spot available, even if we're in downtown San Francisco at midday.  If we're at the beach, nobody objects if all the women and men in the background look mahvelous.  When a band starts to play, their hands don't need to always go where they're supposed to and you may hear extra instruments in the mix if you know your stuff.  (Before the Beatles era, when even kids started learning what an electric bass is, they were able to cheat a lot more in this area.)  Third, audiences will forgive tiny logic holes and anachronisms, but if they start piling up, or if there's a whopper in there, they can and will hold it against you.

Filmmakers and writers know this stuff.  When a realistic movie is being made, nobody needs to be reminded of these things.  You don't have to "decide" to put horses in that pasture but no unicorns.  Most of your decisions are made virtually by instinct.  You know what the real world is like, since you live in it—duh, and you automatically aim at logical consistency as much as possible.

With a comical fantasy world, it's not nearly so tight.  The gag comes first, logic comes second.

I love how exterior shots show the Flintstones' house as essentially a giant egg, but when Fred and Barney are having a conversation as they are running out of that house, that sucker is a quarter mile long (and amazingly repetitious).  But who cares?  They're cartoon characters in a cartoon world, where logic is a lot more flexible.  Great Caesar's Ghost, they've got talking animals, so put away your measuring tape already.

Like I say, the Haunted Mansion is the realistic variety (ghosts excepted) and not the comic fantasy variety.  To me, the logical consistency throughout this project never fails to amaze.

Q: Why are the tombstones in the graveyard scene all in the style of 16th-18th century New England gravestones, while the gravestones in the front yard family plot (alas, gone at DL) are of more recent vintage?
A: Because the house was built next to a much older, public cemetery, sometime around the beginning of the 19th century.

Q: Why are the ghosts invisible and scary before Leota, and visible and happy after (except for Connie et al., with their apparently separate melodrama going on)?
A: Because they're unhappy when they're dematerialized and frustrated because they can't seem to do anything about it.  Leota is the one who enables the materialization.

Q: Yes, but why are we given the distinct impression that we're in danger before they materialize but not afterwards?
A: Because lacking their own materialized, aerial bodies, they would be more than happy to possess yours. This is garden variety demonology, and the HM apparently makes no ontological distinction between ghosts and demons.

Q: Oh no, now you're getting all theological.  How about this:  Why is the music done the way it is?
A: Because reality has no soundtrack.  At the HM, you only hear "source" or "diegetic" music; that is, music coming from instruments and vocalists that are there onstage (within the cheating rules described above).  With realistic films, this is not mandatory, but the HM takes the hard realism route.  You hear an unseen pipe organ when you're in the foyer?  Well, pipe organs are loud and the sound carries.  There must be a pipe organ in the house somewhere.  And so there is.

1969 pre-opening shot of the Organist

The instruments floating around at Leota's séance?  They match up tolerably well with the music you hear there.  There's a lot of drawn-out cymbal work (albeit distorted), and the "bung bung" muffled organ chords can be interpreted by the ear as the plucking of a harp.  The music "from regions beyond" is drums and horn.

Sometimes the music is "only the wind" and no instruments need be present.  The graveyard is jumpin' to a lively tune because there's a band right there.  A distorted wedding march fills the attic.  Sure enough, the piano and pianist are right there (lacking at WDW).  Using the diegetic approach makes the task of adding music to the background a lot trickier.  You'd be stupid to do it that way unless you were deliberately shooting for realism (and by the way, this restriction to source music is extreeeemely rare at Disneyland).  Personally, I find this one to be a particularly compelling argument.

You can play this Q/A game . All. Day. Long.  As in real life, answers are not plopped into your lap, but if you ask questions and look around, you find that plausible explanations come back to you time after time.  Of course the Imagineers didn't consciously connect all these dots.  They didn't need to.  You go about creating a "realistic" environment, using gut-level, common sense choices all along, and ta da, a high degree of logical consistency shapes up almost automatically, at least if you're good at doing "realistic."  The genuine logical holes I've found in the HM are few and piddly.  For example, the cupola on top of the DL Mansion is a sloppy, inexact architectural match to what you see above you in the stretching gallery.  The tubular bells you hear as part of the mix in the portrait hall and loading area lack an explanation.  Forgivable stuff like that.

