Notes about Ken Anderson added, July-August, 2017. Further updates, November 2019
That's right, a boat ride. It's only a footnote in most reviews of the Mansion's historical development, but for a short period the Imagineers toyed with the idea of making the Haunted Mansion a water attraction. This was back when (1) they knew that the Mansion needed some sort of conveyance for the guests but (2) before the Omnimover system came along in 1967 and solved the problem. By the way, the problem was not ride capacity per se. By deciding to build two identical walk-thru attractions side by side, the guests-per-hour numbers seemed manageable. (You will recall that this is why they built two stretching galleries in the first place. Each would lead to a different walk-thru.) No, the problem was crowd control. Could you keep these packs of 50 or 60 people moving efficiently, or would there be backups if, say, one frightened child held up the proceedings? And could you prevent vandalism well enough with such a system? Those were the sorts of problems that had them searching for some way to make it a ride ride.
For me, the idea of making the Haunted Mansion a boat ride is the most intriguing conveyance possibility they ever seriously considered.
A Silly Spook May Sit Bayou Side
A Silly Spook May Sit Bayou Side
The first thing that needs to be said is that the concept is not ridiculous. The high water table in New Orleans makes the idea of an old plantation house partially submerged in a bayou a plausible enough setting.
Abandoned mansion in Nawlins swamp (Morten Repsdorph Husfeldt on Facebook)
As a matter of fact, the ride's graveyard scene was originally going to be a swampier affair, with bogs and frogs and trickling streams. (A trace of this remains in the tea party tableau, where a hearse is supposedly stuck in the mud.)
The problem is that practically nothing has been published in the way of artwork, whereby we may satisfy our curiosity. But hey, since when has lack of evidence slowed us down? At Long-Forgotten we laugh at lack of evidence. Ha ha, laugh we. Anyway, it turns out there are clues to be found in various crooked fannies, and these clues will allow us to at least raise our guesswork to the level of informed speculation, even if a goal as modest as simple probability remains out of reach.
So . . . prepare to make sail.
Good Old Fred
It was Fred Joerger who came up with the concept. Fred was mainly a model maker for the Mansion, but he had experience as a set designer as well. As he tells it, he first brought the idea to Claude Coats. Why not put in an old bayou with about three feet of water and take guests through in boats? There would be complete crowd control, and there could be "keen illusions" involving things coming up out of the water, as well as reflection effects. There would be wallpaper peeling off the walls, and all that sort of thing.
According to Joerger, Claude liked the idea and suggested they run it by Walt. Walt came by "just a little later," but when Claude told him about Fred's concept, the boss scuttled the idea immediately: "We've got too many boat rides already." Joerger always thought that was pretty ironic, considering that this was before they had built Small World or Pirates of the Caribbean (Didier Ghez, Walt's People: Volume 6 [Xlibris, 2008] 231).
Joerger (left) working with Claude Coats on POTC
Other accounts suggest that the idea was alive for a longer period. Either the Imagineers continued to develop it despite Walt's initially negative response (very possible), or Joerger has compressed the events in his memory into a shortened time frame. There were several different guys who reportedly worked on the project at one point or another. According to Imagineer Pat Burke, Sam McKim showed him some concept artwork he had done depicting boats floating through a flooded Haunted Mansion. Burke thought it was "much like the Blue Bayou" in its themeing. Marc Davis also makes passing reference to the boat idea (The "E" Ticket 16  22), and Yale Gracey reportedly did some work on it, no doubt cooking up special effects that would work in such a setting (Jason Surrell, The Haunted Mansion [NY: Disney Editions, 2009] 32). Rolly Crump remembers that "we toyed with the idea of putting them [guests] in a boat, and the Haunted Mansion was underwater because of floods and stuff...." MDIHOW 375.
If Coats and Davis were involved, and Walt vetted it, we can probably assign a date of 1964 or 1965 for Fred's brainstorm. Judging by the number of Imagineers who worked on it, the idea must have remained afloat for a respectable length of time before it was finally abandoned. As we shall soon see, this could be useful information.
bayou below the foundation of the house" (The "E" Ticket 13 [Summer 1992] 5; our emphasis).
