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, June 1, 2013

Stroll Around the Grounds Until You Feel at Home, Part One

I've got about eight separate and yet loosely-related mini-topics that I'm going to present in a couple of posts. I suppose they're analogous to Disney "package" films, more like, say, The Three Caballeros than Pinocchio. The collections are not random: all of these topics have to do with things seen in the front yard of the Disneyland Mansion.  Today there are three mini-posts, and the common theme among them is color.

Oooooooo   Color -r-r-r-r

The Imagineers who built Disneyland came out of the animation studios, and that means they were sensitive colorists, among other things.  People who admire the end product have noted again and again how subtle and suitable is the use of color throughout the park. It's all quite deliberate and meticulously maintained (for the most part). (Hit that button again, would you?  Thanks.)  The last time I was at Disneyland I noticed for the first time that the stone "blocks" of Sleeping Beauty castle come in six different colors.  When you look at older photos, you find that they've been multicolored like that for a long time, maybe from the beginning. Some of the variations are so subtle that it's hard to pick up on them with the camera.  Why so many? especially since some are so similar?  Because it looks right. (Hit it one more time?  Thanks, you're awesome.) 

Off White

Nobody at Disney was more sensitive to the use of color in the parks than John Hench. He worked at Disney for 65 years, up until a few weeks before he died in 2004. My friends, whatever John Hench tells you about Disney design you can take to the bank.

"Because I said so."

According to Hench, the Disneyland Haunted Mansion is painted "off white." Strange name for a color, isn't it?  I mean, aren't red and blue "off white" too?  Well, nobody asked me.  As Hench explains it, the colors for the house are more psychologically complex than people realize.  

Sometime between 1976 and 1987.

“For Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, we wanted to create an imposing Southern-style house that would look old, but not in ruins.  So we painted it a cool off-white with dark, cold blue-gray accents in shadowed areas such as the porch ceilings and wrought-iron details.  To accentuate the eerie, deserted feeling, I had the underside of exterior details painted the same dark color, creating exaggerated, unnaturally deep cast shadows.  Since we associate dark shadows with things hidden, or half hidden, the shadow treatment enhanced the structure’s otherworldliness.  The park maintenance painters like the haunted effect.  I even received calls from guests who wanted to know the brand and swatch number of the paints so that they could use them on their own homes.”
 .                                                                                                                —John Hench, Designing Disney (NY: Disney Editions, 2003) 116.

These painting tricks are an example of signals sent from the Imagineers that are received unaware.  It's extremely unlikely that guests consciously notice the artificial shadowing, but very likely that it affects them psychologically, be it ever so slightly.  It's an interesting sort of interaction between artist and audience:  An expression fully intentional, very carefully thought out, and yet by design much too subtle for the conscious mind to engage.  I don't know.  Sounds illegal to me.

What Hench does not mention is that a radically different color scheme for the Mansion exterior was being contemplated practically from the moment it was first built.  You never hear about it, and were it not for the fact that a mysterious and unique document from those days survived and surfaced, it truly would be long forgotten.

That the house would be white (or off-white) seems clear enough from Sam McKim's iconic concept painting in 1958, which you will recall was a paint-over of a Ken Anderson sketch which was based in turn on the Shipley-Leydecker house in Baltimore.

For what it's worth, the Shipley house itself was white:

1945  (The house had been remodeled by then, and the side porches are gone.)

McKim's painting was put to immediate use in brochures and souvenir guides published over the next several
years, so public expectations about the house, long before it was even built, were that it would be a white building.

Sure enough, when the building went up in 1962, it was white.  Here it is in mid-1963, just
months after the last major landscaping around the brand-new building had been completed.

Everything indicates a straight, uninterrupted line from start to finish, a line that is painted off-white.  So where in the
grand scheme of things does this oft-published artifact belong?  It's a 1962 or 63 color guide for the Haunted Mansion.

Huh? No one seems to know anything about this rival color scheme.  Strange.  But we had better not lag behind
and puzzle over it today; we've got two more mini-topics to cover.  Mustn't dawdle.  Scroll on, scroll on.

Garden Variety Imagineering

Applied color theory doesn't end with the building itself.  Let's turn around and look at the front yard.  What a pleasant place it is!  Other, newer rides may have more exciting and entertaining queues (Star Tours, Indiana Jones, Tower of Terror), but for my money the Anaheim Mansion still takes the prize for most beautiful queue.

This is still true even though it used to be even more lovely.  Originally there were flower beds around the light posts.
For most of their history, they were warm, bright patches of yellow. They were taken out in 1991, give or take a year.

(pic by Robert Clavarro)

 1973                                                                                    Today


It's a pity they're gone, but even without the
flower beds, it's still beautiful out there.

