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.


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Ghostland Around Us, Beneath Us


In an early post on this blog, I presented my reading of the three-act play that everyone seems to agree is the basis of the Haunted Mansion ride.

....Act One: The ghosts can't seem to materialize, and that ain't right.
....Act Two: Madame Leota applies some psychic WD40 and fixes the problem.
....Act Three: They materialize and socialize before yer eyes.

There's crisis and resolution.  Their scary behavior in Act One makes them seem hostile, but we discover in Act Three that actually, they're not.  Ghouls just want to have fun.  Oh yeah, they're going to put the boo in boogie, you just watch.

In that post, I observed that the building itself and its furnishings are in excellent condition throughout Act One but badly dilapidated in Act Three.  I theorized that the house was kept in an unnatural state of preservation when it was possessed by spirits as a sort of surrogate body, but once they were free, the house fell into the state of decay you might expect of a neglected, 100-year-old house.  In support of this idea, I noted that literally the first tear in the fabric of the house is the anomalous pair of broken window panes in the Conservatory, tellingly juxtaposed with the first sign of ghostly frustration about breaking out of the material world (here, the coffin and its mortal occupant).  That same frustration seems to be echoed throughout the Corridor of Doors and confirmed by the Ghost Host's reference to all of them having "trouble getting through." It's almost as if the house itself were both the body and the coffin, confining the ghosts.

Incidentally, the similarity between the coffin guy's hands as he tries to flip his lid and the hands that used to be found on a door in the WDW Corridor of Doors (still there at Tokyo) certainly does nothing to discourage drawing such a parallel.

(left photo: Allen Huffman)

The script of the "Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion" album is also suggestive in this regard.  Karen says, "It's a coffin, and something's trying to get out!"  Shortly thereafter, the narrator says, "From each door they passed, natural and unnatural sounds came from within.  Each sounded as if it were trying to get out into the hall."  Again, it's not hard to connect the dots.

I argued that this whole scenario reflects common notions about spirit possession.  Quite simply, wicked spirits are out to get you.  They want to take possession of your body.  Failing that, they'll take an animal or even a building, but they want to move up to humans if they can.  I found direct support for such notions in X Atencio's 1968 show script.  You will recall that the Ghost Host was going to warn us that we needed to be wary of the raven, since the spirit now possessing the "wretched raven's mortal being" may want to "better itself."  Significantly, it was not felt necessary to explain what the GH meant by that.  I further noted that the basic idea cluster concerning hostile spirit possession could be found in the Gospels, and it may well be that in the 1960s you could safely assume that a significant percentage of the general public had at least some cursory familiarity with that material.  (Alas, no more.  I teach a Bible survey course at a local college, and you can't even depend on kids knowing about Noah's Ark these days.)

In the Haunted Mansion, we see that the spirits are quite happy once they're able to materialize in their very own, visible, astral bodies.  This is the ride's comic twist on the idea cluster that serves as a premise for the whole.

Call this the Spirit Possession paradigm.

Another View

But there are other ways to look at it.  There is one interpretation in particular that I think has enough going for it to warrant a close look.  Fellow Mansionologist Mike S. suggests that what we have here is an example of another well-known ghostly phenomenon: ghosts inhabiting a former building on the same site as the present one.  What happens is that we see the place more and more from their point of view as the ride progresses, including its past history and even its past location.

Mike points to one of Ken Anderson's many concepts for the Haunted Mansion, back in 1957-58.  According to this version, the house is actually a hundred-year old Southern mansion relocated in its entirety to Disneyland, supposedly intended as an innocent historical set piece for New Orleans Square.  But as luck would have it, the house is haunted ("Bloodmere Manor"), and all restoration attempts are thwarted by the unhappy ghosts.  Not only that, but it always remains night within the house.

Without committing to the whole Bloodmere Manor storyline, Mike thinks this basic concept was kept.  Come to think of it, it is always night inside the house, isn't it?

Unlike Anderson's original concept, however, the mansion obviously was successfully renovated some time ago, and this is the immaculate house that was brought to New Orleans Square.  The older building only shows through during encounters with the ghostly presence that still possesses the place.  The deeper we penetrate the house, the more we see it as it once was, as the ghosts continue to see it.  That's the concept in a nutshell.

Call it the Parallel World paradigm.

Certain advantages come with PW.  For one thing, the architectural inconsistencies between the house we see on the outside and the one we see on the inside are all explained at a single stroke.  When the lightning flashes in the garrett of the stretching room, we see the site of the Ghost Host's suicide, but what we see doesn't match the outside cupola very well.  That's because it's a glimpse of the old house.  But other than this one early glimpse, you're still in the house you saw from the outside until you get to the limbo area, where we board our buggies (we are, as usual, following the Disneyland model).  There, a transition takes place, which explains, I suppose, why we need something like a limbo area.  From that point forward we see the original house, the house as the ghosts see it.  We discover that unlike the remodeled house, the old house had a windowed conservatory and a multi-storied ballroom with two tall windows in it and French doors beneath, and if you look back at the house after exiting the attic, you see the gables of a building that is entirely different from the one you entered.  We soon find out that behind the old house in its original location there was a public cemetery, and the Caretaker you see must really be a figure from the past, analogous to the figures Scrooge sees when he's visiting his own past under the guidance of a ghostly escort.  This explains why there are no 20th century figures among the graveyard ghosts (or anywhere else on the ride).

We don't know the circumstances of the remodeling of the building.  Perhaps it was rebuilt after a fire around the turn of the 20th century.  Perhaps it all had something to do with the reason the house became haunted in the first place.  We don't know.

