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Haunted Mansion: Design and Construction

The Haunted Mansion was originally conceived as a walkthrough attraction in which guests would visit various special-effects-laden scenes of horror. It was quickly decided that the tone should be a little lighter (lest a guest be fatally frightened), and that there would have to be some kind of ride system to keep traffic moving.

The first system tested was a moving walkway. This proved problematic for older guests. A boat-style vehicle system -- like that used in Pirates of the Caribbean was considered next, but Imagineers soon realized that there would be difficulties theming a house that had a river running through it. Roller coaster and monorail systems were both too fast to let guests easily take in scenes, and the Peoplemover -- then still in development -- was just too goofy looking for such a serious attraction.

While all of this discussion was going on, Disney teams were out looking for an appropriate mansion to build the attraction in. They eventually came upon the Evergreen House in Baltimore, and after sending photos to Walt Disney, were given permission to purchase it. The house's owner was an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer disease who had grown too infirm to take care of herself and was going to be moved to a state-run rest home. After some quick negotiations, Disney representatives traded her a pair of Disneyland passes for the house and gave her a week to move out. The house was then airlifted to Disneyland in a single piece where it sat empty and mysterious for six years while the ride mechanism was worked out.

Imagineers finally settled on the Omnimover that had been developed for Adventure Thru Inner Space as the perfect ride system for the Haunted Mansion. It's large, opaque rear cover would help direct the gaze of guests toward scenes, gave a claustrophobic feel to the ride, and could be snapped closed like a clam shell on guests who attempted to exit their vehicle prematurely. After a few adjustments to the original Inner Space vehicles (painting them black, renaming them "Doom Buggies," and taking out the circuitry that made them shrink), they were ready to go.

The scenes within the mansion loosely follow a story that was created early in the ride's development. It seems that there was a sea captain who fell in love with a young woman. They intended to marry after the man returned from a voyage that he expected to be quite profitable. Unfortunately, the captain never returned, and his bride spent the rest of her life standing at the attic window in her wedding dress waiting for him. Because of a curse that had been placed on the captain -- who was really a pirate -- the spirits of all those he killed returned to his home to spend the rest of eternity acting robotic and singing a crazy song. A man-and-wife team of psychic investigators heard about the haunted house and came to investigate. The woman found the house's psychic force overwhelming and was driven insane by the constant repetitive singing. The man was so upset by his wife's death, that he hung himself, after which he decided to stay in the house with his wife's spirit and conduct tours.

Signs of this back story are visible throughout the attraction. For example:

  • The mansion's weathervane is a clipper ship and there's a telescope visible on the second-floor balcony, indicating that the place was owned by a sea captain
  • The ghostly bride is still in her place in the attic
  • The sea captain is the captain of the big ship in Pirates of the Caribbean
  • The female psychic investigator is still holding a séance
  • The male psychic investigator is still hanging from the rafters
  • The ghosts' singing really does get annoying

With the back story in mind, Imagineers designed the scenes within the attraction.

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Haunted Mansion
Home | Design and Construction | Exterior | Music
Picture Gallery | Corridor of Haunted Portraits
Endless Hallway and Conservatory | Corridor of Doors
Séance Circle | Grand Hall | Attic | Graveyard | Exit
Behind the Show | Haunted Mansion Holiday | Marketing
2007 Script

 


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