While I miss the flowers, I can't get too worked up about their absence.  Perhaps they were a little too
cheery. It does seem a wee bit more serious and somber without them, and I can't complain about that.

And now, a question:  What are Halloween colors?  Black and Orange, right?

Are there any other good color schemes for Halloween?  How about Green and  Purple
(or Magenta)?  Just google "green purple Halloween," and brother, it's all you can eat.

Okay, fine.  Now what are the differences between the orange-black strategy and the green-purple one?  I can think of two:  (1) orange-black is inescapably juvenile, and (2) it's joined at the hip to Halloween.  It's difficult to use orange-black anywhere else, because it "looks Halloweeny" no matter what you do, and it's never adult-scary.  It's for kids.  Green-Purple, on the other hand, is not so tightly constrained.  Oh sure, it can go as cute and tricks-or-treatsy as anything orange-and-black (witness the above), but it can also be used for more adult scares, although it always seems to do so with tongue-in-cheek, never too far away from the campy side of horror.  I mean, no one uses the purple-green palette if the intent is to truly scare the crap out of you, but it can certainly be used for the gruesome and grim.  And green-purple is not tied down to Halloween.  It can be used to evoke spooks and spirits and ugly old creeps far beyond the October horizon.

No clearer example of putting this color combination to gleefully ghoulish use can be found
than Collin Campbell's artwork for the "Story and Song" Haunted Mansion souvenir album.

Just flip through those familiar eleven pages.  Sometimes it's green and purple,
but at other times it's purple and green.  For variety's sake, one supposes.
(The only exception is the Hat Box Ghost illustration: blue and purple.)

Here's another good example: a background painting from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad:

Is this a recent development, this perception of purple (or magenta) and green as a creepy combo?  No.

Do Disney artists use this palette elsewhere, for the same purposes?  Yes.
We've already cited Madame Mim, but that's barely the tip of the iceberg.

The "Hatchet Man" portrait in the Corridor of Doors at WDW

From The Princess and the Frog, a tribute to the animated "Leota" headstone at WDW

You see how it works.  Purple (or magenta) and green conjure up goblins and ghoulies, but not necessarily from last Halloween, and even though it's not a seriously horrific palette, it isn't particularly kid-friendly either (witness the Grand Guignol posters above).  All and all, it feels like a perfect fit for the Haunted Mansion, does it not?

1979 paper bag design

They used purple-green for the silver anniversary celebration in 1994:

Left to right that's John Hench, Bill Justice, Sam McKim, X Atencio, Disney archivist
Dave Smith, Disney historians David Mumford and Bruce Gordon, and Russell Brower.

No wonder Campbell went straight there and stayed there, and no
wonder everyone agrees that he hit the nail right on the head.

But you know, he wasn't the only one.

It remains only to show you some random pictures from the front yard gardens, taken during
the last 15 years or so.  The evidence is undeniable, the case is closed, 'nuff said, and Q.E.D.

(pic by PirateTinkerbell)

The plants get changed and moved around.  One year they may have a green-purple thing around the sundial,
and the next year it may be yellow there.  Green-purple coloration is always prominent somewhere, however.

Not surprisingly, they make good use of hardy plants
that give you both colors, like this Wandering Jew.

I've said it in other places, and now I'll say it here:  There is NO DEPARTMENT at Disneyland that produces more consistently excellent work than the landscape and groundskeeping crew, the gardeners, the flower and tree guys—whatever it is they most like to call themselves ["Horticulture," I'm told].  They know exactly what they're doing and they always do it well.  Gentlemen and women, I salute you.  You're the best in the business.

P.S.  Lonesome Ghost points out that I've overlooked an obvious example of the green-purple palate at the Mansions: The Butler's uniform.

Plaque Build-up

There's another item out here in front of the Mansion where color more or less tells the story, but it doesn't redound to anyone's credit quite so much.  In fact, it may be more an example of blundering to a happy conclusion than brilliant theory expertly applied.

Those handsome plaques that grace the posts of the entrance gate tell an amusing tale.  They're made of brass, which means they're an alloy of mostly copper and some zinc.  If you think of them as big pennies, their metallurgical metamorphoses may seem a bit less mysterious, for copper pennies also contain zinc (but also enough tin to classify them as bronze, not brass). You will recall that copper oxidizes to green.  (As many of you know, that's why the Statue of Liberty is green: her "skin" is copper.)

The plaques didn't go up until the Mansion opened, and they began as beautiful, brilliant, golden shields.  I remember
them when they were like that, and there are enough photos around to give you an idea of how impressive they were.

hm 69

The golden age didn't last even one full year.  They quickly turned brown.  Like a penny.

