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, Doombuggies.com. 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.

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Least-Noticed Ghostly Effect in the Haunted Mansion?


Sounds Long-Forgotteny to me, babe.

The Imagineers who created this most fascinating of all Disney attractions filled it pretty thick with groovy special effects (yes, groovy; we ARE talking 1969 here). By "special effects," I'm not referring to static design elements like faces in the wallpaper or gryphons carved into furniture. I'm talking about things that happen in the ride, spooky occurrences that betray the presence of a ghost. Some are spectacular and impossible to miss. Others get noticed after a few rides. Still others are entirely missed by some but nevertheless seen by others. To my own everlasting shame, I never noticed the Hatchet Man portrait in the COD until well into the 21st century, when it was called to my attention.

Having nothing better to do one afternoon, I asked myself, "Self, what is the least noticed ghostly effect in the Haunted Mansion? Something that was made to be seen and yet is rarely noticed, even by Mansionological veterans and fanatics of standing?" I figured it would be worth a post, because said item is supposed to be part of the overall experience of the ride, and yet for 99.9% it is not.

There's some stiff competition here. I did an informal poll among the inmates over at The Haunted Mansion Fan Club and pretty much got the results I expected. It seems to me there are four strong contenders for this dubious distinction. As it happens, we've covered three of the four before, so I won't waste too much bandwidth on them here, but I will make a few new remarks about some of them before turning to number four.

One reason these are rarely noticed is because they are often out of commission, sometimes for years or even decades, before they get fixed. Currently, three and possibly all four are inoperative, and in such cases one wonders if they have been permanently decommissioned, or "Yesterlanded" in Disney parlance. What makes these four different is that even when they are there, they are missed by the vast majority of guests.


The Traveling Light

This first one was the subject of a post, HERE, and there's nothing more to say at this point. It's not certain whether it's currently in operation at Disneyland, because the shorter hours in effect since reopening in May of 2021 mean it doesn't really get dark enough long enough to see if it's there. It's easily my favorite of the four.


The Cold-Air Blast

This one too has been discussed in an earlier post. Of the four, it's the one most likely to be permanently Yesterlanded, at least at Disneyland. (It still works at WDW and presumably Tokyo.) To briefly recap, there are air-conditioning ducts pointed at you in the Endless Hallway area, with the intention of creating a "cold spot" in this location. It's been missing for so long at DL that some doubt it was ever there, but according to Paul Saunders, it certainly was, at least in the beginning.

Again, the difference between a missing and possibly-Yesterlanded effect like this and other such effects, such as the attic popups and bats, or various and sundry Séance Circle items (second drum, good ol' Purply Shroud, the ectoplasm ball), is that even when operative it was easily missed, and hence few remember it at all.


The Blowing Drapes

These were discussed in the same post as our previous remarks about the Cold Air blast, but some additional comments are in order about how difficult the effect is to notice.


The effect was there in the beginning, and in the past (alas, increasingly distant) I noticed it on numerous occasions, but it's been a long time since I've seen it in operation. I can't see any reason why it would be canceled altogether, since it's so simple. It's just a fan, for cryin' out loud. It's probably like the Traveling Light, an effect so little noticed that when broken, it tends to stay broken for a long time.

When the drapes in the door next to the so-called "Donald Duck" chair are blowing, even though easily overlooked, they are still noticed by enough visitors to knock this puppy out of the competition for any "least-noticed effect" award. Not so with the other door where the effect is supposed to be. At Disneyland, that one was / is virtually invisible.

The problem is in the way the doombuggies turn. On the blueprint above you can see that the first door on the left should easily be visible to riders, with drapes a-blowin', but when they put the actual ride together they adjusted the buggies so that they start turning to the right much sooner, with the result that by the time you pass the doorway it's behind you.

Whatever you do, my friends, don't look behind you!!!

