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, April 5, 2014

Armor Gettin'

There is an old, unanswered question that will today be given a definitive answer, an unquiet spirit finally laid to rest after nearly half a century of restless haunting.  Don't misunderstand.  It's not what anyone would call an earthshaking discovery; frankly, it's more of an earth-yawned-rolled-over-and-went-back-to-sleep discovery.  But even though it's a minor mystery, it's a prominent mystery, so I suspect that a lot of you have wondered about it now and then, even if it isn't something that has kept you awake at night.  If it serves its purpose, this post performs the respectable if unheroic task of scratching a little itch you've always had.  Merry Christmas.

As it happens, solving this mystery only reveals another one.  In addition, the whole topic revolves around a familiar fixture found in most spooky old manor houses and haunted castles.  In fact, when it comes to haunted furnishings, that fixture is the cliché of all clichés, and yet it's rarely discussed.  So we will.  A little, anyway.

Suitable Suits

I am talking about that ubiquitous prop, your friend and mine, the suit of armor. With movies and TV shows, it seems like the cheaper the gothic horror story, the more likely it is that these guys are going to show up, since they're easily acquired from practically any prop house, probably don't cost much to rent, and they never fail to get the job done. If you're a set designer with a tight budget trying to create an old haunted house, one or two suits of armor are as indispensable as cobwebbing.

And when we go inside . . .

. . . it's just as I feared.

The 2003 Haunted Mansion movie wasn't low budget, so it went whole hog and gave us an entire armory, a suite of suits.  Set design is just about the only aspect of that film that everyone seems to agree was excellent, and the armory was no exception.  It was very menacing, very effective.

Nathan Schroeder's breathtaking concept art was the best thing about the entire movie, if you ask me.

Avoid a Void (especially if it carries a mace)

It isn't hard to explain why suits of armor are scary.  First of all, they're ancient and unfamiliar, from another time and place, and often they are holding wicked-looking weaponry.  Armor, after all, is supposed to look intimidating.  Second, they present you with a human-shaped vacuum that could easily be a hiding place for a prankster or a villain—you can't tell by looking.  Since you don't know for sure if anything is in there, when you see one your fight-or-flight instinct is automatically put on low level alert (otherwise known as the jitters).  Funny, but you can't help imagining them starting to move, however vague or backgrounded or foolish this anticipation might be. Third (and best of all in my book), despite any misgivings you may have, it is nevertheless presumed that suits of armor are likely to be empty, which is to say they contain nothing, they define a void, they create a something-that-isn't-there, and this "nothing" is in the shape of a human.  See?  You've practically molded for yourself a ghost, instantly and automatically!  With a suit of armor, it's all so easy that it's practically cheating.


By including an armory, the Haunted Mansion movie actually made a radical departure from the attraction, which is surprisingly restrained in using this prop.  When Marc Davis did his concept artwork for the "Great Hall," he did put a pair of giant suits of armor at the entrance and another pair at the exit, but they were never used.

That didn't take long.  That's the fourth go-round for this artwork.

If you think about it, it would have been easy to put armor in both the changing portrait hall and in the limbo loading area at Disneyland or along the walls in the corridor and load area at WDW and Tokyo, and it wouldn't have looked half bad, but the Imagineers chose not to.  There are, of course, a few depictions of knights in armor—the Black Prince near the beginning and the Decapitated Knight near the end—and in the Disneyland Mansion there are a couple of suits in the background of the attic as random junk.  While we are at it, I suppose we should also mention the well-known experiment in 1985, when they put an actor in a suit of armor in the Corridor of Doors, frightening guests the easy way.

When yours truly saw him, he was like the above, unarmed, and he stayed well back from the buggies, mostly just striking poses.  That's because guests had reacted unpredictably and even violently at first, so the actor backed off and chilled out a bit.  Eventually they equipped him with a device like a garage-door opener so he could stop the ride whenever he saw guests engaged in chemical or zoological activity inappropriate to a Disney park.  For a short time at the beginning, he was armed with a huge axe, as in the concept art below.  One supposes that he could have put the kabosh on smokin' and pokin' just as efficiently with that, but legal issues and blah blah blah.

They discontinued this experiment after that one summer.