(bottom pic: Gorillas Don't Blog)

By 1975, the brown was already beginning to oxidize to green.

Here we are in December of 1977:

Here it is in 1978:

By the early 80's, they were very nearly as green as they are today.

After a few more years, they were.

Now here's the really dumb part.  In 1989 or 1990, someone was apparently horrified that the plaques had been so badly neglected, and so it was decreed that they should be restored to their original glory.  Down they came for a good polishing.  However, it seems that the best they could achieve was a nice caramel color.  (I am reminded by my readers that I could be wrong about all of this, and every step we see may have been consciously engineered.  Nevertheless, it's hard to see why someone would be so dissatisfied with the green that they went to this kind of trouble to change the color.)

Afterwards, someone must have realized how stupid it was to try to make what was supposed to be an old house look like it was still bright and shiny new.  Why not rejoice over the natural greening, the fact that the house really was beginning to show its age so authentically?  Here was Nature freely supplying something they normally have to fake, and they were trying to fight it!  True, the house is supposed to be kept up, not dilapidated, but this is different.  Even in carefully manicured environments, outdoor brass and bronze fixtures are often allowed to oxidize.

Anyway, they wised up and let them go back to green, and green they remain today.  I don't know if they gave them any chemical help to speed the process.  I would like to think they did not, but I must admit that the lettering and evenness point to some degree of artificial guidance, lending Nature a hand.  You can see them darkening up and starting to oxidize again in that 1994 25th anniversary shot earlier.

Several posts back we discussed how the authentic age and the checkered history of the building serve to enhance the pleasant
impression of an old and mysterious place.  In their own way, those sombre green plaques contribute to this phenomenon, I think.

This is the history of the plaques at Anaheim, but with a little effort you can find
plenty of photography documenting a similar story with the plaques at the WDW Mansion,
although in Orlando they seem to have resisted the green and clung to the brown more stubbornly.


There are many more curiosities waiting for us in the front yard,
some that you know about and some that you don't.  Next time.


  1. I suspect that the patina on the plaques has been carefully maintained. The contrast between the letter forms and the convex surface of the rest of the plaque would not happen naturally if the casting is done in one piece from a single alloy. Also, when they chose to polish the plaque in the late 80s, they could certainly have removed all the patina and made it look new. The mellow bronze color was probable very deliberate. I think you don't give them enough credit for being aware of the metallurgy involved and how to use it to achieve a specific look. Additionally, over that period of time, if just let to weather naturally, there would probably be quite a large discoloration of the bricks below the plaque as oxides are leached from the metal surface by rain.

    Just some friendly feedback. I'm enjoying your sight very much!

    1. You may well be right. I'm certainly no metallurgist, but I do know that "brass" and "bronze" are imprecise terms that leave room for a variety of alloy recipes, and exactly how each variation would react to the weather is well beyond my ken. I do know that a process of what appears to be gradual change from gold to brown to green took place, so at least some of what we see is probably natural. How much was natural and how much of it was engineered, I cannot say. The lettering was darker than the background right from the beginning, so some kind of tincturing or treatment no doubt took place. Difficult to say how well that was maintained as time went on, since in some pictures the lettering looks the same color as the rest of the plaque. One can contrast the WDW plaques, which in older pictures DO look like they were simply left to fend for themselves. See this:

      Any of you metallurgists who wish you could get a closer look, here's a ludicrously close close-up of the skull at the bottom of the plaque:

    2. I've made some changes in the post, in view of points your raise.

  2. Loved this post -- funny and illuminating in all the right places. Always such a joy to see an update here. :-D

  3. Green and purple. The color of bruises. The color of mold and decay. These are the associations connected to this pallet.

    1. Very good, very good, and that may well be the right track, but I wonder why that combination always seems to verge on camp. For authentic, deadly serious horrification, we leave purple and green and go to red, black, and silver. That's easy enough: Blood, darkness, and the glint of cold steel. But what's so funny about bruises and decay?

    2. Well, this needs a mention:

      Anyway, as far as camp, bright green might be funny because of it's associations with certain bodily fluids (like the kind that drip from the nose?). We generally consider such green things to be disgusting and impolite, two things that are unfailingly funny when you're a kid. Purple was royal once, but went on to be associated with vanity and isn't the sort of color serious/sober/boring people would be caught dead (beg pardon) wearing the rest of the year.

      Red-violet and yellow-green are at opposite ends of the color wheel, so they not only complement each other, they pop cartoonishly. In other words, they look silly.

  4. Very cool indeed, I am liking that for sure.

  5. Never having been to Disneyland ( Only Disney World ) I never knew that the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland looks completely different than the one at Disney World. Interesting.