I have had people challenge this analysis, insisting to me that the HM invites you into a different world than your own, a fantasy world.  In response, I have thrown down the gauntlet:  Show me a significant logical lapse anywhere in the HM world, something that doesn't make any sense (excluding things done by ghosts, of course).  Or failing that, show me repeated examples of things that require special pleading to explain them, things that take us beyond the quota of allowable eccentricities in a realist presentation.

So far I have had no serious takers.  Believe it or not, the best that has been offered so far, even by Imagineers who disagree with me, is the "Haunted Mansion" plaque out front!  I've actually had this cited more than once as good evidence that you're entering a fantasy world.

(pic by Dave O)

Weak.  Every ride in the park has a sign out front, telling what it is.  And these signs are themed so as to clash as little as possible with the surroundings.  Ah, but they could have named it "Williamson Manor" or something if they wanted it to be a realistic presentation, right?  Wrong.  You have to have something telling guests this is a spooky ride, in case they don't want to go on a spooky ride.  After all, once upon a time the attraction was not famous, and it does not look like a stereotypical haunted house.  Yes, the plaques are beautiful, but they are like green EXIT signs, safety bars, stroller parking, and seating instructions.  They are part of the price you pay in order to enjoy a presentation like this in the real real world.

You mentally screen all that stuff out as a necessary evil.  It doesn't count.

The premise of the ride is exceedingly simple.  It answers the question, "What if ghosts were real?"  Real to whom?  To you, fool.  To keep things light and cheerful, Disney threw fun-loving, party ghosts into the mix, ghosts that nobody thinks are real.  That prevents you from taking the question too seriously, see?

The main purpose of this exercise it to provide the basis for my upcoming in-depth review of the major changes and additions to the Orlando Haunted Mansion, which began to be implemented in April of this year.  That post will be up soon.  It is not going to be pretty.


  1. Wow. I think this is your best post yet! I was smiling all through the italicized part. What a fun way too think of the Mansion from the point of view of a guest!

    I agree that the world of the Haunted Mansion is real, but I don't think of it as not having you go back in time. This is just an educated guess, but based on CM costumes, the jazz, nothing modern, and Princess and the Frog, I think that New Orleans Square takes place in the '20s. I suppose that doesn't make too much sense for the Mansion because it's supposed to be old, but thats how I always thought of the time of the land.

    I can't wait for the next posts!

  2. Did you ever think (or is it ever implied) that you aren't supposed to be in a house in New Orleans, but that Disney MOVED a haunted house from New Orleans to Disneyland? I'm thinking of statements released when the ride was under construction, that the house was being built at Disneyland as a place for ghosts to gather. Then I'm reminded of some of the original concepts that had the house being restored at Disneyland, the contractors disappearing, work being undone overnight by the ghosts... However, then there's other material like the Story and Song From the Haunted Mansion, in which the mansion is clearly a real house in the real world, not located in a theme park. Maybe the unofficial backstory is that Disney found this real haunted house in New Orleans (perhaps while researching the ride?), moved it to Disneyland as an attraction, and all the spirits (as well as the real-world characters, like the raven) came with it...?

  3. Thanks. Yes, "the time is today" is probably not self-evident. However, thanks to the Constance portraits, what before was implicit is now explicit. Her last marriage was in 1877, she inherited the house, and lived in it for awhile before dying, since she's much older in her stretchroom portrait. So you must be at least in the 20th century. But the latter part of the house is in an advanced state of decay (wooden railings collapsing), so it's evidently been unoccupied for a long time. Also, the house was updated to gas lighting at some point, but there's no firm evidence that it was electrified. The best and easiest solution is that you're visiting an old, long-unoccupied house, and the time is now, today. No time travel needed. That's the premise of the "Story and Song" souvenir record album as well. Two modern teens visit the place.