With enough effort you can see it, but it's usually so dark over there that even if you do you're not likely to see much. I doubt that one rider out of a hundred even knows that the door is there. In this night-vision video from 2013, you can see how difficult it is to see its full length, even if it were light enough. The other doorway's drapes seem to be blowing on this occasion (hat tip ThemeParkHD): 

I can find no irrefutable evidence that the drapes in that first door were ever blowing. I do have vague memories of seeing blowing drapes there back in the very earliest days of the ride, but they are not the sort of memories I would trust, so neither should you. However, the fact that the effect is there at WDW does suggest that it was used at DL at least in the beginning. The doombuggies at WDW (and probably Tokyo) turn less sharply and quickly in this area and are more like in the blueprint, making the doorway more easily seen. Here's a 2018 WDW vid in which you can see the drapes in that doorway blowing (hat tip JohnYChen):
I don't know why I think so, but wouldn't it be cool if the curtains were flapping around back there even now without anyone knowing it? A ghost ghosting away in vain. Pleasantly melancholy if you think about it. If the blowing drapes are there and haven't been officially given the axe, and it's just a case of a fan being broken or something, then they win our award hands-down, at least at Disneyland. This is something for you die-hards to try to photograph somehow, holding your phone out the left side of the doombuggy at just the right moment.

But like I said, those drapes really aren't what I came here to talk about.


The Rotting Fruit

At last, the true raison d'être for this post. In the eye-popping spectacle that is the Grand Ballroom, there's a lot to take in. In such a busy environment, it should come as no surprise that not very many people ever notice that the fruit bowl atop the table centerpiece is the scene of a special effect.

The rotting fruit effect goes back to a Marc Davis concept for a changing portrait:


This is very similar to the unused wilting flowers changing portrait. Thematically, what we've got is a sort of botanical April-December.

When the ghosts at the table are visible, the fruit in the bowl is luminous and luscious, but when the Birthday Gal blows out the candles and the ghosts disappear, the fruit returns to its previous state of decay. Cool.

Investigating this effect has been a challenge. You can make a good case that it is NOT original to the '69 Mansion.
  • (1) There are no references to it on the effects blueprints or on maintenance lists, at least not the ones that I have seen.
  • (2) The fruit bowl is missing entirely from pre-opening publicity photos and WED test film footage.
  • (3) It doesn't seem to be there in the 1974 "Sandy Duncan visits the HM" footage, and in fact clear video proof of the fruit bowl effect doesn't show up until 1992.
  • (4) The centerpiece on the Pepper's Ghost set-up directly beneath your doombuggy as you pass by was certainly altered at some point from a black post with a fruit bowl on top to a more complete fixture with both the fruit bowl and the foliage on either side. Perhaps the older, post version was just a mask for the centerpiece and the change actually marks when the rejuvenating fruit effect was first introduced.
That's an impressive list, but some counterarguments are possible:

(1) Absence from the blueprints and maintenance lists is not decisive, because there are numerous minor effects in the ride that are missing from those prints and lists and are nevertheless authentically of 1969 vintage, such as the rain effect in the Portrait Hall windows and ghost projectors in the graveyard.

(2) This argument cuts both ways. In those pre-opening photos, the place is not yet fully decorated. For instance, the cobwebs aren't there yet. But the table is pretty much set, so why is the centerpiece incomplete? Is it because there was a special effect intended for that spot that wasn't ready to go yet?



As for #3, yes, the effect does seem to be missing in the 1974 Sandy Duncan special:
But all kinds of things were turned on and off in order to film that program. It's not a true reflection (pun intended) of the ride in normal operation. And while it's true that good video evidence for the effect's existence comes late, that's more a reflection (no pun this time) of the state of video camera capabilities in the 70s and 80s than anything else. It's hard to find any decent video of the HM interior before the 90s.
The effect does seem to be present in the 1990 "Woody visits the HM" vid (the "Cheers" thing for the park's 35th Anny). You have to look quickly and closely. The lighting on the fruit bowl does seem to change, and the fruit actually brightens a little at the very beginning of the clip.
 But if you're skeptical about that footage, the earliest unambiguous video evidence for the fruit effect dates to 1992 (hat tip Mark Raymond):
It remained there through 2001, although one absence is recorded in June of 1999. Here's a 2001 vid (hat tip FireByNite):
It disappeared in 2002 and did not reappear until 2015. Those dates suggest that when the effect was shut off for the first HMH in 2001, it was forgotten about and not turned back on again until 13 years later! Perhaps when they were installing the new HBG in 2015, someone finally remembered the fruit effect and noticed that it was gone. Here it is in 2015 (hat tip UndercoverTourist):
Then it's a rollercoaster ride. 2016? It's there. 2017? It's gone. 2018, 2019, 2020? It's there. So far, with the reopening of the Mansion in 2021, it's missing.* You get the impression that it's there and functional, but someone keeps forgetting to flip a switch somewhere. The otherwise inexplicable absences in 1999 and 2017, both of them in the middle of a run of "on" years, certainly suggests this.

