Everything You Need To Know About the Haunted Mansion

in Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World

everything you need to know about the haunted mansion

Credit: Disney

Every Disney fan or vacation-goer has that one attraction that they just can’t go without when they visit. We are here to show you why this particular attraction is not to be missed! Disney’s Haunted Mansion has everything a Guest wants to experience during their trip. It has mystery, illusion, Disney magic, and that special Walt Disney touch.

haunted mansion in disneyland
Credit: Disney

In this guide to all things Haunted Mansion, you will learn how the incredible Disney Imagineers took Walt’s vision and turned it into a beloved piece of Disney history that stretches over 50 years.

We’ll also explore how this spooky yet lovable attraction has expanded over Disney Parks around the world and inspired new stories to be told to Guests everywhere.

History of the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disney Parks

the history of the haunted mansion
Credit: Disney

Although the attraction opened in 1969, ideas and plans for the Mansion began years earlier. About 10 years to be exact.

Disney Legend and Imagineer, Rolly Crump, joined a design team for the attraction 10 years prior to the opening. And it was Walt Disney himself that came to Crump with the concept of doing a “Museum of the Weird”. Later in development, the museum turned into a haunted house of sorts.

Where did the designs for the Haunted Mansion come from?

Crump had done some sketches of all things weird and seen all the spooky and scary movies that were coming out at that time for inspiration. Little did he know, that all his sketches would become the inspiration for what would finally become the Haunted Mansion. Specifically, Crump’s sketches of some weird chandeliers inspired what Disney fans now recognize as the famous purple wallpaper of the Haunted Mansion. Tania Norris used Rolly Crump’s chandelier sketch to design the iconic wallpaper.

famous wall paper of the haunted mansion
Credit: D23

Related: Actor Reveals Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Has a “Secret Room”

poster prior to haunted mansion opening
Credit: Disney

As for the exterior, construction for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion began in 1961 and was completed in 1963. However, the inside of the structure remained untouched, as Walt Disney and his team of Imagineers worked on more pressing projects to take to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. During this time, Disneyland Guests could gaze upon the mansion’s exterior, but had no idea what was to come of this dormant attraction. But a sign was left outside the mansion, stating:

Notice! All Ghosts and Restless Spirits. Post-lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion!… For reservations, send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.

The famed exterior that kept Guests waiting was a concept that was put into place long before construction began. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion was very much inspired by the Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore, Maryland. A photo of this mansion was found in a book that was in the Walt Disney Imagineering Information Research Center. The style of the mansion had changed over time during the 1950s.

Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park – Hitchhiking Ghosts
Credit: Disney

But, it was when Walt and his team of Imagineers decided to put New Orleans Square just off the beaten path that is Main Street, that the design changed to fit the turn-of-the-century Louisiana. It’s also said that Walt Disney liked the concept of a plantation-style mansion look and wanted it to always be kept neat and clean, which led him to state this famous quote, “We’ll take care of the outside, and let the ghosts take care of the inside”.

Technology used in the Haunted Mansion displays at Disney Parks

Imagineers Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey assumed the task of filling the mansion with the spooks and frights that we all love to this day. They had the job of filling soundstages and coming up with scenes to occupy the mansion. However, with such a big task, the two Imagineers eventually had a team accompany them.

With new technology and new techniques they acquired from the World’s Fair, Imagineers were able to come up with what is now known as the “doom buggy” for their ride vehicle. For the ghosts, the team worked on many audio-animatronics to bring some after-life to the attraction. But, Crump and Gracey needed a way for these animatronics to appear more ghost-like. So they had to take a page out of the history books to bring one of the most clever uses of this particular technology to the Haunted Mansion.

Related: This Haunted Mansion Illusion Is Hundreds of Years Old!

peppers ghost illusion in the haunted mansion
Credit: Disney

What technology originally gave the Haunted Mansion its spooky, scary thrill?

So, the dynamic duo started to work on an age-old technique known as the “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion. Discovered in the 1800s, this illusion effect was used by stage magicians and performers to trick the audiences. With the use of light, glass, mirrors, animatronics, and just the right angles, the spirits of the Haunted Mansion began to materialize!

constance hatchaway
Credit: D23

It seems that from the beginning, one of the spirits was intended to be an ill-fated bride. Ken Anderson was the Imagineer that first proposed the idea back in 1957, and it stuck. Eventually, through development, she ended up with the name Constance Hatchaway, which is fitting because when guests see her, she is always holding a hatchet!

leota toombs
Credit: D23

Another famous spook is that of the floating fortune teller, Madame Leota. Famously named after Imagineer, Leota Toombs, she is possibly one of the most recognizable spirits from the mansion. Did you also know that Madame Leota’s face was out of Toombs’s likeness as well?

When Was Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Completed?

Disney’s Haunted Mansion was well on its way to being completed when the unthinkable happened. Walt Disney, their fearless leader, passed away in 1966. Further plans for the mansion were put on hold and the Haunted Mansion team was left with one big unanswered question — They still didn’t know if they should continue with plans to make the attraction appear more on the serious and spooky side or add some whimsy to it.

