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The Secret History of Disney Rides: Haunted Mansion

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Haunted Mansion - Secret History of Disney Rides

Located in the heart of New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland has been thrilling foolish mortals from all over the world since 1969. The Mansion is a delightfully unlivable home to 999 happy haunts (but there's room for a thousand in case you wanted to volunteer). The ride features a slow-moving Doom Buggy Omnimover ride system, a number of special effects and some secret surprises that make it a truly unique experience. Every year, fans look forward to Haunted Mansion Holiday, a layover that allows The Nightmare Before Christmas to take over the Disneyland ride from early September through early January. Then every winter, classic Haunted Mansion lovers look forward to the return of this iconic and beloved ride. It's like getting two rides in one spot!

The Haunted Mansion is an original ride that did not come from a movie, but there have been several movies and specials inspired by the ride. The most recent film in 2023 is based on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland! It stars Jamie Lee Curtis (as Madame Leota), Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Jared Leto, Tiffany Haddish and LaKeith Stanfield. "The Muppets Haunted Mansion" is a 2021 comedy Halloween comedy special. There are so many fun references to the ride in it! Then, there was the 2003 "The Haunted Mansion" movie, starring Eddie Murphy.

The Secret History of Haunted Mansion

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Haunted Mansion - Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square

Not only is the history of the Haunted Mansion pretty awesome, but the facts are even cooler. Before we leap to the interesting facts, let's discuss the secret history of Haunted Mansion.

The idea of a haunted attraction at Disneyland was first thought of in the 1950s. reports that Walt Disney was in the midst of designing Disneyland and in the design, an "Old House on the Hill" was to sit right off Main Street. He then discussed the idea of a "ghost house" with Imagineer Ken Anderson and conceptual artist Harper Groff; instead of the ride we know it as today, the attraction was actually planned to be a walk-through! According to Mental Floss, the walk-through would consist of maids and butlers acting as guides and leading guests, while revealing the story behind the mansion involving a sea captain and his bride. It was later decided to be made a ride (using the Omnimover system to direct riders' where to look) for the sake of capacity.

Two of the Haunted Mansion's main designers (Marc Davis and Claude Coats) had different ideas about whether the Haunted Mansion should be scary or fun. Architect and animator Xavier Atencio combined each of their ideas to make it work really well for all visitors. Buddy Baker composed the music for the theme song, "Grim Grinning Ghosts." Atencio wrote the lyrics (as "Francis Xavier"). You can hear different versions of the song throughout the ride. In the foyer, the organ music actually plays the song backward!

The first sketch of the Haunted Mansion showed it as an old, run-down house, and matching the New Orleans theme of the Disneyland area it would be set in. Disney, however, wanted it to still look properly maintained, so Anderson used inspiration from a Victorian house in Baltimore. Via, the backstory of the mansion continued to go through several revisions until Imagineers decided that it didn't necessarily need an official beginning and end — that was left to the guests! Local legend suggests the Haunted Mansion was first built by a prosperous sea captain, and mansion’s staff faithfully maintains the happy haunting grounds.

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Haunted Mansion - Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom Park

After construction of the Haunted Mansion's exterior finished in 1963, the attraction sat unused during the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. After Disney's death in 1966, Imagineers went back to deciding what to do with the Haunted Mansion. Some of the Imagineers on the project included Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey. Taking in what they learned at the World's Fair, the Imagineers included Audio-Animatronics, "doom mobiles" and more. Gracey was responsible for creating a large amount of the mansion's special effects, including giving a see-through effect to my personal favorite ghost, Marc Davis' Hatbox Ghost character!

The official opening of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion finally happened on August 9, 1969. People absolutely loved the Haunted Mansion! Soon enough, plans for a Haunted Mansion at Disney World were in the works.

The Haunted Mansion at Disney World (and Around the World)

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Haunted Mansion-Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Haunted Mansion - Haunted Mansion Ride PhotoThe Haunted Mansion opened at Disney World in Magic Kingdom on Oct. 1, 1971, with the park. It has a completely different brick exterior and has additional scenes. The Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World starts off with scenes of staircases and a library that do not appear in Disneyland. It is located in Liberty Square. Guests get a PhotoPass photo of them taken in the Haunted Mansion at Disney World (but not at Disneyland). The Magic Kingdom Haunted Mansion queue has a wedding ring embedded in the ground. There are several backstories, but the most recent one is that Constance Hatchaway threw it off the mansion's attic balcony after murdering her fifth husband.