  4. BB, it's difficult to construct a coherent backstory from those older materials. I love the wording of an old Paul Frees radio ad that aired when the HM first opened: "Something new is waiting for you at Disneyland. It doesn't look like much, just a big old mansion." See? It's a new-old mansion. They don't resolve those types of paradoxes, they wallow in them. I just take it as an old house in New Orleans, and in I go. To be an OLD house to me, I have to be like Mike and Karen; that is, contemporary.

  5. Superb analysis. "Williamson Manor" or something like that could have worked. Guests would still have had more than an inkling of what was in store for them. Much more than on Snow White's Adventures.

    Although geared towards a much younger audience, the Snow White attraction once had it's "Green Exit Sign" out front in the form of the "Beware of the Wicked Witch" sign.

    But the Witch did look cool and, in this case, it might have actually worked to warn parents of preschoolers that the ride they were about to go on was not full of princesses and woodland critters.

    Congratulations HBG2 on one year of blogging! Yours is by far one of the most insightful and thought-out blogs in all of the Disney online menagerie. Keep up the great work!

  6. Awesome post. Also, about that plaque out front, it stood out a lot more when it was brand new. I remember old pictures of it before it became tarnished. Now it fits in perfectly. But maybe that was the intention? Like a disappearing watermark.

  7. I don't think they had an actual plan with the plaques. They lost their brilliant golden shine very quickly and turned brown as a penny within a year. They got progressively darker and were starting to turn green, but then sometime around 1989-90 they decided to polish them back up. They got them back to a nice honey-brown, but within a short time they had darkened again. Since then they've let them go green, maybe even helping them a little to do so.

  8. Sanctum, you're right that they could have called it "Williamson Manor" (or whatev) and then put the parental warning on a separate sign, but that just means the "screen it out" necessary evil is right here on this sign instead of right there on that sign. That would be the way to go if naming the place was an important part of the presentation, but it isn't, so might as well keep the clutter to a minimum and make the name placard also the warning sign.

    The fact that they didn't think the place needed a "real" name ("The Haunted Mansion" is emphatically generic) is further evidence, IMO, that they didn't want a "story," just a haunted house experience by you, the guest. Why name the ride after some random family that doesn't matter at all? The ride was never supposed to be about the history of the house.

  9. I like these posts very much, I would love to go sit in that haunted mansion see what spirit I could bring through, it looks an amazing place, thank you for sharing

  10. Great post, HBG2. Congratulations on one year of blogging.

    You've really hit the nail on its proverbial head with this realism business. That's why the really classic Disney attractions work so well as immersive experiences, I think. Is it possible that we're even less inclined to forgive logical inconsistencies and plot holes when we are actually *in* the story, as opposed to simply watching or reading about a story happening to someone else?

  11. Isn't there a victrola somewhere in the new attic scene at WDW? If I'm remembering correctly and it's there, that could account for the piano music even in the absence of a piano.

    And the bells you hear in the portrait gallery could be coming from the clock.

  12. As usual, heads and shoulders above most of the other bloggers out there.

    Maybe one day, you and Foxxfur will be able to grant PhDs in Haunted Mansion-ology!

    Congrats on the anniversary.

  13. Thanks, guys. Re the bells, Melissa, you could also argue that they're part of the pipe organ. Some of them have tubular bell sets attached (including the one actually used for the recording sessions for the HM music sessions). But some might call that special pleading, since that isn't common knowledge, so rather than fight it, I'll concede the bells to the critic as a possible example of a trivial, insignificant logic hole.

  14. I absolutely adore this blog. While it might sound this way, I swear the next part of this post is not sarcasm!

    I've only been to the FL HM, once, decades ago, when I was a child. I'm not a big Disney fan and I don't really see the need to go back ... but I do like dark rides (which originally brought me here) and the things that go on behind them. Sadly, dark rides (it seems) are a thing of the past, and while the HM is something bigger, it at least harkens back to those days.

    But what keeps me watching this blog is the scholarly, logical, and minutia-based work that goes on here. It's endless fascinating (again, not sarcasm!) With this epic setup, I can not wait for the next entry!

    Keep up the great work, and here's too another year.