Another advantage to the PW interp is that very little needs to be "screened out" as stage management realities.  You really are in a house at Disneyland, it really is called "The Haunted Mansion," and there really are people there to make sure you go through safely.  I guess they've figured out that the ghosts aren't going to hurt anyone, and most of them don't seem to mind if living guests pass through.  Of course, you still have to pretend that ghosts are real in order to enjoy the show, but very little more than that must be pretended.

So how does the Parallel World paradigm
compare with the Spirit Possession paradigm?
Is one more inherently plausible than the other?

On the SP side, I've already pointed to the spirit trying to "better itself" in an X Atencio script and to the New Testament.  The idea that wicked spirits want to seize hold of you is hardly an esoteric doctrine, and by the time a shadowy hand is trying to grab you, you're likely convinced that this is the reality you are up against.  You don't need much more than that to get the ball rolling.  All you need to do is keep paying close attention to what you see and keep putting two and two together.

Before Leota (1) the place looks great, (2) the ghosts are unseen, and (3) at least some of them are paying attention to you and seem hostile, out to get you.

After Leota (1) the place is a wreck, (2) the ghosts are visible, and (3) they seem to have lost all interest in you (other than a few popup pranksters and the tagalongs at the very end).

The Parallel World theory assumes some kind of general acquaintance with a different idea, the idea that ghosts may sometimes live in a universe reflecting a former time, which sometimes overlaps with ours.  Here's a typical explanation of this idea from a 1978 book for kids, World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts:

The motif forms the basis of certain ghost stories, such as M. R. James' "Number 13."  In this story, an old Danish hotel, occupying what once was a medieval building, has a room 12 and a room 14 next to each other, the 13 omitted for superstitious reasons (as is common enough).  Each is a large room with three windows at one end.  Ah, but when night falls, a room 13 mysteriously appears between the two.  12 and 14 grow narrower and lose each a window to number 13.  There are weird sounds and grotesque silhouettes to be seen opposite that particular room on the wall of an adjacent building where the light shines out through the hotel's windows onto the blank surface.  I won't spoil the rest of the story, but medieval deviltry is involved.  The point is, the old room appears and disappears in the presence of the Supernatural, and sometimes we mortals get caught in this netherworld and experience it too.

The motif is known from supposedly "true" ghost accounts as well as fiction.  For example, in the book Strange Happenings (Grosset and Dunlap, 1978), author Paul Bannister tells about the experience of Harry Martindale, a police officer and former heating engineer.  While repairing pipes in the cellar of York's old Treasurer's House, he saw a troop of Roman soldiers march by and then disappear.  They paid no attention to Martindale, and he noticed something strange:  "The oddest thing was that they were all marching thigh-deep in the floor.  Only in one spot, where someone had dug away a part of the floor could I see their feet."  Martindale described what he saw to a local historian, who happened to know that the excavation in the cellar floor was the work of archaeologists digging down to a section of the old Roman road below ground.  Martindale described the clothing and gear of the soldiers in great detail, and most of it was accurate, but nevertheless the historian dismissed the vision as fantasy, because Martindale claimed that the soldiers carried round shields, and that wasn't correct.  Roman soldiers didn't have round shields.  Seven years later, however, a pair of archaeologists working in the same cellar saw exactly the same apparition, and it so happens that during the intervening seven years it had been learned that the 6th Roman legion had been moved out of York in the 4th century, and that it had been supplemented by auxiliary troops who did indeed carry round shields.  So there.

That story may or may not impress you, but it does illustrate the notion that ghosts may continue to inhabit the world that was there, regardless of what is found there now.  People seem to grasp the concept without much effort.

Update.  You know how the most obvious things are sometimes the things you miss?  In the original post I overlooked a strong piece of evidence that the PW dynamic is consciously in use at the HM:  The ballroom dancers swirl right through the furniture as if it weren't there.  This is intentional; this is right in your face.  The only good explanation for their behavior is that the furniture wasn't there when they were alive.
At one and the same time, the dancers shoot down a major element in the PW theory:  They prove that we are not seeing the ballroom that once was but the ballroom that is there now.  We can see the furniture that isn't there for the dancers, so we're not seeing this broken-down room through their eyes.

(pic by Roger Weeks)

It seems to me that both dynamics are in use.  Whether one is the
governing paradigm and the other a supplement is harder to decide.


The architectural features of the building form a slippery set of data, but they cannot be ignored, since they are critically important to both SP and PW.  In the first place, we have the evidence of the stretching room that the ghosts can either manipulate the fabric of the house or our perception of it.

This gives the Spirit Possession theory and other theories a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card, usable whenever an architectural contradiction may arise.  When we were discussing this at the Long-Forgotten Micechat thread, contributor anazgnos ("perhaps he knows too much") made some good comments along these lines:

Add to this the surprisingly flexible limits of "realistic" presentation under any circumstances, not just haunted houses, and things really become loose.  Few films or rides concern themselves too much with reconciling inside and outside architecture.  Someone with a perfect sense of architectural space may wince once in awhile, "knowing" that if the character really did turn left down that hallway, he should by rights walk smack into the outer wall of the house, but for the most part such concerns are ignored.  This includes size considerations.  With the HM, even if we discard about a third of the show building as housing an outdoor scene (the graveyard), the square footage of the house we experience is still much larger than anything that could pass for the "original" house remodeled into the current Mansion.

Speaking of size considerations, the façade building is a masterpiece (and the WDW model even more so, arguably), because in truth, it is a small house.  The wraparound porches make it seem much bigger than it is, and there are no other buildings near it for comparison.  As a result, it definitely leaves you with the impression of being, well...a mansion.  It may look like this to the eye...

...but somehow it feels more like this whenever you're not looking, and sometimes even when you are:

This vague mental impression of great size leaves plenty of nooks and crannies in the imagination for architectural eccentricities.

