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, March 27, 2012

Haunted Organs and Ghostly Hitchhikers

Update: New art added February 21, 2013.

As we've said before, the Imagineers responsible for creating the Haunted Mansion scoured the nooks and crannies of popular culture looking for ideas, reading ghost stories, looking at spooky films, and even thumbing through old comic books.  A number of inspirations—possible, probable, and nearly certain—have surfaced in our searches for these sources.  They're always interesting, because they enable us to retrace the creative process to some degree as well as connect the Mansion to the larger world of images and ideas within the human experience of the supernatural and the uncanny.

Besides, it's just plain fun, and that's that.

One of our regular readers, and a solid HM fan, is Craig Conley, a prolific author and an astoundingly voracious reader.  During his perusals of old journals and other forgotten literature, he's come across a pair of possible sources of inspiration for things in the Mansion and kindly brought them to my attention.  And so, with our thanks to Mr. C, let's take a look.

The Demonized Organ

In our review of old movies that may have inspired the Imagineers, we noted that the figure of the mad organist probably owes a debt to Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera, but the notion of ghostly figures emerging from the pipes as the organ plays seems like an original idea.  And it probably is.  But check out this illustration from The Cosmopolitan 33/5 (Sept 1902):

It's an illustration for a short story, "The Canonic Curse," by Arthur E.
McFarlane.  But in fact it isn't found with the story itself, which is deep
inside the volume (pp 515-523).  In that location you find this:

The organ sketch, on the other hand, is actually used as a frontispiece for the whole volume, so it stands apart by itself:

"The Canonic Curse" is a better than average supernatural thriller about a demonic, medieval musical composition that has a rather nasty effect on anyone who plays it three times.  You can read the whole thing HERE.  However, there's nothing in the story that looks to me like a direct inspiration for the Haunted Mansion's ghost-infested organ.  For one thing, it's not the organ but the musical score that's demonic.  For another, no visible ghostly forms emerge from either the sheet music or the organ in the story itself.  If there's a HM inspiration, it's more likely coming from the illustration above rather than from the actual tale.  The sketch shows a ghostly figure emerging from the musical text, but without looking closely the figure could easily be read as coming from the organ.  (Frankly, it's not a great drawing.)  And the caption reads, "From the smaller organ raved up a pandemonium of...ghoulish execrations."  (There are two organs in the room.)  In the story, the "ghoulish execrations" are sinister presences in the form of sound, but the illustrator has to draw something to represent that.

Whether or not Marc Davis or one of the others saw this sketch, it is the only depiction I have seen of an organ spewing out spirits as it is played.

But hold on a sec.  "The Canonic Curse" sends me back to the ballroom for a fresh look.  For some stupid reason, it never occurred to me to think of the musical composition as the thing that actually summons the banshees up and out of the pipes.  The tune grows more frenzied as it sails along and disintegrates into a mad improvisation as it reaches its climax.  It's as if the music were the thing compelling them to appear.

Not only that, but the diabolical nature of the music itself may perhaps be suggested by the wicked, bat-shaped, music stand:

(pic from

Before you musicians go blind from eye strain, here's a close-up,
courtesy of Brandon "Ghost Relations Department" Champlin:

Furthermore, the concept can be found elsewhere, as in this
striking book illustration by Nikolay Samokish (1860-1944):

Hat tip to Conley for this one also, originally from To Dust You Shall Return

So if we were to conclude that the musical score is the key that unlocks the ghost-infested organ, the storyline of "The Canonic Curse" might be relevant after all, as well as the illustration.  Whatever the case may be, I think Conley has brought forward a respectable candidate as a possible source of inspiration for the Haunted Mansion.

By the way, the seldom-seen maquette figure of the organist, used in the scale model, isn't really the wild-haired crazy man that you see in Marc Davis and Collin Campbell artwork.  Curiously enough, he's more of a thin, haughty, Liberace-type of guy.

The actual organist seems to follow the demented model, but since
you can hardly see any part of his face, it doesn't matter that much.

"What do you mean, 'It doesn't matter that much'?"

.        The Ghostly Hitchhiker

Here's that famous trio, already in place and thumbing for a ride even before the Mansion opened, in the summer of 1969.

There are so many urban legends about ghostly hitchhikers that they have been categorized into groups and subgroups and subjected to scholarly study.  Such stories pre-date the advent of the automobile, going back to horse and buggy days.  Here's one of the most common varieties:

This isn't the Disney version, obviously.  The idea of being followed by a hitchhiker who gives you the creeps and whom you do NOT want to pick up is a less-frequent variety, but it's there.  Once again we are indebted to Brandon "GRD" Champlin, who stumbled across an interesting example and posted it at his now-defunct blogsite.  (You can still read the original post HERE.)  In a 1960 episode of the Twilight Zone ("The Hitchhiker"), a young woman driving from New York to California keeps seeing the same hitchhiker.

Finally, she can't stand it and stops to call home to mother.  Another woman answers and explains that the mother is recovering from a nervous breakdown, having learned that her daughter died in an auto accident six days earlier (deedle deedle deedle deedle). The woman who delivers the bad news, incidentally, is none other than Eleanor Audley, voice of Madame Leota (deedle deedle deedle deedle again).

GRD doesn't mention it, but there are two occasions in the episode when the phantom hitchhiker is visible to the woman only in a mirror...

...and the second time, he's sitting invisibly in the car with her!

Now let's take a look at the illustration Conley found in an 1891 issue of The Strand magazine:

Unless that's supposed to be a church pew, it looks to me like it could be a railway
carriage seat.  Even if it isn't, the similarity to the ghost-in-the-mirror gag is plain.

The Haunted Mansion version may best be described as an amalgam of several different elements from
several different ghost stories and urban legends.  It is possible that the Strand illustration  was one
source of inspiration contributing a few ingredients to the finished recipe, but we'll probably never know.

Needless to say, the new CG hitchhikers at WDW take their inspiration from different sources altogether.