  15. Fantastic article and post. I really do love this blog, even if this is my first time posting. :-)

    I agree with your premise on the Mansion, almost totally, but there's one little issue that has always bugged me, and that centers around the caretaker. Yes, he IS shocked... but what if he's shocked to see you? Maybe he's incredulous to the fact that a living person is also here to see the party?

    I'm sure there's some huge and obvious hole in that idea, so have at it. LOL.

    Thanks for bringing such good material to the table, HBG2! And here is to another year of blogging!

  16. Eppie, that's not a difficult one either. He's looking up and around but never seems to make eye contact with us. I think it would be easier to believe we are invisible than that he is shocked to see us there. Also, the Caretaker and his dog are taken straight from a Marc Davis concept sketch, and there he's looking at the ghosts.

  17. Dan, the bells in the load area could definitely be linked to the pipe organ. Although we know they are in reality tubular bells, they do certainly sound as if they could be the organ's chimes, *which we have already heard* in the Foyer organ track.

    I am just DYING to read the next post. That is the one I've been waiting for! Keep up the great work.

  18. Very interesting post, quite thought provoking. Got me thinking about stuff in the HM I never gave much thought to before like the look of the caretaker. Perhaps the ghosts in the graveyard scene are acting like the toys in, "Toy Story." It's not as if they don't have a graveyard jamborees from time to time, it's just that the caretaker has never seen one. Maybe everytime he approaches they disappear, that is until your "lucky day." I do agree with you though on the plaque argument as weak. I always viewed it as sort of like a post-mortem advertisement, like for a hotel or a rest home sign beside the practical reasons you gave. However my interpretation of the bells on the other hand is that they provide no logical lapse. I don't see any reason why they need a direct source. The loading area is limbo and supposedly endless. Where are the bells coming from? Who knows, infinity does strange things on a mind. Perhaps they are ringing in some unknown quarter or corridor of limbo or they are the echo of funeral church bells long since silenced in the living world but still chiming in the next. To me there is nothing illogical about disembodied bells in such a place. Now let's move onto the next post and some deserved lambasting.

  19. There are lots of "What if...?" explanations for the Caretaker's countenance that are technically possible, but the simplest is the best. Everything about him says WTF?, from his facial expression, to his head movements, to the gesture of holding aloft his lantern (= trying to get a better look since he can't believe what his eyes are telling him). There is not the slightest clue that the ghosts care what he sees or doesn't see or even know he's there, so the notion that they have heretofore concealed themselves from him has nothing to support it.

  20. Thanks for the response, HB.

    So, how do we explain US, the guests, being invisible? I mean, the ghosts do know we are there, right? They attack us at one point, our sympathetic vibrations are felt...

    I don't doubt that the caretaker is oblivious to us, and that's why the party is going on, but our presence there is interesting.

    Maybe we are like Doom Buggies, and are just shapeless blobs moving around, unseen, but seen? Heh.

    1. When you are flabbergasted you tend not to notice only the thing that captured your attention, if he saw us wouldn’t there be eye contact, wouldn’t he turn his head following us as we pass. if he were to see us however we would be a string of humans floating around guided by some unknown force therefore equally worthy of that look.

  21. The ghosts know we're there (pop-up ghosts scaring us for fun; hitchhikers attaching themselves to us), we're just not all that interesting to them, I guess. The Caretaker? Maybe he can't see us in the dark too well, or maybe he's simply too terrified to pay attention to anything but the ghosts. I don't buy the "you're dead" theory.

    I like to think he's only moments from turning around and fleeing, and that his scared, skinny dog proves to be braver than he is by hanging around and investigating (if that's him over by the Mummy, which I've always thought was the case). That sounds like a Davis-ish joke.

  22. I don't believe the "You are dead" theory either. Too convoluted, and I think, takes away from the simple premise of the Mansion: You go in, the ghosts can't materialize, Madame Leota summons them, all hell breaks loose, and you realize that it's not so scary.