There is also the important fact that you can't see the back of the building, and the north side only partially, and that much only with some effort.  One can always wave a hand and say, "Maybe the house looks different from the back, like it was only partially remodeled or something.  The conservatory and the ballroom with its big windows and French doors?  Back there somewhere, on the other side of the house."  I think many people find that to be a perfectly satisfactory explanation, if the question occurs to them at all.

As a matter of fact, Disney artists have always taken advantage of this principle.  Most people probably assume automatically that the building is symmetric, with the north side much like the south, and practically all of the HM artwork encourages such a perception by depicting the house that way.

As the aerial photo above plainly shows, this is a lie.  But if you can't see it, or can only see it with considerable effort, it doesn't count.  The two sides you do see match this perception, so that's how 99% of the people see it in their heads.

In the same category, I have always thought that the berm is a passable representation of the thicket of trees and underbrush you pass over and through en route down to the graveyard, so out front it's easy enough to imagine that "back there somewhere," hidden from sight, is a public cemetery.  Since a graveyard obviously would never have been transplanted to Disneyland, the PW interp places that entire outdoor scene in the Mansion's past, reflecting its original location before being brought to Disneyland.

That explanation seems more complicated than necessary.  If you prune back the PW theory by dropping the "transplanted to Disneyland" element, you can simply imagine that this is a house in New Orleans that was remodeled at some point, and that the ghosts still see it the old way.  And as it happens, there is a public cemetery back there, hidden by the berm.

What have we got so far?  The PW paradigm explains a host of architectural oddities, but so do options b, c, and d.  No knockout punch there.

The Cupola

The case for the Parallel World as the dominant paradigm is stronger when we examine architectural elements that clash with reality but did not need to.  First up is the cupola, the interior of which is glimpsed for only a second or two at the end of the stretching room scene.

(pic by Matthew Hansen, Tours Departing Daily)

That is a rather sloppy match with what is actually perched on top of the building.

(pic by Haunted Portraits)

But there's no doubt that they do expect you to take them as one and the same.  Among other things, look at the window designs:

(left: Regions Beyond; right: Joe Penniston)

For another, it's known that the design of the cupola was changed very late in the game.  The house that
inspired the design of the Haunted Mansion, the Shipley-Leydecker house in Baltimore, had a square cupola:

In all the early HM artwork, the square shape was preserved.  The building
went up in 1962, but as late as 1961 the cupola was still going to be square:

It must have occurred to someone that people were naturally going to associate the garrett in the stretchroom with this cupola, so it would be better to give it a shape that matched.  But here comes discrepancy #1.  Why did they make it a hexagon, when the stretchroom is an octagon?  I think the answer to that one is easy.  If they had made it an octagon, the facets would have been too small and the windows would have looked cramped.  They need that little extra room.  Besides, you can only determine that it is a hexagon by walking around in a deliberate effort to answer exactly that question—how many sides does it have?  Only geeks are going to figure out this discrepancy, and their discomfiture is an acceptable price to pay for nice, big, clear windows on generous wall facets.

Discrepancy #2 is the number of windows.  All sides are windowed on the cupola, but only four in the garrett, with blanks in between.  I think that this too has a pragmatic explanation.

Originally, there were going to be eight windows up there, one on every wall:

Why the reduction?  I suspect for the same reason that the ruined roof you see above in the artwork was eliminated:  too much light.  You are supposed to be looking at the corpse, you know, not counting nails in the roof beams.  In tests, they probably determined that the figure needed more of a dark background when he was illuminated by the lightning, and that eight windows produced too much flash.

If this is correct, the deviations from the concept artwork are for practical reasons rather than thematic ones, and the discrepancy in the number of windows is another one of those geek things they decided to ignore.

We must remember that the kind of photos we're scrutinizing were not possible with most (or maybe any) cameras that a guest might be likely to have in 1969, so the only visual impression of the garrett you could ever get was whatever you took in during a brief couple of flashes, during which you were presumably looking at the corpse, not the architecture.

What about the steep pitch of the walls?  That's discrepancy #3.  The outside cupola is straight upright.  Well, first of all, those walls are at a ridiculous  angle.  Imagine standing up there on the (momentarily invisible) floor and looking out those slanted windows!  What we have here is an example of forced perspective, trying to make the space look much taller than it is.  From down below, you're not really supposed to notice the pitch at all during those brief flashes.  Again, the concept art tells the story:

What about the overall size?  The garrett looks much larger than the cupola.  Do we have a discrepancy #4?  Actually, the cupola is bigger than you may think.  From floor to the peaked tip is twelve and a half feet.  In this case we have two needs working at cross-purposes, and the Imagineers had to compromise.  They would want the actual cupola to be on the small side, if anything, to help make the building look bigger.  But if they made it too small, the size difference between it and the stretchroom garrett would become noticeable.  Finding the right compromise between these two needs may actually have driven the decision to build a six-sided cupola rather than an eight, thereby allowing large windows on a smallish cupola.  Clever.

Smallish, I say.  But you know, for all that, it's still big enough to step inside and walk around without bumping your head.

(pic by Andy Neitzert)

So while we may grant that the PW interp neatly accounts for the cupola/garrett
discrepancies, so do other, practical, mundane considerations.  Still no knockout punch.

The Attic Exit

You exit the attic and you look around you.  As you descend to ground level ("fall off the roof" is the official explanation), you see the gables of the attic windows through the trees to the right.  The design is like this (or was until the new Hatbox Ghost arrived in 2015):

That doesn't look anything like the Mansion out front.  Well, like we said earlier, maybe the mansion is an architectural mishmash, and maybe the back was never modernized.  Yes, but in this case, wouldn't it have been just as easy to do it in such a way that there would be no need for such an explanation?  If the Spirit Possession paradigm is the overriding dynamic, why wouldn't they have simply made it look like the same building, but falling into decay?  Something like this:

There are even features of the actual building that are tolerably similar to that kind of layout.