(4) It does appear to be the case that originally, they just propped up the fruit cluster on a black post on the table where the AA figures actually are, but the date of the introduction of the fruit effect does not correspond with the date of the change from the "ghost post" to the fuller-foliage arrangment. As we shall see. You can see the "ghost post" in these three photos:




They exchanged the "ghost post" for a duplication of the fruit bowl and its surrounding foliage sometime before 2002, the date of these pix:




Note in that 2002 photo how the fruit has been painted with gray highlights, probably to make it look decayed from a distance and in low lighting. In more recent photos, you can see that the centerpiece has been entirely repainted with dull and dark colors, in order to enhance the "springing back to life" effect. Or maybe just to get the damn thing noticed!



Incidentally, this effect is exclusive to Disneyland, as WDW and Tokyo have a different kind of centerpiece altogether:


Getting back to our discussion about when the effect first appeared . . .
 
The "Cheers" footage gives us a latest-possible-date of 1990 for the introduction of the effect (1992 if you prefer the Mark Raymond footage). Those "ghost post" shots supply the earliest date. In two of the photos that show it, the fruit appears to be painted black, which means it's only a mask and the rejuvenating fruit effect was not yet there.
 


That second photo was probably taken in 1986, and it's interesting because the photographer has actually scooted the thing back because it was blocking the "toaster" ghost. Hence, the centerpiece does not line up well, and that enables us to see in the reflection that the fruit is just as black as the post itself. However, in the third "ghost post" shot the fruit is colorful, which indicates that the effect was put in before they switched to the fuller-foliage centerpiece, so the two things do not precisely coincide.
 

Perhaps the look of the thing when it was first tried out triggered the change. They may have decided that the effect was okay, but it would look better if more of the centerpiece was magically transformed.
 
To sum up, I think the fruit effect was introduced between 1986 and 1990.
 

Disneyland Only
 
Since the Cold Air blast and the billowing drapes (easily visible in both doorways) are functioning just fine at WDW (and Tokyo, one must assume), and since the Traveling Light effect at those Mansions is quite noticeable when it is working, and since there is no fruit bowl in those ballrooms, our results here apply ONLY to Anaheim, and the "least-noticed effect" at those other locations is going to be something other than any of the four discussed here. Those with more direct experience of those rides than I do should answer that question. The outdoor wolf howl, perhaps? The whispering gargoyles?

If some of the preceding seemed tedious to any of you, bear in mind that part of our job around here is to point out things in the HM that are easily missed, and in this case we have something that has hardly been talked about at all, so some of it is bound to be a bit dry. The fun thing about the fruit bowl is that now you frequent Anaheim visitors have something new to check out each time you go. We all like to know when things disappear and reappear in the Haunted Mansion, right?


*For the record, I've examined videos for every year from 2007 to the present. Before that, it's '04, '02, '01, '00, '99, '92, 90, and '74. There are plenty of videos from that earlier time frame, and I've looked at a lot them too, but in them you can't see anything on the table.

If you don't understand what all the "mask" talk is about, hopefully this will help. Without a blackened figure to reflect in the glass, lined up with the real item out there, anything passing behind that item will be seen through it, ruining the illusion. That's why the ghost on the mantelpiece has his arm around a blackened duplicate of the "Aunt Lucrecia" bust. Without it, you'd see his arm through the bust and the illusion that he has it around her shoulders (and therefore out of sight) would be gone.


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