A Knight to Remember

But all of that is piddlesome trivia.  When most people speak of "the suit of armor in the Haunted Mansion," they mean the one standing to the right of the Endless Hallway.  He's really the only one that counts.  In true haunted house fashion, he's animated, just enough to cause a "what was that?" reaction.  Originally he was going to be on the left side, and one or the other of his arms was going to jiggle in conjunction with booming footsteps walking up and down the hallways, an effect never used (and discussed HERE).

(pix by Loren Javier, Old Grimm Guy, and of course Dave)

He was on display in the Disney Gallery in Disneyland during 2003, so there are lots of nice, clear photos of him in circulation.

(pic by Allen Huffmann)

How about an atmospheric 3D view, "magic eye" style as usual.

The WDW and Tokyo versions are not absolutely identical, but they are very similar.  What you've
got is a pretty standard-looking suit of armor except for that bizarre, bird-beaked helmet. Those
stars (or suns? flowers?? ) riveted to the sides are something I've seen before, but not on a helmet.

(hat tip CC)

Many Mansionites have wondered for a long time where on earth they got the
inspiration for that funny headgear.  Well, your days of wondering are over.

Armor for Albert

The Archbishop of Mainz from 1514-1545 was one Albrecht von Brandenburg (1490-1545).  He is mostly remembered today as an early foil to Martin Luther at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Albrecht by Lucas Cranach the Elder

It was Albrecht who commissioned John Tetzel to sell indulgences for the Church. Famously, Tetzel went about this task in an exceptionally crass and mercantile manner ("when the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs").  This so infuriated Luther that he nailed his famous Ninety-Five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg.  Albrecht thought they looked a little heretical and forwarded them to the Pope, and bang, the Reformation had begun.  For a time Luther hoped that he might find an ally in the Archbishop, who was known for his broad education and generally liberal views, but in the end Albrecht came down firmly on the side of the Church and against Luther.

Anyway, in about 1526 Albrecht had a set of "costume armor" made (i.e. armor not for combat but for show).  Today it stands in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  One glance at the helmet (below right) and there is no doubt that we have found the model for
the one used in the Haunted Mansion (below left).

(pix by Allen Huffmann and by Fiona Moore at flickr)

(pic by Tomasz Wladarczyk at flickr)

So there it is.
Itch scratched.
Mystery solved.
Merry Christmas.
Good bye for now.

You're still here. You say you want
to see the rest of the armor? Why? It
was the helmet we were interested in,
and now you've seen it,  so we're done.
Don't you have some Christmas shopping
to do or something?    You shouldn't be
wasting the whole day on the Internet,
you know.   Now shoo, out with you.
Scoot. See you next time. Toodles.

Oh . . . all right.

Brace yourselves.

(pic by Jason Howse at flickr)

I tried to spare you, but oh no, you just had to look.  And what you've seen you can never unsee.  There
may be stupider looking suits of armor in existence, but there can't be many.  I feel like Ralphie's mom:

There.  I've said it.

Now that we've broached the subject, can you imagine what would have happened if they had copied the whole thing, not just the helmet?  I'll tell you what would have happened.  We would all be wasting time talking about an Endless Hallway with a Donald Duck chair on the left and what is obviously Donald Duck armor on the right.  We would wonder if we should start looking for "Hidden Donalds" around the Mansion.  And undoubtedly we would start finding them.  Someone would start a blog.

In fairness, the armor may not have looked quite so odd in Albrecht's day.  The "skirt" and the
Ronald McDonald shoes can be found elsewhere in the museum, although they're less extreme.

(right pic by cphoffmann42 at flickr)

But we're not in Albrecht's day, are we?  We're in our day, and in our day Albrecht's armor
looks simply ridiculous.  Maybe it would look better in a more haunted environment?

Okay, I guess not.  I wonder if Albrecht had an armored purse to complete the ensemble?

It's understandable that someone would take notice of this armor in a catalogue of photos in an old book somewhere.  No one can resist looking at a car wreck.  But why did they linger? Seriously, why did they spend the extra time and money duplicating this helmet when a standard issue could easily have been found in Disney prop storage somewhere?  I haven't a clue.

A New Mystery

So now the mystery is why they borrowed anything at all from this . . . thing.

I don't know who was responsible either.  Ken Anderson did a very cool sketch of a haunted suit of armor when he was working on the Haunted House in the 50's, but the armor itself is normal looking enough.

And even in his most surrealistic moments, Marc Davis gave us nothing but stereotypical armor in his artwork.