Inevitably, the Imagineers were left with no clear direction.

walt with model of the haunted mansion
Credit: Disney

In the end, it was Imagineer Marc Davis who felt like the attraction would be more of a success with a mixture of both spooky and silly. Davis also felt like it would be best for the attraction to be character driven as well, by having some of the spirits stand out more than others. Thank goodness for that, because it was Davis that created the most recognizable spirits, such as the Hitchhiking Ghosts and the Hatbox Ghost.

Related: At Home Imagineering: DIY Haunted Mansion Effects

hitchhiking ghosts at the haunted mansion
Credit: Disney

And although Walt Disney always saw this as a guided walk-through experience, due to the size of the mansion, Imagineers knew that it would work better as an attraction. Thank goodness for all the wisdom they gained at the World’s Fair, because that’s what gave Imagineers the idea for what we know now as the “doom buggy” ride vehicle, but what is technically known at the Omnimover system. This system allows guests to focus on different and specific scenes at a time, to help with telling the story of the Haunted Mansion.

As for the guided part? Well, even though the team didn’t go through with a guided walk-through concept. They realized that the attraction couldn’t be just self-guided, especially not with the doom buggy system directing guests to certain scenes. They needed a guide, or more accurately, a host.

The Music & Lyrics Behind Disney’s Haunted Mansion

What do you get when you mix the musical director for the Mickey Mouse Club House, the lyricist from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, and a little bit of William Shakespeare? One of the most recognized songs in Disney history! Disney legend Buddy Baker who worked as the music director for the company at the time collaborated with lyricist Francis “X” Atencio to work on the music behind the mansion.

The attraction also needed a script. And Atencio and Baker realized quickly that there were elements of this attraction that needed to be explained as riders are guided through different rooms in this mansion. Atencio would later be honored with a headstone along the mansion queue like other famed Imagineers that brought this attraction to reality.

x atencio wrote the lyrics for grim grinning ghosts
Credit: ITM

Many don’t actually know where the title “Grim-Grinning Ghosts” comes from. Well, X. Atencio drew inspiration from a Shakespeare poem, Venus and Adonis. The poem reads:

Grim-grinning ghost, earth’s worm, what doust thou mean

To stifle beauty and to steal his breath, 

Who when he liv’d, his breath and beauty set

Gloss on the rose, smell to the violet?

Listen to a version of the classic song by none other than the Disney Dapper Dans in the video below

When Did Haunted Mansion Open for Visitation?

The Haunted Mansion finally opened its gates to guests on August 9, 1969. The attraction was an instant hit and it still widely loved by Disney fans all over. Little did Imagineers know that this hit would go on to inspire Haunted Mansions and Manors across the world, films, and a massive overlay on the home front! Now, here we are over 50 years later, and cannot wait for what the future holds for the Haunted Mansion.

Where to find the Haunted Mansion attraction at each Disney Park

One of the great things about Disney’s Haunted Mansion is the fact that Guests from all over can experience the attraction in similar yet different ways.

How many different Haunted Mansions are there, where are they, and why are there so many?

Did you know that there are 5 different variations of the attractions across 5 different parks? Did you also know that it is the only attraction that stretches across 5 different lands? We’ll tell you which parks have a Haunted Mansion and where to find them.

Disneyland Resort, California

disneyland's haunted mansion does a holiday overlay months out of the year
Credit: Disney

The original Haunted Mansion has become a hit for almost all ages over the years and the attraction has been through some updates and modifications. One of which holds a tale that most die-hard mansion fans know about- the bullet hole. Now, it is said that child had launched some sort of projectile into the glass of the ballroom scene that created a crack. Due to the location of the glass and its magnificent size, it would be too risky and expensive to replace the entire piece. So, Disney covered it up with a spider web.

Another more widely known fact is that this particular attraction began one of the most massive overlays in Disneyland history. In October of 2001, after a lengthy transformation, Disneyland reopened the Haunted Mansion gates to reveal that Jack Skellington and all his friends from the Nightmare Before Christmas film had taken over for the holiday season. It became such a hit that the New Orleans Square attraction kept this holiday tradition as an annual one. Now, the overlay will be celebrating its 20th-year anniversary in fall 2021!

Walt Disney World, Florida

haunted mansion at walt disney world in florida
Credit: ITM

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971 and with it came the Haunted Mansion. The exteriors of the now two Haunted Mansions were different in comparison and in different locations. Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion resides in Liberty Square, as Walt Disney World does not have a New Orleans Square.

Just like the original attraction, in the queue, you could see headstones inspired by the Imagineers who created the Haunted Mansion. However, later at Disneyland, those headstones were replaced by a pet cemetery scene. At the Magic Kingdom, in 2011, Imagineers altered the queue to make it more interactive for guests.

interactive haunted mansion queue at wdw
Credit: ITM

A lot of the Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion is similar to its Disneyland counterpart but done on a much larger scale and without the presence of a Hatbox Ghost. It’s also important to note that the attraction in the Magic Kingdom does not do an overlay during the holiday season.