When the attic exit was designed, the façade building had already been standing for years.  The look of the building was long established.  I see no practical reason why they could not have made the attic exit match architecturally, and it's hard to think of a thematic reason why they wouldn't want to do so.  After all, this isn't a mere afterthought we're talking about; it's a carefully designed section of the ride.

During the process which led up to these blueprints, you have to think that it would have occurred to someone that hey, y'know, this doesn't look much like the outside of the house, does it?

So it probably isn't an absentminded goof.  Perhaps it's a case of ghostly manipulations and head games à la the stretching room?  That doesn't make sense either.  What's particularly disconcerting about this?  And by now they're through with that stuff anyway.  You've left the house, so really, what would be the point?  Well, maybe the Imagineers wanted to provide solid visual proof that the back of the mansion really does look different than the front, thereby legitimating that explanation for such things as the ballroom and conservatory.  That's possible, but honestly, it sounds kind of lame to me.  I agree with anazgnos (see above).  Leaving apparent architectural discontinuities such as the conservatory and the ballroom without a clear explanation only makes the place that much more uncanny, so why settle the issue by picking one explanation and making it official?  Weak.  I have to admit that in this case the PW explanation looks to me the simplest and best of all the options.  You're seeing a different form of the same house.  Add to that the ballroom dancers' disregard for current furnishings and it's pretty hard to look at PW as a trivial sideshow.

Uh oh.  What have I done?  I've let the camel's nose into the tent.  Now the PW explanation of other things can never be ruled out entirely.  I still think that Spirit Possession paradigm offers the best overall explanation of the three-act show, but the Parallel World option is going to be available to dissenters.

Inside the Haunted Mansion, Does Disneyland Exist?

There is one element of PW as Mike has articulated it that must be jettisoned, in my view.  That's the "transported to Disneyland" thing.  It's ingenious, but (1) it obviously forms no part of anyone's idea of common ghost lore, and (2) it is not explained to guests anywhere.  It's an idea only accessible to geeks who have read old Ken Anderson ride concepts.  That won't cut it.

The real purpose of that part of the theory anyway is to eliminate the need to screen out the Disneyland tags.  With it, the queue switchbacks, the front plaques, and anything else that points to Disneyland and not New Orleans can be taken as intended parts of the show rather than concessions to the real-world necessities involved in creating an attraction of this nature.  For my part, I think that the general public is quite capable of screening out such noise when they know they are in an entertainment venue.  At Disneyland (or any theme park) you have to screen out gobs and gobs of stuff in order to enjoy an immersion experience, and people do it without effort.  I see no reason why the Haunted Mansion has to be noticeably freer of such static than other rides.

I know that Mike sometimes cites here the sign in the hearse out front saying, "Reservations Accepted, Ghost Relations Department, Disneyland," which seems to be both Disneyland-bound AND a part of the show, but for me that's just one more reason to dismiss the whole hearse gag as an ill-conceived idea from the beginning.  It would be tolerable if they got rid of the suspended harness and the sign.

(pic by Allen Huffman)

Try to imagine that same sign inside, hanging on the wall in the COD.  Hard to do, isn't it?  See, they think it's okay here, because you're still early in the queue and they figure "the show" hasn't, you know, reeelly started yet.  That's just dumb.  Also, it's practically telling you that this is a haunted house, which is jumping the gun.  And that's to say nothing about a full-size ghost horse standing right there outside.  Ugh.  It's all supposed to look innocent at this point.  The 1995 hearse gag is the true grandfather of Pepe Le Queue.  Alice Davis is right: it's out of place.

With the "transport" part of the theory gone, it turns out that PW and SP are not mutually exclusive theories.  From the Spirit Possession point of view, I would suggest that in its descent into decay, the bones of an older form are revealed, so to speak.  It's a tantalizing mystery left undeveloped.

There are two stories (or at least two) with the Mansion, providing two kinds of ghostly residents.  One type is the retirement home gang, coming here from all over the world.  The other is more mysterious.  Some of the ghosts did NOT come here as retirees but have some kind of unexplained, organic connection to the house itself and its history.  Those older ghosts would include the Ghost Host and the attic bride Constance, and probably any that can be established as being interred in the family plot(s).  It is their presence that makes the Parallel World paradigm a natural and reasonable part of the mix.  It is they who would have known the house from way back when.

Unroll Those Eyes.  Do it.  Now.

It may be a good idea to add something here for newer readers who haven't read everything that goes before and may be raising anew an objection that we have dealt with in older posts.  You know who you are: you're the ones whose eyes are rolling so far back in their heads that they're in danger of going all the way around and back up in the front again.  I can hear you out there.  "Oh PLEEEZE!  This is so ridiculously over-analytical.  The Imagineers didn't think through all of these 'theories' and 'paradigms'; they just built a haunted house ride and did what they thought was funny and scary.  You're making it WAY too complicated and reading WAY too much into it."

Harrumph.  Your error is in assuming that all (or any) of this theory was consciously thought out.  Of course it was not.  But remember this: you can't tell even the simplest joke without implying a whole world in which such a joke makes sense.  You don't think that stuff out consciously, you intuit it (which takes about one-millionth as long to do).  This is especially true with artistic creations.  You can reverse engineer them and find a philosophical outlook on reality that makes the created thing work, and it will take gigabytes to lay out what the artists' instincts told them in a split second. All we're doing here is exploring the possible bedrock foundations in ghost lore that have been assumed for this particular ghost story, a story which seems to work very, very well.  And the better it works, the more certain you may be that there is a coherent universe behind it and around it.


