A breeze lifted the branch of a nearby tree as I stooped over a flower bed in search of old napkins, cigarette butts, guidebooks, cups and other such castaways. The tiny leaves of the branch ran along the back of my neck like fine fingers. I started and stood up straight. Then I saw it. I had been going to Disneyland for umpty years and had been working there for almost two. I had never seen it before.
My eye caught what looked like a yellowish ball of light bobbing gently past the inside of one of the upper story windows of the Mansion. As soon as I saw it, it was gone. I blinked, looked away, then glanced back up. Nothing. Well...I decided I'd better finish up my flower bed, sweep the queue and get out of there. I didn't even have a radio with me. Nope. Just me. And the Mansion.
I directed the beam of my flashlight back into the dark flower bed and gingerly picked out more debris with my pan and broom. I was pretty sure I had seen something, but tried to push it away as the reflection of an airplane in the window panes, or maybe one of my fellow cast members had shined their flashlight up there. Needless to say, I picked up the pace of my work. I looked forward to heading back to the area locker. I was working near the brick wall of the queue and meandering along the bullpen (that's what we lovingly call the area where guests line up) toward the porch of the Haunted Mansion. As I dumped my pan into one of the trash cans of the queue, my eye wandered up the facade toward those upper windows again.
There it was. The ghost. A flickering light moved across the inside of one of the windows again. There was NO mistaking it this time! Then...it moved on to the NEXT window! When it proceeded to pass in front of the NEXT window, then I knew. Darn Imagineers! This special effect was clearly an intended part of the attraction and could only be seen in the dark of night. What appeared to be the ghostly light of a candle moved along inside each of the windows, as though the widowed bride were marching around inside her home, waiting for the return of her captain.
The effect was well done, with a slowly bouncing, flickering light moving past the opaque curtains of the windows. It moved slowly from window to window, with a slight pause in between. When I had first glanced up, the light had reached one of the corner windows, so that it proceeded around the corner to the next window (where I couldn't see it). That is why I caught a glimpse and then it had appeared to vanish. Another smart part of the illusion was that the "walking light" paused for some time between cycles, so that the windows would return to their darkened state and, if you didn't stare up at them for a few moments, you might not notice the light when it began moving again.
Now I'm not saying that there aren't ghosts in the Mansion, but I almost became a believer on that summer evening! I kept that little effect under my hat, sharing it only with a few family members on evening trips to the Park. I have not been out there after dark at any time in the recent past. I wonder if the haunted candle is still pacing around the old house's windows...
. — Mike Kelly, "Jungle is 101" blog post, 9-16-08
When I was a kid...I thought I remembered something like [the traveling light] at Disneyland's mansion. But I'm never sure if it's an actual memory, something that I made up, or maybe a memory of one of the many dreams I've had about the Haunted Mansion throughout my life.
I do know that for years, whenever I was at Disneyland, I would look for a moving light in the windows of the Haunted Mansion, and over the course of those years I never (again?) saw it. I have never seen it mentioned anywhere, though, so I have no idea if I'm remembering it correctly.
. — Kenny Vee, "The Disney Files" blog post, 9-12
How Do They Do That?
To say the motif is well known would be a whopping understatement. Just by way of illustration, it's hard to count how many books, short stories and poems are titled or subtitled "A/The Light in the Window," and a lot of them seem to use the image to raise goosebumps.
effect, but I would think more likely by pure coincidence, so pervasive is the cliché.
On the most mundane level, the unexpected light in the window is evidence of occupation. Someone or something has taken up residence, here where no one supposedly resides. Storywise, it creates a tension. On a dark and stormy night, the light welcomes you to come in and find shelter, and yet it scares you away at the same time. The situation calls for discretion: Would it be bravery or stupidity to go in? Would it be prudence or cowardice to keep away? At this point in the story, it is always the case that you can still choose which path you will take.
That point of tension is so pivotal in so many scary tales that it is no wonder that the light in the window cliché continues to be heavily used, since it introduces that moment so well. "Drawn like a moth to a flame..."