    As for that being a Davis joke, makes sense. If the dog is over by the mummy, in WDW, I'll be sure to look for him next month. :-)

  23. I think one could assume that a Disneyland guests visit to the Haunted Mansion takes place in modern times, but the original idea I think was really suppose to be a mysteriously unoccupied manse on the outskirts of New Orleans (Square) during the theme land's original time frame of the 1850's - 1860's .Gas lights were first used in the 1790's and were common place in cities and homes of the wealthy by the mid 19Th Century --and even then the gas light are few in the Haunted Mansion --the main lighting being mostly oil and candle sources. And the mansion style itself could date as early as the 1820's. The stories of the Mansion being "transported" by Walt from New Orleans was a fictional origin script that was not used or ever revealed to guests. I think THAT old WED idea has been out and told for so long, that people forget it wasn't ever really used by Disneyland. (Like Bear Country's early story concept of a group of Trained Bears brought in to entertain the townspeople of the area --when gold was discovered in the Klondike, the Bears were abandoned as all the humans left for the goldfields-the Bears didn't know what else to do so they kept performing!"
    Anyway, I think from the Mansions sets and costumes Haunted mansion was part of the New Orleans Square time frame. Today, New Orleans Square has been rapped and ravaged and has been dragged into a time frame limbo. The cast is dressed 1930's----the graphics look Mardi Gras and the buildings have been aged--something Walt never wanted. The addition of Constance has muddied the original time frame as well. Imagineering .......or Disneyland Marketing anyhow acts embarrassed to have New Orleans Square be what it's suppose to be ..."The Crescent City when she was the Gay Paree of the Western Frontier" That was the description of the land used thru the 1990's.

  24. IMO, the HM presents itself as a house built around 1800-10 (and it had better, since Jean Lafitte is waiting in the wings). It seems to me to have been abandoned around the turn of the 20th century. That would explain why it was never electrified (or fully electrified: there is some debate about Leota's old Tiffany swag lamp). It might also explain why 20th c. ghosts don't seem to feel at home here (there are none). The tandem bike points to 1898-99, so we're right up to the cusp. I'm no big fan of Constance, but the explicit dates that follow in her wake seem reasonable to me.

    There is a very good explanation for the confusion over whether you're supposed to be visiting this old house now, today, or whether you're going back in time first and visiting this mysterious house during the 19th c. Whenever you visit a museum-piece old house today, you can hardly help imagining yourself living back then, if only vaguely so. It's spontaneous. In a way, it's ridiculous to debate whether the Imagineers intended you to do a little time travel in your imagination as you enter this replica 19th c. house. In truth, they could hardly have prevented it!

    But the current you remains. "Let's pretend" is a marvelously complex activity. On Main Street, you can imagine yourself living in a 1900ish small town, but at the same time, you're enjoying how quaint and old-fashioned it looks. The modern you and the pretend you operate simultaneously and harmoniously; one does not need to push the other off the stage, it seems.

  25. ^ That's really a great explanation for it. Not to mention that there's a fiberglass castle at the end of that street, I might add. ;-)

  26. Just FYI, during the recent Blogger down period, at least three comments were lost here. I didn't do it, honest!

  27. Kreepy Karl here,
    First off, congrats on one year of blogging.
    Your blogs are always interesting and insightful and worth rereading again and again. Your arguments are well thought out and you line up your ducks nicely before blowing them out of the sky. Even if one doesn't agree with you, nobody can say that you don't have a reasoned argument. I suppose test shopping your arguments first in MC really helps you refine them.

    I enjoy the minutae of details you add and the way my make your points easily understandable.

    With regards to the "one time event" I think the organ banshees and the graveyard endless ghosts look like they are spilling out like freed captives. If it were an every night occurrence they would probably not spring out with such gusto.

    Many an abandoned home has provisions for caretakers and ground keepers which can explain the maids (we know the graveyard caretaker works at the public cemetery) but I think they are like the green exit sign and a necessary safety feature.

    I don't think we are supposed to question if the HM (and NO Square) is really in New Orleans or in Disneyland park.

    I also think the "boundless realms of the supernatural" explains any architectual, spatial and time disconnects.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  28. My natural tendency is to screen out the butlers and maids as necessary evils, because they absolutely have to be there, and so the burden of proof lies with anyone who would argue that they're an integral part of the show and would have been there anyway.