Today, there's a Haunted Mansion version in every Disney Park with the exception of Hong Kong Disneyland. Hong Kong has a mansion ride but with a totally different theme and concept! In Disneyland Paris, it is called Phantom Manor.

Haunted Mansion Disneyland Exterior

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-Frog in pet cemeteryThe Mansion's antebellum exterior was designed to resemble the architecture found in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. The Victorian Shipley-Lydecker House in Shipley Hill, Maryland also inspired the design. Guests enter a wrought-iron gate and wander past a horseless hearse (but can sometimes hear the ghostly horse). Visitors pass through a spooky graveyard filled with tombstones, including a pet cemetery and mausoleum. Read the headstones and tombs to learn of some punny demises. The plants in the garden of deathly delights are all muted in color and chosen specifically to convey a sense of danger or suspense. The intriguing plants get more colorful during the holiday overlay.

The Haunted Mansion reopened following the pandemic in 2021 after undergoing a remodel. Outside, the pet memorials received new landscaping that helped tell their stories. Take a whiff near the skunk tombstone. Stinky flowers surround it! Note the leaves that look like lily pads near Old Flybait. (He croaked.) Inside, the April-December portrait returned.

New additions are materializing to the Disneyland Haunted Mansion grounds in 2024. The pet cemetery and funeral hearse remain, but the grounds and outdoor queue expand to build on the story of the attraction. The changes include new gardens inspired by Master Gracey, Madame Leota and the one-eyed cat. Guests can enjoy new elements such as a water fountain, gazebo, themed statuary and landscaping. A new greenhouse where the groundskeepers grow their plants will be part of the queue. Construction begins January 2024.

What’s Coming to Disneyland Resort-Carriage House Gift Shop

A new gift shop is being added. Upon exiting the ride, guests will pass an all-new retail shop. Madame Leota felt it was time to continue her presence beyond the walls of the Mansion in her carriage house full of goods she predicts you'll be "dying" to add to your collection.

Speaking of exiting, Disneyland is improving accessibility. Guests with disabilities will be able to use a new elevator to exit the attraction.

Haunted Mansion Interior

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-Stretching roomInside, the Mansion is filled with mysterious music, creaky doors and dark corridors (with hot and cold running chills). The voice of an unseen “Ghost Host,” voiced by Paul Frees, welcomes guests in the foyer and follows them through all the rooms. His spooky voice has a hint of smirky humor to it, which perfectly sets the mood as more fun and friendly than creepy.

When guests enter the Mansion, they travel from the foyer to a chamber that has no windows and no doors. The room has portraits of some of the mansion's inhabitants in their mortal states. But as the ceiling appears to stretch up, the portraits reveal the cause of death for them or in one case, the death of a husband, foreshadowing some scenes to come in the attic.

Is This Haunted Room Actually Stretching?

So, "Is this haunted room actually stretching, or is it your imagination, hmm?" You may be surprised to know that the actual Haunted Mansion at the Disneyland ride building exists outside the park on the other side of the Disneyland Railroad tracks. It's not in the house you see from the park. The popular stretching room is actually a giant elevator that takes guests down to a lower floor. People exit the elevator to walk down a portrait-lined hallway to get to the actual ride vehicles called Doom Buggies. The Ghost Host and sound effects muffle the sounds of the elevator and distract you from the sensation of going down and stopping.

You are actually walking under the train tracks to get to the ride building, so the stretching room serves a useful purpose. This is also the reason that Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean has two hills and Indiana Jones Adventure has long tunnels and caves leading to the boarding area. They take you under the train tracks to the actual ride buildings outside the park boundary.

The Haunted Mansion at Disney World also has a stretching room even though it does not technically need one. The room was so popular and such an iconic part of the ride pre-show that it had to be included, even if it's just the ceiling rising up. Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland does not have a stretching room. Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris also uses the stretching room as an elevator to take the guests to the loading area.

Haunted Mansion Holiday Overlay

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-Haunted Mansion Holiday exterior

Since 2001, fans have flocked to the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland for a complete takeover with Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Both the exterior and interior of the Haunted Mansion get a change in decor that demonstrates what happens when two holidays collide. You'll come across Jack Skellington, Zero, Sally, Oogie Boogie, Lock, Shock and Barrel and more. You sing along to songs from Danny Elfman's score and enjoy all-new rhyming narration that parodies "The Night Before Christmas" poem.