I wonder if Rolly Crump is responsible?  Was this his way of rebelling against the utilization of the hoariest cliché in the book? a way of turning it into something no one had ever seen before?  As we know, that was what he thought the Haunted Mansion should be: a place full of things no one had ever seen before.  Maybe.

Or is the helmet part of the Imagineers' efforts to emphasize the gryphon imagery in this part of the ride (discussed HERE and HERE)?  Maybe.

One thing we know for certain is that the helmet was like this from the very beginning.

( pic by Jeff Cook )

I note that they made the helmet look more masculine by flaring out the bottom into more of a bell shape, giving the look of a bull neck rather
than a bird neck.  In many other ways, however, the copy is quite slavish, like the careful duplication of the little  ~ shaped hole in the beak.

(pics by Old Grimm Guy and by Callie Giles at flickr)

Whatever the reason for it, I don't want to leave a false impression.  I actually do like the helmet.  The helmet's great.  It's intriguing, and
just as scary as any other kind.  The one place where the Mansion used the armor cliché, they gave it a mysterious twist, so I say good on 'em.

That's it for this outing, but make yourself nice and comfortable in this location, Forgottenistas, because we're going to be
exploring this room and the Corridor of Doors over the next couple of posts.  Some gooood stuff is comin' up, so stay tuned.


Post Script:  This is not the only time Albrecht's helmet has been duplicated.  As of this writing, you can get one for
yourself from Outfit4Events for about 550 euros.  There is no hint at the site that they are aware of the Mansion version.


  1. Man, that's a dumb suit of armor.

    I was quite surprised by the CA suit of armor the first time I saw it, not because of its shield, but because of the way it moves - a quick little jerk of the arms. Once I learned that the idea was to have the armor be reacting to footsteps shaking the floor, the movements make more sense, and of course without the original sound component, the mind simply reads the motion as an unexpected "did I just see that?"

    Amongst many suspect things done to the WDW Mansion in 2007, one of the things I still understand the least was the decision to spend money redoing the suit of armor. It's interesting that back in 1971, WED didn't just clone the DL armor and be done with it, they slightly re-engineered the figure. Instead of both points of articulation being at the elbows, one was moved into the base of the figure... most of the blueprints of him online are of of this "Mach 1971" version. As he originally appeared in the attraction, the armor would ever so slightly appear to shift its weight with the arm facing the cars moved up and down. In later years, a faster motor was used, so the armor appeared to wiggle instead of just ever so slightly shift.

    It's kind of a smart change to make, especially since the armor appears after we've already seen moving books and a piano playing itself, instead of right after the bat after getting on the ride. Yeah, it didn't look exactly great, but it got the job done and was creepy. Of course, the MK 2007 refurb team's desire to make every part of the ride exactly like Disneyland means they stuck a shield on the hand nearest the omnimover track. Somebody decided that the "shifting weight" animation was bad, or something, so they appear to have anchored the armor in place and moved the solenoid valve to instead animate the axe, which I guess was the nearest they could come to keeping the armor stiff and only moving the arms, just like at Disneyland?

    The resulting concoction is a suit of armor that wiggles around for no describable reason. It's not the subtle "twitch" at Disneyland or the methodical weight-shifting as originally devised, it's just a bunch of random motions. And, once again, they may have undone more smartly considered revisions Coats worked into the Florida ride. If you put a gun to my head, I'm forced to concede that it's fine, but I'm simply amazed at the things WDI spent money to "improve" with little idea of why they were the way they were.

  2. "Nathan Schroeder's breathtaking concept art was the best thing about the entire movie, if you ask me."

    As vehemently as I agree I feel that, given the quality of the movie, this comes across as damning with faint praise. It's a sad thing that the movie's lackluster ticket sales and other, er, weaknesses probably knocked Schroeder and his fellow set designers out of being contenders for an Oscar.

    1. Yep, that's why I was careful to include the adjective "breathtaking." It's really something to see.

  3. I was responsible for the armour used in the Haunted Mansion movie, and also played the "spirit" in the green Indian "Coat of 10,000 nails" armour. I have been studying arms and armour for over 30 years. I am familiar with Albrecht's armor, but I am embarrassed to say, I did not know it was the inspiration for the armour used in the ride. (especially since my wife and my brother both work at WDI)
    I wish I had known for I would have suggested we use that armour for the film. As for it looking ridiculous, I must disagree. This style of armour was called a tonlet armour, and the skirt arrangement was a copy of the waffenrock worn by men in Germany at this time in history. These armours were not just for parade, they were used in tournaments and were quite the cool thing in the 16th century. The helmets were know as Grotesque's and again were quite common during this period. I would suggest, that this fashion is perhaps less ridiculous looking than say giant gold chains with diamond incrusted words or underwear hanging out... Thanks for posting this.