  1. Wonderful post, well-written and thoughtful. I believe that the Imagineers who designed the original mansion had definite reasons why they did what they did, even if it was more instinctual and less of an "engraved in stone" policy. It worries me when I see things getting gradually watered-down every time somebody comes with another bad pun (Constance's phrases) or when a detail is removed.

  2. Don't forget it has been suggested the Leota *may* have been a 20th Century spirit, and possibly even a living being when first brought into the house, presumably by the last occupants, to "Call in the spirits, wherever they're at." For decades, she had a 1920s Tiffany-style pendant light over her table at the seance (she still does at Tokyo).

    Also, is it possible that the cupola design was changed after 1962 once the stretch room elevator concept was developed? When did that concept come about?

  3. Thanks Major, and with regard to your point I can only quote the old horror movie cliché: "They're meddling with powers they can't possibly understand."

    GG: We're given no good clues about Leota, except that her 2002 headstone implies she had a prior connection to the house. The lamp says that they electrified at least part of the house at some point, but I don't know if that date transfers to her. I frankly don't know how precise a date can be safely attached to the lamp design. As for the cupola, the 1962 building blueprints show a hexagonal design. Yale Gracey designed the stretchrooms during the period he was partnered with Rolly, and they were built into the HM when it was erected, so they're older than 1962 by at least a little period.

  4. There is a famous house in Chico, California -- The Bidwell Mansion -- which also features a veranda and square cupola. The Mansion is a few blocks up The Esplanade from the home of Dortha Barrie (sp?), who was related to Walt Disney. When I was a kid (in the 1960's), I was fascinated by the Barrie residence, as my parents told me that the Disney family would visit there. In retrospect, I wonder if Mr. Disney was inspired by the nearby Bidwell Mansion.

  5. It's always possible that incidental details of the finished building were inspired by various sources; however, I think there is little room left for debate as to what inspired the basic look of the Haunted Mansion. A few years ago a photo of the Shipley-Lydecker house in Baltimore was found in a book in the library at Disney Imagineering, and this photo clearly served as the model used by designer Ken Anderson. Check it out!

  6. And pity us all,
    Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
    For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
    The saddest are these: "They still have it in Tokyo!"

  7. Loved every word of this post, HBG2!

  8. Out of all the architectural discrepancies in the attraction, the backside of the house has been the one that I could not come to terms with being able to exist at the same time as the rest of the structure. And the fact that they repeated the design two more times until they got to Paris, must have meant something. Is it sad that I might be able to sleep a little easier now that you have presented another option?
    If we are being presented with what the house use to look like, through the ghost’s eyes, does that mean we are experiencing a slight time-warp while on our tour? Or does it just fall under the ghost’s ability to manipulate what we see, while in the house? FoxxFur over at “Passport to Dreams” suggests that this sort of thing may be happening in Paris, so I’m curious if it’s a consideration. I know, they really are two different beasts.
    Thanks for posting on my birthday, what a treat!

  9. Thanks for the kind words, folks. Arch, I think it's seeing-as-they-see and not a time warp. There's not a hint in Leota's spells or anywhere in the GH's monologue that we are going to witness or experience the past, but there IS reference to our "sympathetic vibrations" and there IS evidence at the end that the ghosts have taken a liking to us and want to keep a connection with us. That fits very well with the idea of us learning to see things as they see them. Perhaps it also provides a rationale for the prolonged house tour itself. Maybe they're not going to let us leave until we are tuned in to their wavelength, and sure enough, the climactic attic exit is the location of the smoking-gun evidence that we are indeed seeing the house differently now.

  10. I should say that I still think the Spirit Possession paradigm is the main one. It puts Leota and her contribution at dead center, which seems right. She's in the middle of a room in the middle of the ride, with stuck, invisible ghosts in an intact house before her and freed, visible ghosts in a dilapidated house after her. If the Parallel World paradigm as Mike articulates it is primary, it makes Limbo the pivotal point. That doesn't seem to do justice to Leota's centrality as a character in this three-act play, and it's also problematic because the building is still in great shape from Limbo to the Séance circle (save for one strategically-placed broken window).

    There is an intriguing, unsolved mystery to the house (and I would prefer it stay that way, WDI!). The Ghost Host's suicide and the murder mystery in the attic involving the bride and (originally) the Hat Box Ghost may be connected events (or maybe not), but we know that the house has some kind of dark history. To these tantalizing clues we may add (I now suppose) the fact that the house itself seems to have had a former incarnation. Is that connected? We have more questions than answers (at least until the Constance thing started taking some of the mystery—and hence some of the fun—out of it).

    I might note that if in spite of everything you still suspect that the garrett may be a glimpse of the old house (which is possible), it may be significant that you receive this flash in conjunction with seeing the scene of the GH's suicide. Hmmm.

  11. This is superb.

    There's a few things touched on here that I've always thought were key conceptions about the Haunted Mansion, and one of these is the concept of renovation. There's not really a strong implication of it in Disneyland, but to me the Florida house looks strongly renovated... gothic brick and wrought iron may look pleasing at first glance, but architecturally it's all wrong, and furthermore, why is there a bat on the weathervane and the trellaces look like little people and spiders (or faces, when you look at it another way?) The ghosts have already started to warp our perception of the house, and that's why it's okay to have the ghostly wolf howl outside the Florida house but it would be (in my mind at least) unimaginable outside the California house. The Florida house also rests on a foundation that's visually inconsistent with the rest of the Mansion, and although it's mainly there to help the forced perspective work, it looks much older than the gothic revival house sitting on it. So depending on how you look at it, you've got a house that looks like a tomb from one era sitting on a foundation from another era (did the original house burn down? Or was it there when the colonists arrived?) that's then got decorations and interior design from a third era.