  6. Off topic, but I couldn't find a contact link, so selfishly posting my question here... ;)
    Have you done any posts speculating about where the Haunted Mansion is supposed to be LOCATED? You know, in "the real world"? We know, for example, thanks to The Story and Song... that it sits next to a public cemetery and is near a populated neighborhood (Mike and Karen passed it walking home from a date, after all, and its a house that people avoid walking past at night) while still being remote enough to be the only available shelter when caught in a sudden rainstorm. What other clues are there? (I'm completely ignoring the feature film, which I consider out-of-canon)

    1. According to the usual understanding of the imaginary world in which the house exists, it's in New Orleans. You're in New Orleans Square. It's a southern plantation-style house, built sometime around 1800. Remember also the on-again, off-again shadow plans to subsume POTC, Tom Sawyer Island, and the HM under a Jean Lafitte ├╝bertheme, which at the very least tells us how WDI tends to regard it.

  7. "Off-white" is sometimes called "dirty-white" by us artistic types, because it has the effect of being dirty or dingy looking, "pure white" on the other hand comes across as bright and pristine

    And I think Disney may have invented the purple and green color combination with Maleficent's castle in "Sleeping Beauty". The interior scenes of it are really unnerving juxtaposed to the cheerful pastels of the rest of the film. Just like you pointed out the subtle colors of the bricks on Sleeping Beauty's castle in the park, and the purple and green plants in the Mansion garden, someone must of realized somewhere along the way, that the Maleficent colors would work better in the garden than the gold flowers

  8. What kind of plants are in the yard (the purple ones)? Ive heard of black lace elderberry, but not sure what's there.

    1. A fairly complete plant list can be found here:

  9. Madam Mim!:)

    Also, I personally like the greenish plaques. I do believe Disney uses them in that color now for promotional stuff, so they've pretty much embraced it:) The movie, while out-of-canon, does use this color scheme for its logo.


  10. One very recognizable use of the green and purple scheme areatman's gallery of rouges. Modern iterations of the characters tend to be much darker but even Heath Ledger's Joker wore the green vest and purple jacket. Most of the Batman villians began with this color scheme, joker, riddler, penguin, catwoman, killer croc. In comic book art direction with both DC and Marvel comics, it's a common color combo, the hulk comes to mind.

  11. Do you think that the paint on the exterior wrought iron has changed over the years? It could just be the result of different film stocks not reproducing colors accurately, but it seems that, in earlier photos, the wrought iron is less green than it is now.

    See this photo for example (though I have noticed it in other early pix):

    It looks more grayish (perhaps with a touch of yellowish green), instead of the "celadon" that I think it is painted today.

    Or am I crazy?!

    1. I've got a lot of exterior shots from 1962 till now, and colors wander all over the place, depending on film stock, lighting, age of the photo, camera, smog, etc. Evaluating subtle shades in all of that is pretty hopeless, but fwiw, I've seen enough old photos where the wrought iron looks a lot like it does now to convince me that most probably they haven't changed it. Here are a random pair, one from 1967 and the other from 2008. Not a lot of difference that I can see.

  12. You're right, it does look basically the same!

  13. Disney's plant people are called "horticulture", just FYI. Excellent post!

  14. I do not wish to insult the fine people in horticulture at Disneyland. They clearly do exemplary work.
    But to state outright that they are the best at what they do seems to ignore the fact that Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA has consistently been named the most beautiful theme park in the world by two different groups over the last 18-22 years.
    Perhaps a very small semantic stretch allows us to regard what you are talking about is themed horticulture versus beauty and that a lot of different things go into BGW being beautiful other than the plant life there.
    In fact, I've just decided to reconcile it exactly that way.
    Thanks for listening.
    And for another interesting post!

    1. You're welcome. I don't have any experience with the Busch Gardens in Virginia, but yes, my praise for the Disneyland horticulturalists is motivated by their attention to thematic detail as well as beauty. Their deliberate choices of color palettes appropriate to the attractions is only one of many things they do well. For example, the "Southern Plantation House" setting begs for some weeping willows, but those trees don't do very well in Anaheim, so they use "Weeping Mulberry" and "Tolleson's Weeping Juniper" to achieve a similar look. My favorite touch is the "Society Garlic" (Tulbaghia violacea) they plant around the Skunk tombstone in the front yard pet cemetery, because the plant has a "skunky" odor. That sort of thing.

  15. Lovely post (as always!)!


    I didn't know that they polished the plaque. I think the green-ish looked natural and true to the exterior part.

    Btw, am I the only one who actually pressed the button when you said so in the first paragraph?


  16. The green and purple motif is established for the mansion before you even see it; the poster advertising the mansion at the entrance of the park also is green and dark blue/purple.

    1. Better check again. There's lots of pale, light blue, but no dark blue or purple.