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland - Haunted Mansion Holiday

Following in her mother's footsteps, Kim Irvine — daughter of Leota Toombs and also a Disney Imagineer — recorded the part of Madame Leota's face for Haunted Mansion Holiday. Super fans may have recognized Kim Irvine in the "Muppets Haunted Mansion" special. She plays a maid who cleans the ball (bearing Miss Piggy's likeness).

During Haunted Mansion Holiday, there is a giant gingerbread creation on the ballroom table. You can smell the gingerbread!

Find a Hidden Mickey at Haunted Mansion Disneyland

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-Hidden mickey

It's always fun to search for hidden Mickeys at Disneyland. Haunted Mansion has a few, especially during Haunted Mansion Holiday.

During both versions of Haunted Mansion, look for the arrangement of plates and saucers in the ballroom that form a Mickey.

During Haunted Mansion Holiday, spot two hidden Mickeys in the stretching room. You can see one in red stained glass before the room starts to stretch. The other is also red and on the ceiling. In the ballroom, the snow on the floor forms a hidden Mickey.

Haunted Mansion Famous Ghosts and Characters

Of the 999 happy haunts who call the Haunted Mansion home, there are a few well-known ghosts and other characters. Some even have materialized outside the mansion to take place in parades, movie premieres or to meet park guests.

The Ghost Host is voiced by Paul Frees. He implies that it's his body hanging from the beam in the stretching room.

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-Sally SlaterThe Portraits in the chamber have several stories and names behind them:

  • The Bride (Constance Hatchaway) — Her image has changed over the years. She married five men and murdered each of her husbands. In her portrait in the stretching room, she holds a rose and sits on the tombstone of her husband, George. In the attic, you can hear her beating heart and voice (by actress Kat Cressida).
  • Alexander Nitrokoff stands on a keg of dynamite.
  • Sally Slater stands on a tightrope above an alligator.
  • In Disney comics, the three men in quicksand are known as gamblers Hobbs, Big Hobbs and Skinny Hobbs.

Madame Leota's face appears in the crystal ball as she summons spirits to materialize. Her face is actually Leota Toombs, a Disney Imagineer. Her voice is Eleanor Audley, an actress who was the voice behind such Disney villains as Lady Tremaine and Maleficent.

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland - Hatbox Ghost

The Hatbox Ghost appeared as an original Haunted Mansion character, but he disappeared when his special effect didn’t work. But he reappeared in 2015 at Disneyland, with his head disappearing off his neck and reappearing in the hatbox he holds in his hand. He is being added to the Haunted Mansion at Disney World in 2023.

The singling busts in the graveyard are (from left to right) Rollo Rumkin (Verne Rowe), Uncle Theodore (Thurl Ravenscroft), Cousin Algernon (Chuck Schroeder), Ned Nub (Jay Meyer) and Phineas P. Pock (Bob Ebright).

The hitchhiking ghosts are known as Ezra Beane, Professor Phineas Plump and Gus. The Ghost Host says, "Beware of hitchhiking ghosts" and that "a ghost will follow you home" before you exit. Don't tell my friends, but when I was a tiny tadpole, I would spend the rest of the day looking behind me and trying to lose that ghost. Now I help my little sister Lily chase off her ghosts.

During Halloween Time, you get a photo op with the Hitchhiking Ghosts audio-animatronics from the Haunted Mansion during Disney's Happiest Haunted Guided Tour. The tour has an additional fee, and a reservation is required.

Master Gracey, in a tribute to Yale Gracey, is the unseen master of the mansion. Gracey was the chief Imagineer in charge of special effects at the Haunted Mansion. See if you can spot the tombstone of Master Gracey in the family plot of the mansion.

In the beginning scene with a long hallway, there used to be a live actor. The knight would jump out and scare people in their doom buggies. That knight has returned for special events and after-hours parties, such as the 50th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion separately ticketed event at Disneyland.

Even some furniture items have a backstory. The pipe organ in the Disneyland Haunted Mansion banquet hall is a prop from the “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” movie. The organs in the other park's Haunted Mansion are all replicas.

Fun Facts and Secret History of the Haunted Mansion

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-13 minute waitHere are a few fun facts, backstories and secrets of the Haunted Mansion. But some of them may be spoilers, so proceed with caution.