    In the load area of the Florida show, with its massive hall, minimal decoration and huge funeral urns, the impression of extreme antiquity is very strongly conveyed. This house isn't just old, it's somehow also ancient.

    The other concept is that spirits can warp our perception of physical space, which is very much in play in the Mansion. There's the idea that they disregard current physical arrangements; one of my favorite stories here is a Hessian soldier who was often seen walking below the floor level because the colonial house's floor had been raised. There's also the "vanishing room" concept; Room 13 is a fantastic example and there's also the appearing/disappearing rooms of Glamis castle in Scotland, which could contain the remains of an heir to the throne, or a Duke playing cards with Satan till doomsday, or something even worse. There's an even better actual example that I know of: The Old Brick Capitol in Washington DC, which was so haunted that it actually sometimes re-appears, occupants and all, despite having been demolished one hundred years ago.

  12. I think all of these provide a good way to assess the Mansion: if we can accept that rooms stretch, wallpaper and wood paneling sprouts faces, and that parts of the house fade away into a black void, I don't see the problem with seeing an apparently very different house on the "back" than we saw on the front.

    That black void, by the way, I've actually recently found something eerily like it in supposed reality. There is apparently an especially desolate stretch of highway up in Maine that cuts through a very dense old forest. Supposedly, an unnatural darkness is known to occassionally settle over the forest and plenty of people have driven into that darkness and not come out again. The concept of a hallway to limbo or one that goes on forever is surreal enough to link it up to things like the Bermuda Triangle, in a more popular vein, and I think that's one thing Coats drew on in conceiving the boundless void. Frankly, once we accept that line of reasoning, it's not so much further to start taking about dimensional gateways and phantom zones, to start getting into real H.P. Lovecraft / William Hope Hodgson territory. Hodgson's novel "House on the Borderland" deals with a lot of this sort of stuff.

    One thing I've never heard mentioned about the Florida version that I think is worth pointing out: Coats was apparently messing around with secret rooms and panels in the reworked version; as you know, the doors to the stretch room don't open like sliding entrance doors like in Disneyland but the whole wall slides away. The doors are designed to blend into the paneling and the paneling is as high as it is in the Florida Foyer to hide the doors.

    It's easy to see just looking at photos how this was designed to work, but Coats took it a step further: originally, that little hallway you exit out into was very very dark, and the reason was so that the exit panel could be opened during the blackout without being detected. This is how Cast Members were trained to do it for 35 years. To make sure they opened the panel during the blackout, the scream and crash sounds actually played out in that hallway; if you mistimed the panel opening the sound would be very awkward. The lights would come up and suddenly there would be a door there - it seems like it appeared out of nowhere. I know several people who continue to swear that the room used to turn: they were convinced they'd entered and exited the same door, with the rest of the ride somehow appearing out of nowhere.

    I think this is a creepy idea. There are a number of doors in the Florida foyer that could lead anywhere, perhaps to normal seeming rooms, a false front. But the Ghost Host instead opens a secret panel to a forgotten room and draws you into what feels very much like a trap.

  13. What an evocative post! Thank you for the meticulous and always fascinating research you do. During the past holiday season, on one of my last visits before the Burton-esque decorations were uninstalled, I noticed something which was at least new to me if not to other regular visitors. There was, high in the cupola and visible from certain angles, the effect of a floating candle or light. It moved in a regular, slow rising and falling pattern, behind the white curtains, seen through the windows. Has this been a regular feature?

  14. GKH, you're welcome.

    As for the effect you describe, that's actually been around for a long, long time, but it's frequently out of commission and a low priority to fix when it is, so consequently, it's not there more than it is there. However, I've never heard of it being in the cupola before. If that is correct, that's new.

    This is the only photo of the effect I've ever seen. As you can see, it's on the second floor, and in this case on the south side. That's more typical.

    1. The Shipley-Lydecker House: What's there now (slide bar to fade between photos):!/ll/39.283875,-76.657439/id/38719/info/sv/zoom/14/

    2. Actually, the light in the cupola was added with Haunted Mansion Holiday. It's supposed to be "Zero", the ghost dog, who's roaming back and forth up there. I don't remember which year he was added; I'm pretty sure it was after the first year (2001).

      They take it out when the Mansion is in its non-holiday form.

  15. Love your site, and thanks so much for a very plausible explanation to my original "Architectural Disconnects" post on!


  16. Great post! I always just assumed parts of both paradigms co-exist. But I love that knowing the Why behind it all doesn't stop you from buying it when you're a kid and filling in the blanks yourself.

    When I was little, I just assumed that things outside HM looked different than they did inside because everything scary/weird you saw inside -- from the time you walked through the door, till you exit the crypt -- was all a ghostly illusion. The lightening, the morphing architecture, the eternal stormy night outside the windows, the graveyard, all of it was spirits playing tricks on you.

    I think I'd seen "Lonesome Ghosts" too many times.

  17. I guess I have been an architecture nerd since childhood, but I recognized from the very beginning the differences between the inside and out, including the fact that what we saw was too big to fit inside that little house.

    I was perplexed by the exterior attic differences because they were quite obvious. Initially, I put it down to ghostly illusions from the fact that the interior of the house, once past the octagonal room really takes on the nature of a dream, crooked corridors, indefinite vistas, fog and smoke, night instead of day, etc. I never once thought it was due to a design disconnect. The Imagineers were too good at detail for that to happen.

    If there ever was any pretense to a coherent narrative by the designers, it must be somewhere between your two versions, as there are clear points for both in the present and the original design. I do rather doubt that every aspect of the iconography or stagecraft was established to support a consistent text, and I think the experience is richer for it. The viewer uses his own experiences, memories and emotions to fill in blanks and interpret ambiguities, each individual's experience is different because there is no fixed text.