Elsewhere Anderson describes the scene in more detail. Once the guide was taken out of the way (by a hairy arm), the "haunted house ghost" would express his delight with now being in charge of the tour, telling the guests, "I'm going to take you down and show you the way it really is. We'll go into the place where it is just a bayou." The guests would sink down on the conveyance device Anderson had devised, and there would be muddy water all around, although there would be no boat ride (Paul Anderson, Jack of All Trades: Conversations with Disney Legend Ken Anderson [Theme Park Press, 2017] 217; our emphasis).
Redmond's Watery Watercolors
Has any artwork for Joeger's concept ever made it out into the public eye? McKim's sketches, if they still exist, remain unpublished. However, there is a pair of eerie Dorothea Redmond watercolors worth looking at. They are identified as concept art for the Haunted Mansion. We've seen a couple of Redmond's Mansion paintings before. They're moody and serious, but also surrealistic and hallucinatory. Claude Coats meets Rolly Crump, you could say:
This first Redmond painting we are examining is 100% pure surrealism:
The painting is ©WED 1967, but that is merely the latest possible date. Sometimes artworks weren't catalogued until well after they had been executed, so caution is always in order. At any rate, works like this presume Rolly Crump's weird and nightmarish approach to interior decoration. Such an approach was assumed even by Marc Davis, as we have seen (and seen and seen).
Another surreal Redmond painting ("Dungeon") may be relevant as well:
What interests us here is the architectural venue for these two paintings. It looks like the viewer is passing by a series of arches, with dreamlike tableaux within the niches. It doesn't seem right for a walk-thru. Are we riding in a boat? The floors in both paintings certainly seem "watery," and besides the general mistiness and reflectivity, you can see ripples and rings in both paintings if you look closely.
If I'm reading them correctly (a big "if"), these two Dorothea Redmond
paintings may be the only artwork currently available that reflects Joeger's idea.
Only in the Movies
A partially flooded Mansion was realized at least once—on film. The 2003 Haunted Mansion movie makes use of a concept similar to Joerger's. After a heavy rain, a huge underground crypt is flooded and serves as the locale for a major scene in the film. Presumably, the basement levels of the house itself would also be flooded, although you never see this in the movie.
Nathan Schroeder concept sketch
Schroeder sketch of the flooded crypt. I've had a lot of fun playing with this one
(see below). For what it's worth, compare this with the blue Redmond painting above.
Is that all, then? What have we got? (1) a few quick descriptions, (2) a couple of very ambiguous watercolors, and (3) a flooded crypt in the 2003 movie. Beyond these fragments shored against the ruins, is there some way by which we may get our heads back into this boat ride version of the Haunted Mansion? Aye, me hardies, that thar be.
Pirates of the Cari-booo-an
That's . . . bad. Anyway, we've assigned Fred's light bulb moment to about 1964 or 1965 and concluded that it was probably a live option for some time. So what? Here's what: It means that the Haunted Mansion boat ride idea was born, lived, and died during the same time period that the Imagineers were hard at work on Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt had already decided by the end of 1963 that POTC would be a boat ride, with guests going down a waterfall and beyond the berm to a big show building. Coats and Davis and many others were knee deep in the POTC project in that format by 1965. If that is the historical context for Fred's Mansion idea, we may reasonably ask if any vestiges of the abandoned concept were incorporated into POTC. I think it's possible. Note that one of the very few things we know about concept artwork for this version of the HM is that it reminded one viewer of the Blue Bayou. Well, that artwork was done before the Blue Bayou was built.
I want to focus our attention on a section at the other end of the ride, however:
the passage below the burning town, between the jail scene and the arsenal scene.
There it is, by the way. The Chair. Have you ever failed to notice it, even the first time you went on the ride? Do you ever fail to notice it even now? I ask you: is there a better-placed single piece of random debris anywhere in Disneyland? (Don't bother thinking about it; the answer is no.)
I note that Dave DeCaro, too, has fallen under the spell of The Chair. You Disneylander readers, you have too, haven't you? Did so long ago, didn't you? There's also a table up there with a shawl hanging off of it. It too captures your attention for some reason, but nothing beats The Chair.