    Having said that, I admit there are a couple of reasons for acknowledging them as "real." First, it suggests that someone allowed you into this old house. You're not trespassing. Maybe you learned about this supposedly haunted house by talking with one these people elsewhere. Second, it explains why porch lights and other outdoor lights are lit, the candles are lit in the foyer, and the yard is kept up. If the house and grounds were entirely derelict, you'd wonder who lit the lights and who mowed the lawn.

    You'll notice that there are no butlers or maids upstairs, where things get really crazy. This allows you to imagine that maybe they maintain the downstairs (or part of it) but never go upstairs. Too creepy. Notice that the cobwebs begin around the staircase area and continue from that point.

  29. You've probably seen the interview with a Mansion cast member over at Disney Dispatch, where she says she considered herself the ghost of a deceased maid. It's her prerogative, of course, but it makes no sense to me.

  30. Wonderful post as always. I have a few comments about the WDW update, because i was working on some other rides before it re-opened. You can email me

  31. Happy anniversary to your fantastic blog! Thanks for entertaining (and educating) us all with your clever wit and genius perspective!

  32. gerG, your email address doesn't work for some reason.

  33. "He's obviously the old caretaker, and he's not only frightened, he's astonished. Dumbstruck. "

    I always interpreted that as the caretaker being freaked out by a line of Omnimovers coming through his grave yard in addition to the ghosts, as he looks as if he sees us as well. I'll have to wait until the overlay goes away to see.

    I guess it could be suspension of disbelief and that we are "walking" past him and he is giving us a "Did you SEE that too?" look.

  34. In a comment further up, I point out that the Caretaker and Dog are taken straight off a Marc Davis sketch, and in it he's shocked and frightened by the ghosts, so I'm pretty sure that's what we're supposed to assume. I don't think he makes eye contact with us at all as we go by. Perhaps we're supposed to be considered invisible in the darkness, or perhaps he's too focused on the ghosts in the distance to even notice us close by.

  35. This is a wonderful post, and a good argumentation. The only problem: I don't like it. I mean that I don't like what you CONCLUDE; not that I think it is wrong, you see ? Actually, I would have liked better if they had kept it a comical thing. However, you're forgetting something: a realistic thing may be with a comical purpose (there are several comedy movie that never break any of your "rules"). At LEAST I'd like the HM to be that. But I don't denied that it's not the way current Imagineers do it. You can have a fictive universe resembling the one of the comedies, which you wouldn't be TOO surprised to live in, but which is full of silly-but-possible things.

    1. There's no dichotomy between "realistic" and "comedic." The HM takes an optimistic, cheerful view of the afterlife, and presents that as reality. It's "comedy" in the most literal sense of the word.

  36. Also, I agree with the idea of the latter Anonymous with the fact that the Caretaker can be astonished BY THE GUESTS.

    1. He's not looking at the guests. Watch his head movements. He looks up and around. To argue that the ghosts do not surprise him, but we do, is a real stretch. They completely botched the programmed animation of this AA if that's what they were trying to convey.

    2. Also, the scripts to both HM souvenir albums have the kids or the narrator coming upon the caretaker, and in both cases he is said to be scared out of his wits. Obviously he's scared of the ghosts, not by them. Also, Marc Davis's original concept sketch has him frightened by a group of witches and ghosts, with no ordinary mortals in sight.

  37. You're right. However, as I said before, I do not deny that this IS the truth, but I persist in saying that I WOULD HAVE PREFERRED that it would have been the way I thought it was.

  38. I like to think that in keeping with the view of the Mansion as a "retirement home for ghosts," that the plaques out front reading "The Haunted Mansion" is just the name assigned to the place by the ghosts. Instead of "Happy Acres Retirement Home" (or some such nonsense) it's just "Haunted Mansion" so ghosts have a way to recognize the place when looking for the "Happiest Hauntedest Place on Earth." That's my take on it, anyway.

  39. Hi! I love this blog! For me personally, I look at ghost stories and things about March because I get too scared in October! I just wanted to say that this is the perfect thing to look at before I go to bed. I read about ghosts, but not ghosts who will scare me so bad that I can't sleep.