Phantom Manor, Disneyland Paris

phantom manor at disneyland paris, exterior
Credit: Disney

The Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris opened on April 12, 1992. This attraction is currently undergoing a major refurbishment and will have more spooks in store for the Guests upon reopening.

What makes this attraction unique and separates it from the original Haunted Mansion isn’t just the story — it’s the exterior. The outside of the manor looks rundown and creepy to match the interior.

phantom manor interior
Credit: Disney

Disneyland Paris describes the Phantom Manor as:

Tucked away in a corner of Frontierland stands Phantom Manor, once home to one of Thunder Mesa’s founding families. Local residents steer clear of the dilapidated house, claiming it to be haunted, but any intrepid Disneyland Park visitors who dare to enter will soon discover its terrible secrets.

Haunted Mansion, Tokyo Disneyland

haunted mansion in tokyo disneyland
Credit: Disney

The first-ever Haunted Mansion to open in Asia was in 1983 at Tokyo Disneyland. This attraction is very similar to the one at Walt Disney World. However, it does a Nightmare Before Christmas-themed overlay just like at the Disneyland Resort in California. Located in the Fantasyland area of Tokyo Disneyland, the attraction is described as:

This ominous gothic mansion is haunted by 999 ghosts, goblins, and ghouls. They’re all “dying” to make their number an even 1,000. Look over there! It’s a statue with glowing eyes. And invisible hands are playing strange music on that piano. Now, who’s that sitting next to you?

Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland

mystic manor at hong kong disnyeland
Credit: ITM

Mystic Manor located in Mystic Point at Hong Kong Disneyland opened its doors to Guests in 2013. This attraction is especially unique, because of its completely original storyline. This manor doesn’t happen to be haunted at all. It does have quite a sense of mystery and fun. Hong Kong Disneyland describes Mystic Manor as follows:

You’re invited to tour the manor house and private museum of Lord Henry Mystic—eccentric adventurer, explorer and collector of art—and his faithful monkey friend, Albert. Regarded as one of the foremost museums in the world, Mystic Manor was built to house Lord Henry’s ever-growing collection of illustrious art and artifacts, including a newly acquired relic: a beautifully carved Balinese music box said to make inanimate objects spring to life with its enchanting music dust. 

What other historical trivia should you know about the Haunted Mansion?

One of the other fascinating things about the Haunted Mansion attraction is that it’s history is full of fun historical facts and lore. As such a beloved attraction, we’re sure you might have heard one of these facts or another

  • Before the first Haunted Mansion film began production, lead actor Eddie Murphy was already planning on doing a ghost-like comedy film. When he heard talks about a Haunted Mansion film, he asked to see the script.
claude concept art
Credit: Disney
  • One early concept of the attraction was a water ride! Imagineer Claude Coates came up with a concept that would take guests through a Louisiana swamp that the mansion had been partially submerged in.
  • A lot of the props, set pieces, and even Audio-animatronics for the attractions in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World were developed at the same time. This was due to Walt Disney World opening less than two years after the attraction opened at Disneyland.
paul frees voice of ghost host
Credit: D23
  • Paul Frees is the famous voice of the Ghost Host, but did you know he also lend his voice to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction? You can Paul Frees voice at the Auctioneer the next time you’re in Adventureland.
  • The stretching room is an iconic element of the Haunted Mansion’s queue, but is it actually stretching? If you are at the original Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, then you are in on an elevator platform that takes you down to meet the rest of the queue. If you are at the attraction at Walt Disney World, then the ceiling “stretches” while you stay stationary- which gives off the same effect.
captain nemo's organ
Credit: D23
  • The organ in the ballroom scene is actually Captain Nemo’s organ, minus the pipes, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Making Future Memories with the Haunted Mansion

It’s tough to say exactly what is in store for all the Haunted Mansions all over the world. But what we do know is that with what this attraction has already inspired for Disney Parks, there’s no limit to what can be done with the Haunted Mansion.

Now, we have another feature film to look forward to. In 2003, Disney released a live-action comedic take on the famed attraction starring Eddie Murphy. The film didn’t do great with audiences, but this time Disney wants to turn that around. Haunted Mansion fans are hoping for something with a more serious tone and along the same lines of the Pirates of the Caribbean films- which had the dramatic effect and sprinkled with a bit of comedy.

So far, there is no official completed script for this live-action adaptation. But we can only hope to hear some more news about a Haunted Mansion film, soon.

haunted mansion exterior
Credit: Disney

This is why you cannot spend a day at the park without a visit to Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Its breakthroughs in technology throughout Disney history make it a timeless classic. And with different renditions of the attraction at five Disney Parks around the world, you can’t miss it!

What do you love about Disney’s Haunted Mansion? Have you experienced others at different parks? Let us know in the comments!

Trying to visit all the Haunted Mansions and need a little help planning? Let Academy Travel help you in planning the most magical vacation!

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