    In my opinion, the attraction will be lessened by these on-going attempts to generate a cohesive backstory for the Mansion because it will diminish my effort to understand it in my own way.

    I very much doubt that our own experiences of our afterlife-to-come will resemble in any way what we are taught by our elders, whether in churches, or watching beetlejuice.

    The fact that our lives have the meanings we make of them by living them may be the real solution to both the Mansion and existence.


  18. I agree with your post far more than I disagree. "You're entering a sort of ghostly dreamworld" is as reasonable a hypothesis as any. Of course, as can be seen from Alice in Wonderland, even in a dream there can be internal consistency (aka "rules"). Architectural features never change right before Alice's eyes. Alice must shrink or grow to fit through too small or too large openings; she can't just pop through magically. And so forth. Since no single paradigm accounts for every last thing in the HM, there will probably always be room for alternative explanations. Artists create worlds, but those worlds cohere, so it's reasonable to pursue (if you wish) what sort of reality was in the back of the Imagineers' minds, and it's reasonable to suppose something was there. You never feel like you're in an anything-goes wackyland.

  19. Speaking of architectural nerds, if I could go back in time and recover a long-gone piece of paper, one that I'd love to have is a drawing my brother did, shortly after the HM opened. He was 16, I was 14. After we had ridden perhaps a grand total of six or seven times over the first couple of visits, he drew a rough floorplan of the ride. We knew the shape of the show building from those Sam McKim souvenir maps. Well sir, he just about nailed it perfectly, as I recall. Amazing architectural instincts.

  20. In regards to "the Mansion being entirely too new inside" (Disneyland or Walt Disney World) That comment is true ONLY if you believe your visit is taking place in modern times or the present, And it;s NOT.

    New Orleans Square (when built and up until a decade ago) was to represent the Crescent City during the 1850-1860 period. While in New Orleans Square, you are in the mid 19Th Century. So the Disneyland manse, is a home that has been shuttered for about a 10-20 year period. This still allows the Disneyland Mansion's architecture to be period correct. So the interior would have aged and become dusted and worn, but not to an extreme level. And I think the guests imagination allows for the interior to feel more rundown looking than the Imagineers have actually made it. We know why the house looks pristine on the outside--but it's OK it is. As guests visiting New Orleans Square in the mid 19Th Century, we know it's Haunted. That's what it's called..........the people in these parts call it that. But we aren't supposed to know the specifics. It's a mystery. And it should be. Each guests can wonder on their own--WHY is the mansion abandoned? What Happened? What could have happened to make people leave this beautiful house!1?? That's part of what makes the experience eerie.

    (the Ghost Hearse in front is awful --it ruins the mysterious feel and turns the experience into a tacky (any amusement spook house gag) --the same way WDW's Pirates entrance has been re-done--with pirate skeletons in tacky childish poses)

    Ok--The Florida mansion: I'll admit, the bat weather vane is kinda on the fence with being tacky. But, the manor houses built during the early 1800's up until the start of the Civil War in the Hudson River valley were often rather eccentric. People referred to them as "rich men folly's" These mixed many designs as they were trying to emulated palaces and estate homes of Europe. So when we see this Dutch-Colonial Gothic home, we think--maybe from the face-like decorative wrought iron and pointed architectural elements that maybe the owner builder was a tad eccentric--like so many of Poe's characters who also lived during this time frame. Liberty Square is suppose to be the Colonial period so we have a time range of the late 1690's thru about 1790's. The WDW mansion is a 1800-1830 style structure which is really the Federal period (or Biedermeier )But I think Imagineering implies that it must have been built slightly earlier than that--enough so that this mansion too, has been abandoned for some unknown reason. Long enough that the people of Liberty Square refer it to be indeed haunted. So this mansion shouldn't be too worn down.

    I'm glad that the mansions creators were subtle in the buildings designs and that they chose to make them architecturally authentic. And that they chose to creature unique structures for both parks.

    On the problem with the attic not matching the actual exterior of the house: What probably happened --since both mansions interiors were fabricated at the same time, it was probably more important for the Imagineer's to make the rider understand that they are in the attic --so the designers used strong attitct type imagery--smaller windows, sloped or mansard roof, widows walk trim--unfinished walls and rafters etc. This was more important I think to the interior show than reminding guests at that point what the Mansions exteriors look like on the outside.

    Another thing we have to remember is that these structures were built by film makers. People who for years have blended eras and styles to create specific moods and atmospheres for the movies and TV. And Disneyland and WDW are no different.

  21. Although it's still not "canon," there has been and still is a persistent understanding that the Anaheim house was built around 1800-1810, early enough to be witness to the War of 1812. It's the Sea Captain—Jean Lafitte subtext, which still seems to be alive. As for the immaculate exterior, it's not just the building, but the grounds are well-kept and lights are lit for your visit. How so, if it's an abandoned, reputedly haunted house? I've come to accept the butlers and maids as "real" actors in the show. One can imagine Constance (or whoever) setting up an endowment to fund the house's maintenance, run by a hired, independent executor, so that keeping the place in shape is almost like a small local business, motivated in part by civic pride (we'll tolerate no urban blight here!). None of that is far-fetched. So the grounds and most of the lower floor are well kept, but the upstairs they have truly abandoned. Haunted, you know.

    Also, whether we're happy about it or not, the Constance addition suggests a date of abandonment in the late 19th c., since her wedding dates are explicitly given, and the last one is in 1877. Her portrait as an older widow downstairs indicates that she lived here for at least a couple of decades after the wedding. There is also the terrible state of the ballroom, to the point where railings are collapsing. As we have seen, there is more than one possible explanation for the data, but the 1877 date makes a "present" date of 1850-60 rather difficult. One solution, of course, is to curse the modern Imagineers and mentally throw out the Constance addition as a violation.