    1. Well first of all, kudos for your work in the film. I notice that the armor is from all over the historical and geographical landscape, which must have been a lot of fun to incorporate. And I'm not surprised that someone with a deep interest in armory would have long ago learned to appreciate and even admire something that strikes the ordinary layman today as funny-looking. I think something like that happens along the way to a state of expertise in many fields. It's why Medical Examiners don't get grossed out and gastropodologists think slugs are beautiful. But we of the ignorant rabble can still poke a little good-natured fun.

  4. The armored skirt is called a 'tonlet', and that style of armor is designed for tournament contests conducted over a waist-high barrier. Since strikes to the legs are against the rules in that style of tournament, they just used something designed to make illegal low blows obvious (they swing the skirt around) and to protect the wearer from glancing blows. The duck-foot armor for the feet is common for what's known as Maximillian-era armor, so named for the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire at the time. The armored shoes mimic the shape of fashionable footwear at the time.

    There's a wonderfully decorated tonlet armor for Henry the Eighth in the Royal Armories in England, and it has the duck-foot shoes. You can see the same shoe shape in several full-length portraits of Henry VIII. Check it out here:

    1. Thanks for that. "Tonlet." Armory has its own unique and sizable vocabulary, although I think British nautical terminology has it beat for sheer number of words. Useful for Scrabble players.

    2. Yep. Tournament fighting was a very specialized, very prestigious industry, and while it did create some unusual suits, they all served a specific purpose. As Anon noted, the tonlet was for fighting at the barriers, and the duckfooted sollerets were for ground fighting (you didn't trip over them), unlike the long skinny ones for jousting (which were so pointed to ensure that the foot wouldn't slip from the stirrup- something impossible to rectify on horseback).

      Actual combat suits were far more functional and multipurpose, unless they were Italian. The Maximilian suits by Seusenhofer were a pinnacle of metallurgy and craft- fluted for strength and to direct points away from the body, wonderfully mobile- but the Italianate suits of the Milanese school in the same era were beautiful beyond description, but just not as serviceable (high embossing, strange, vulnerable pauldron design, etc.)

      I recommend The Armourer and His Craft by Charles Ffoulkes as a good intro to the art form. It's a fascinating read and got me into the trade. I'm not sure that the armoury vocab is smaller than naval, but it'd mostly be DQ'd by Scrabble for being in other languages than English ;)

    3. I notice that on Albrecht's tonlet there appear to be conspicuous, removable sections front and rear, which I suppose are there to enable horseback riding.

  5. The little ~ on the helmets look like a goofy grin, especially on the Mansion armor. The chair "face" in the same hall also seems to be grinning. It seems like we're being laughed at, perhaps on a subconscious level.

  6. Ha ha ha, that's ridiculous. ;)

  7. Wow, cool post chock-full of pictures I've never seen!

    The shape of the helmet presages, with the powers of Madame Leota, Disney's acquisition of Star Wars and the Muppets. Note the resemblances to Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, Gonzo, and Sam the American Eagle.

    I used to love Longfellow's "The Skeleton in Armor" when I was a kid. And, of course, supernatural pieces of armor figure into the granddaddy of Gothic novels, The Castle of Otranto.

    I can't seem to find a good picture that shows the whole collection, but one of the more interesting displays I saw in the armoury of the Tower of London was a set of suits of armor that Henry VIII had worn at various stages in his life from slim young man to rather large old man. (There was also a neat set of Japanese armor a Shogun had given to James I. And the Line of Kings, which has apparently undergone a major reworking since I was there in 2001.)

  8. The religious nature of this armor's history is well SUITED to your Biblical studies background. Get it? Suited? Armor? Heh heh. I'll... show myself out.

  9. What fun finding this blog today via some unrelated Google search. I was happy to see one of the photos I took used, with watermark intact and even credit given -- seems most folks just steal pictures :) Good deal!

  10. The Suit reminds me of Marvin the Martian.

  11. Forgive me if I'm being a bit thick, but when you say "guests involved in zoological activity"...are you implying what I think you are? I know Adventures Thru Inner Space was rife of those sorts of things through it's time.