Before he graduated to more sophisticated cameras and started producing these rich, atmospheric shots, Dave took some simpler flash pictures. In a way, they're better suited to our purpose. Okay, in the following photos imagine you are peering upward not into the half-charred beams of a burning town but into the decaying interior of an old house. Floors have rotted through, and stuff has fallen. Stuff like chairs and tables. In these POTC pix, all you really need to do is replace the red embers in your imagination with Spanish moss or creeping vines, and perhaps put in some of Joerger's "peeling wallpaper."
A boat ride through the Mansion would have furnished ample opportunities for precariously perched, heavy furnishings, threatening
to tumble down through the rotting timbers onto the boats as they passed beneath. You know, this thing is starting to sound like fun.
It isn't hard to imagine, is it? And I haven't even put any ghosts in there yet, visible in and through the decaying building, going up perhaps several stories. Any such or other concepts for a HM boat ride would have still been on the table when POTC scenes like this were designed. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to suppose that there may have been some imaginative transference. Passing below a rotting mansion becomes passing below a burning town.
It takes very little to change one into the other:
As we've already said more than once, someone who saw Sam McKim's concept art for the HM boat ride thought it had a "Blue Bayou" atmosphere. Well, McKim sketched the BB also. He produced a "fun map" of the POTC, and one wonders if there too one can find something that looks like a possible holdover from the flooded Mansion. The Bayou section of McKim's sketch is an absolute delight, but does it include anything you don't see in the actual ride?
The answer is yes, there is one thing on McKim's map that has no counterpart in the POTC ride: the dueling oak. It was an old New Orleans tradition for duelists to have it out under the spreading branches of certain oak trees. In fact, a dueling oak area was included in 1962 plans for New Orleans Square, which at that time was going to consist of a façade of shopfronts on a HUGE building containing an outdoor setting called the "Blue Bayou Mart," with a "Rogues Gallery" wax-museum and pirate-themed walk-thru below, at basement level. The museum eventually became POTC, of course, and the "Blue Bayou Mart" above it shrunk down to become the Blue Bayou restaurant and tableau at the beginning of POTC. In the original Mart, the "outdoor" area would have accommodated a pleasant, dueling oak area, where you could sit around and enjoy soft drinks.
By the time Sam McKim drew his POTC sketch, these concepts were ancient history,
and yet for some reason he included a dueling oak in his sketch of the ride.
After so much speculation, finally we have a smoking gun.
Let's see. We know that the Mansion has duelists among its characters. Is it possible that originally (or alternately) they were going to be on the bank of a waterway, going through their endless duel beneath a sprawling oak? I assume that the Mansion boat ride would have had an outdoor scene or two, much like the midnight jamboree at the end of the actual ride, or like most of POTC for that matter. Unlike the original Blue Bayou Mart concept, McKim has sketched the dueling oak as a graveyard scene, and the pistols on the ground are both still smoking, as if the duel has just barely concluded, but in that case, where are the duelists? Are we in fact looking at the rudiments of a ghostly gag intended for the waterlogged Mansion? It's a thought.
"And now, a vessel approaches, to take you into the boundless realm of the supernatural."
What else do we know? Well, the foyer, stretching galleries, and some version of the "Great Hall" (what is now the changing portrait hall) were scenes already set in concrete (literally) when the boat idea came along. That means you would have boarded the boats in the same place you now board the doombuggies. You will recall that one element of the Great Hall at the time was oversized furniture and artworks, making the guests feel small, as if they had shrunk somehow. The size of this flooded house, therefore, would probably have been greatly exaggerated.
We have zero visual evidence to go by here, so you have to try to re-imagine the Limbo area as a sort of Lafitte's Landing and Blue Bayou made over as a haunted environment. Here's the sort of layout I'm picturing. The two elevators empty into two identical versions of the Great Hall as imagined in 1965. The exits from the Halls would be the false fireplaces at the far end. After that it's pretty much POTC with ghosts.
Could it Have Worked?
The first time I ever heard of the boat ride concept, I thought it was dumb, because I couldn't imagine how you could get anything resembling a full visit to a haunted house merely by floating around at basement level. I figured you couldn't pretend to go any higher than that, because it's obvious from standing in line around the building and visiting the foyer and stretching room that the ground floor is not flooded, and this was how things were even when Joerger hatched his idea. But he speaks of "peeling wallpaper," and Pat Burke says McKim's sketches showed "boats floating through the halls." That's not basement level. What were they thinking?