    Your explanation of the attic is sensible, but still, they could have parked the discrepancy in more than one place. They could have made the interior of the attic exactly as it is, as atticky as can be, but then designed the exterior you see after you exit to match the actual exterior out front, and I don't suppose anyone would have minded much.

    The Victorian age was crawling with eccentrics, so odd things like bat-shaped weather vanes don't bother me too much.

  22. I've been reading your blog for a little over a month, and think it is truly amazing. I've been a Mansion fanatic for at least ten years now, and have learned even more from your blog.

    This question isn't relevant to this particular post, but I wasn't sure where else I could post it. Do you have any good photos of that vanity that stands at the far-left side of the ballroom balcony? The one just before you enter the attic? I know it consists of a mirror, desk, and several hats hanging off of it. It seems like a topic you'd be interested in investigating.

  23. Thanks for the kind words, Tab.

    It's called a "hall tree," and there's an excellent photo here:

    It doesn't seem to have much significance. For a long time it had a man's cane hanging on it as well as the lady's bonnet. I suggested once that either by accident or design these props pointed to the two characters originally populating the attic, since the Hatbox Ghost had a cane.

    1. HBG2, I've stumbled upon your site. What a treasure trove! Thanks for your caretaking of the Mansion.

      I had only one thought to add regarding the inconsistent architecture of the attic exterior verses the mansion facade: It's possible that it was the interior design of the attic that dictated that the extra in the graveyard turned out way that it did.

      If one takes the mockup you created of an exterior which could have been harmonious with the actual mansion facade, and then imagine what that would look like on the inside, without the slanted roof framing or dormer windows, it would feel a lot like just another room, not an attic.

      Just wanted to share that idea. Thanks again!

  24. The "Brought-to-Disneyland" idea could fit with the cemetery if we on the contrary think that Disneyland was BUILT ALL AROUND a preexistent mansion. That's not really impossible: if they had made maps for a New-Orleans area before, and that BAM in the landscape they bought there was already a New-Orleans-like mansion, why destroying it and rebuilding another which looks just like it afterward ? They just let it the way it was. Also, they had no authorization of moving or destroying the abandonned public graveyard, so they didn't. It's just right there, in the center of the Park, but Disney Imagineers are not allowed to change it. And anyway, the ghosts wouldn't agree. Also, we could assume that the Mansion originally had only the ghosts of its inhabitants ("Master Gracey" Ghost Host, Madam Leota, the two Brides, and so on), and maybe a few preexistent graveyards ghosts. Then Walt Disney decided to send messages all around the world, about that there was a haunted mansion for free for any homeless ghost (in a way that reminds the Walt Disney Comics Digest story "Spooky Tenants", which is readable for free on Haunted Mansion Wiki).

  25. In regards to the dancers, I think it's clear that these characters are aware they're dead, so I just figure they're simply content with dancing through the furniture, knowing it'll never be in the way of a ghost.

  26. The bit about the ballroom dancers and the table being an example of why the PW theory doesn't fit in there is interesting. Cause I mean, the table that Caesar and Co. are sitting at for the b-day party clearly exists for them. So that part could be PW. Maybe the ballroom is a mix of both viewa? Or the Imagineers didn't count on us looking that closely so they weren't consistent?

  27. I think I have a logical explanation on why the roof looks that way. The exterior of the mansion doesn't have a tall, steep roof, but on the ride, the attic appears to have slanted walls, implying a tall steep roof. So they decided to make the outside match the interior.

    1. The problem is, they designed that interior space knowing full well what the outside of the house looked like. Why didn't they match the attic interior a little better to the actual design of the house exterior, knowing that the attic would be the exit point?

  28. This comment doesn't help us understand anything better, but I thought it was kinda interesting: in a later post, you conjectured that there may have been plans to have a stretching portrait on each of the 8 walls in the stretching gallery, instead of the four we're familiar with. You cited as possible evidence one of the concept pieces in this article, the sketch of the garrett in which the corners of 2 paintings can be seen on either side of elderly Constance. I thought it was interesting that the sketch also includes the 8 window design of the garrett. If they did scrap the idea of 8 paintings, I wonder if the 8 window idea was scrapped around the same time. The paintings and windows don't have a direct connection that I can think of, but maybe it was more an artistic balance kind of thing. After all, the windows all appear to be on the same walls as the paintings in the finished attraction.

  29. The Stretching Room is a portal from which guests "cross over" to the Spirit World version of the Mansion. Notice the portrait hallway right after, with its windows and chicken exit door (in the same style as the doors in the Upstairs Corridor), does not at all match the exterior of the building we entered from the "Living World." So the transition occurs before the Limbo area.

    The Mausoleum is another portal between the two worlds. Remember the sign that used to be at the end of the ride: "DEAD END! Prepare to Exit to the Living World." - Mike S.

  30. The Mansion during the ride seems to be only a two-story house compared to the three-story facades at both DL and WDW.

    As for the idea that the mansion looks like a different house from the back, you can see the back of the Mansion at DL while you're in the queue. It's completely blank, with no windows or doors...


  31. This probably gets further discussed in the future, but looking back to here from 2022, thoughts at this point…

    The overall irrationality of the interior spaces certainly seem to be the point, regardless of paradigm. Disorientation! Sounds like a fun game. As a design, the stretching ‘room’ doesn’t even line up under the cupola, since there are actually the two, so true perspectives were never possible, or desirable. The distorted windows…as seen ‘through’ the ‘translucent floor’…also establish that it is nightime now... and forever! Hahaha. What a tour de force that second room on our tour is!