It's clearer to me now that the idea could have worked. If you don't mind some armchair imagineering, here's one way it could have been done. First of all, Walt would have had to relent and let them have the kind of decaying old building he didn't want to see in Disneyland. Second, they would have needed to re-landscape around the Mansion, surrounding it with a swamp. That much is obvious.
Now, picture this: There's a big "Condemned—Danger—Keep Out" sign beside the front door, explaining that the building is unsound and subject to flooding. Perhaps the butler/maid could explain that the flooding only happens when it's raining, and since today the weather looks fine, there should be no danger in taking a tour below. (If it's raining that day, they say it's not enough to be concerned about. It's pouring? Skip the lecture.)
Sure enough, when we arrive at the boats, we find them floating at foundational level, underneath the house. There's a cavern-like atmosphere. Since we have no concept art, we'll have to create our own. I guess you could call it concept art of concept art. This is
pretty crude and murky, but it ought to give you an idea of what I have in mind. Remember, we're in an oversized environment.
After this load area would be a good place for a flooded crypt scene,
like in the movie. No changes in the water level are needed yet.
Next, I see us entering a long undercroft, and to our horror we see through the colonnade that a thunderstorm is now raging! The waters are turbulent, and the rain is literally pouring off the roof. As we scoot along, we notice that the ceiling is getting closer and closer (creating the optical illusion of a rising water level). Are we going to be trapped inside by a flash flood? ARE WE ALL GOING TO DIE?
Wave goodbye. Get it? Wave goodbye. It's a pun. Drowning is a wave goodbye. Shut up.
Just in the nick of time we escape through the far end and discover that the whole first floor of the house is now flooded. So naturally,
in we go. Plenty to see both around us and above us (and even beneath us!), since the house is so badly decayed inside its outer shell.
There are other possibilities, of course. This is just one way it could have worked. If the flooding were to take place during the ride, and if the internal decay of the building were sufficiently advanced, methinks you could have quite a show. I'm glad they didn't, but after all this amateur imagineering, I've come to the point where I could almost wish they had built it this way.
* * * * * * * * * * *
See? I told you we didn't need to show you no steeenking evidence.
Update (1-20-15): A Disney Imagineer and friend tells me he has searched and found no evidence, stinking or otherwise, that the boat concept was ever developed. However, it should be noted that the McKim artwork discussed in this post was not found in the archives but in Sam McKim's personal possession. Were the brief conversations between Joerger, Coats, and Walt the beginning and the end of the idea, or just the beginning? We may never know for sure.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Until next time, bone voyage.
That last photo is a Ken Anderson concept. It was first offered as a reproduction sometime in the mid-90's. I have a nicely framed version that is quite a bit bluer and greener. You can definitely see grass behind that black wrought-iron railing.ReplyDelete
Ah-ha! Nice to know. I don't suppose we could persuade you to scan it and post it?Delete
Amazing – I could have *sworn* you had previously shown us all a couple of the water-logged Mansion concept drawings. Must be the Redmond painting I'm mis-remembering.ReplyDelete
I don't think I have never heard of the "Great Hall" referenced anywhere before. I've always heard that hallway referred to as the "Portrait Hall" (and the Stretch Room sometimes as "The Gallery"). Closest to that name was the "Grand Hall", but that was how the record album (and blueprints, I believe) addressed what is more commonly known as the Ballroom.
It's called the "Great Hall" in the 1965 souvenir guidebook, underneath one of the red Marc Davis concept paintings.Delete
VERY interesting...one of the most intriguing posts you have done, IMHO...LOVED the 'conceptual concept art', you did a great job with that (the 'Hattie' inspired one being my favorite)...I would definitely be a tad more than 'interested' to go through this version of the Haunted Bayou...err, Mansion, if it existed...GREAT post, and many thanks!ReplyDelete
I agree! What terrific, terrific fun!Delete
I've seen the Grand all referred to as "THE GREAT BANQUET HALL".ReplyDelete
but that was so long ago I don't remember were it was, who it was, or what it was
that said or wrote it.
seems I saw it in writing now that I have put my brain in a vice trying to remember..
But now after reading this flooded house concept,,
I'm just thanking God for the Omni mover.
The boat concept in the POTC was a much more practical use as was the boats in A Small World.
I feel the HM would have over played the boat as transportation. though another ride attraction.
""Come ON KIDS!
we are gonna ride a boat through a house!""
You should have been an imagineer! That would have been a great ride.ReplyDelete
I really, really loved this! Especially the colonnade gargoyle gag.ReplyDelete
Thankee kindly. In the next post you'll find out whence I stole the faces!Delete
So pleasing to know there's more to come! I always get a hankerin' for one of these fine posts about this time...Delete
So perhaps instead of waters rising, we could have a sinking mansion? Guests float into a tall space, like the ballroom, the whole room sinks, allowing them to float down an upstairs hall. Lather, rinse, repeat, to get from floor to floor, then finally out the attic window, just in time to see the roof sink and the weather vane remain above the surface. Could be quite exciting with the appropriate groaning, creaking, and gurgling effects. The sinking scenes would need to be partitioned or divided with enough space between boats, and enough gags to entertain in each scene, to allow for the effect.
Begs the question, why journey through a waterlogged old manse in the first place? In POTC we come seeking adventure and salty old pirates, or treasure, whatever. Why visit a HM in a boat? Ghost hunting? Trying to solve a mystery (a la Scooby Do?) Was there ever any hint as to the motive for that possible themeing other than as a solution to the conveyance problem later solved by the Doom buggies?
I imagine the motive for visiting would be the same as for any other haunted house; i.e., this mansion is reputedly haunted, and you're a curious soul, and so in you go. In this case the house is partially sunk in a swamp, so the only way to see some of it is in a boat.Delete
Because you are a bold and courageous person, afraid of nothing.Delete
"I imagine the motive for visiting would be the same as for any other haunted house; i.e., this mansion is reputedly haunted, and you're a curious soul"ReplyDelete
Agreed...Phantom Manor even had Vincent Price state this in the original narration, 'Welcome, curious souls...you may not believe this, but beauty once lived in this house...'
Walt came by "just a little later," but when Claude told him about Fred's concept, the boss scuttled the idea immediately: "We've got too many boat rides already."ReplyDelete
A few years back, my sister called Walt Disney World "the Boatiest Place on Earth."
(We went there with our oldest friend, who had never been, forgetting that he had survived the boating accident that killed his father back in high school. The boats didn't bother him at all, thank goodness, but we were mortified that we had forgotten until we started looking at the guidebook and every other entry was a boat ride.)
Don't get me wrong though,,ReplyDelete
Boats or rickety cars,,
I would have still gone on it.
haunted is HAUNTED ya know.
Amazingly clever job! both for figuring out how to make the Haunted Mansion a boat ride and the conceptual artwork. Although, I think it would have been pretty hard to convince Disney to "decay" the Mansion to fit the swamp motif. Unfortunately he seemed pretty stubborn that absolutely nothing should appear run-down in Disney Land, even, as in this case, it would have been a major improvement.ReplyDelete
Wow! Great article. To imagine the HM as a boat ride is certainly intriguing, and I think even more spooky.ReplyDelete
Just returned from a trip to Disneyland at Christmas. During POTC I made certain to really study the creaking beams and falling-in-on-us household items. Some of the 'ember' effects seemed to be unlit, so easier to picture a haunted-mansion-esque setting. But I also think the queue location, the Blue Bayou restaurant, and the general idea that this is somehow under a city, whether New Orleans square or the town under attack by pirates. You enter the queue beneath a building, but find yourself outside on a darkened bayou with an outdoor restaurant surrounded by buildings. Then you travel between brick walls and descend beneath a brick arch into a cave, only to emerge into town. Then the transition back to the real world happens beneath buildings, climbing back into that first structure/bayou zone. You exit the Blue-bayou buildings area into a back-alley of New Orleans. It really is a layering of structure transitions and zones. I wonder if it would have been as effective without the drops/climb necessary to duck the tracks? I think it might have been.ReplyDelete
What I always found creepy about riding Pirates (and Mansion, to a lesser degree) was the way the scenes are extended off into the distance. As a kid (riding at WDW) I wasn't familiar with the ride and so I wasn't sure just how the boat would travel. Looking off into the darkened sky, or down a back alley in the town, the effective use of forced perspective was so well done that I could easily imagine our boat leaving the channel and drifting out to sea.
With the HM, there seems to be this idea that once you enter the mansion, you're in, and that's where you'll be until you exit, even if you fall out an attic window into a graveyard and return to the real world via a crypt. But there is this world that exists outside the mansion, only once you're inside. Could you say something about the use of forced perspective and inside/outside ideas? I know you just mentioned the storm effects in the most recent (1/15) post. With POTC, you can believe that you're going somewhere - through a bayou, down under a city, into a Carribean town, and back again. But at the Mansion, that's the one location. And yet, we are asked to suspend our disbelief and accept that somehow the mansion is bigger on the inside, or it is nighttime, etc.
Thanks HBG2, this post was great! Really got my head spinning with ideas of what a HM boat ride could be like....ReplyDelete
A couple of ideas I liked:
1. I enjoyed your "ride through", but you mentioned that you thought the Mansion exterior would have to be shown in a state of decay surrounded by a swampy landscape. I don't think that's necessary for the idea to work. You could leave the house exterior the same and maybe only allude to a swamp being behind the house/under the current updated grounds the house is built on. Then you could have the ride start out the same as it currently does and say something like the house has a history of flooding (and hint at suspicious drownings), but is now updated safely to sit on top of the swamp. You enter boats from the basement/cellar to tour the oldest part of the house first. As you go through the house then the walls/wallpaper could change from normal/current to water damaged/old with special effects, etc. Then you are forced to stay in the boats as you get pulled into the house and into the past. This would work on the idea that the ghosts make the house return to a former state (perhaps to when they drowned in it). The effects get worse as you move through it until you get flooded out of the attic into the swampy cemetery from the past or something similar. At the end of the ride the ghosts allow you to return to the present up-kept house as you leave. That way we can keep Walt happy :D
2. Flipping the ride around: You enter an old plantation gate (the mansion sits across a swamp in this scenario). You go down the elevator in this gate building to load on boats to take you across the swamp to the Mansion. You experience weird things in the swamp (graveyard scenes modified of course), then as you approach the house the floods come pouring down and you're forced to stay in the boats. You are guided through (by ghosts?) the halls of the house in the basement first and as the waters continue to rise you are taken upstairs until finally you fall out the attic and back into the swamp where you entered wondering if any of that really just happened. The effects can be similar to #1 such as the ghosts are causing the flooding, etc. I like the visuals you created of being under parts of the house and seeing multiple levels up above you rotting away in this scenario.
Lots of other ideas occur to me now that I wrote out those first 2, but we’ll just leave it here for now. Thanks for the post!
I know your focus is on the Haunted Mansion, but since you mentioned your fixation with the chair and the rotting floor at the conclusion of Pirates of the Caribbean, I thought I would mention the purpose for the debris which hangs overhead. The set decoration which suggests the collapsing interior of a home actually serves as camouflage to hide the bridge structure of the Disneyland Railroad. This is similar to the start of the adventure but with a different theme. As the narrow grotto passage approaches the expansive harbor attack scene, the "ceiling" drops down to a short distance above the guests' heads as the waterway passes between the two Pirates show buildings, but in this case the railroad bridge is disguised as irregular rock formations.ReplyDelete
The submerged catacombs remind me a lot of descent into the Phantom's lair from The Phantom of the Opera (the silent film one at least).ReplyDelete
This might be an idea or insperation on my Blog If I Ran The Park.ReplyDelete
Fun fact: Six Flags over GA has a Monster Mansion (previously Plantation) that is a boat ride. I imagine HM as a boat ride would be very similar accept ghosts instead of monsters (and obviously less hokey - ours is suuuuper kid friendly)ReplyDelete
Great post - can I email you?ReplyDelete
I wonder if "The Chair" was, somehow, the Imagineers toying with the notion of Pirates and Mansion being in the same Universe. I know you mentioned above that its probably a holdover from the unused Flooded Mansion concept, but why have a (nearly) floating chair in a decrepit, charred house if not to suggest something supernatural?ReplyDelete
Well, it IS in fact suddenly very stormy, pouring rain just before you board a conveyance…did someone leave the flood idea running?ReplyDelete