  • If you see a posted wait time of 13 minutes, that means there is almost no wait for this attraction.
  • The doom buggies can carry up to 2,500 guests per hour. You can fit two to three people per Doom Buggy.
  • When you use a wheelchair, you ride back up in the stretching room elevator. Without the Ghost Host narration, the mechanics of the elevator are actually quite loud!
  • Constance Hatchaway is the name of the woman sitting on the tombstone in the stretching room. Her husband is pictured on the tomb with an axe in his head. Fast forward to the attic scene, where you see many wedding portraits of the same bride with different husbands, each with the head periodically disappearing from the portrait. The ghost of Constance now resides there in her wedding dress. You can see her in the corner with an evil grin on her face and a bouquet of flowers with a hatchet hidden within.
  • Constance Hatchaway, the hitchhiking ghosts, ballroom dancers and gravediggers appear in a Haunted Mansion-themed scene with a Haunted Mansion float in the Frightfully Fun Parade in Disney California Adventure. You can only see this parade during the separately ticketed Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween party.

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-Peppers ghost

  • One of the coolest scenes is the ghosts who materialize in the ballroom. It's done with a bit of magic called Pepper's Ghost. As you pass by the ballroom, there is another ballroom built behind your Doom Buggy with ghost mannequins. The mannequins in the ballroom behind reflect off an angled piece of glass, making them look like transparent ghosts.
  • There's another trick just past the portrait wall. You'll see two busts who seem to be staring right at you. The faces are inverses. Setting them up against a black background in an alcove makes it appear as if the busts are facing outwards. Because they are inverses no matter where you move, the illusion is that the busts appear as if they are always staring at you.
  • After you round the bend from the portrait hallway and past the busts, pay attention to the April-December portrait. The young woman ages and withers right before your eyes.

The Secret History of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland-April Dec portrait

  • The Haunted Mansion usually closes the last three weeks of August and for several weeks in mid to later January to prep or remove the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.
  • If you wear a MagicBand+, pay attention to it after you exit the ride at Disneyland.
  • At Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion, you'll see tombstones in the graveyard honoring Imagineers Marc Davis and Claude Coats! The tombstones read "Brother Claude and Grandpa Marc." The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness reports that you'll find many other honored Imagineer and artist names, including Imagineer Tony Baxter as "Brother Dave," Yale Gracey as the one-and-only "Master Gracey" and X. Atencio.

Do you know any secrets about the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland we did not mention? Please share them in the comments section below. If you are looking to save money on your Disneyland visit, you can save some green by buying discount tickets from your favorite froggy friends at Undercover Tourist!

Related: Secret History of Rides: Indiana Jones Adventure

Related: Halloween Time at Disneyland

Stay cool!

Keep hopping, Tad!
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Aug 29, 2023 at 7:43 p.m. Kevin Ahern Says...

I saw a 4 part series documentary and on one episode covering Haunted Mansion at DL, it said the ride actually goes outside the park boundary (underground). Not necessarily outside Disney property but the park property line itself. Found that to be interesting.

May 3, 2023 at 6:12 p.m. stephen casey oneill Says...

undisputedly the coolest dark ride ever

May 3, 2023 at 6:08 p.m. stephen casey oneill Says...

casey says the 999 happy haunts are freindly

May 3, 2023 at 6:05 p.m. stephen casey oneill Says...

i love the haunted mansion

Nov 3, 2016 at 10:39 p.m. Carlos medina Says...

I like the haunted mansion because they have ghosts and is amazing

Apr 8, 2016 at 10:20 p.m. michael Says...

eh house in Baltimore does look very much like the Disneyland Haunted Mansion. sadly as I just found out, it was torn down to make room for ugly apartments. too bad

Apr 1, 2016 at 10:22 p.m. Carrie Says...

Interesting... we were on a historical tour in Charleston, SC and the tour guide pointed out a home there that was supposedly the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion after Disney saw it. Wonder what the real story is.

Apr 6, 2016 at 12:41 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Carrie,

While we can’t say for sure, this house in Baltimore looks very familiar to a famous mansion in Disneyland!

Stay cool!


Nov 4, 2015 at 7:53 a.m. Patty Says...

I've always wondered about the trio of singing ghost busts near the end of the ride. They are all men and I'd swear the the broken one looks like Walt Disney himself.

Nov 4, 2015 at 9:20 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Patty,

This is the Phantom Five! They are Ned Nub (performed by Jay Meyer), Uncle Theodore (Thurl Ravrenscroft), Rollo Rumkin (Verne Rowe), Phineas Pock (Bob Ebright) and Cousin Al (Chuck Schroeder). Disney musical contributor, Allan Davies, was going to originally get actors for the faces of the busts, but after seeing the band members perform the song, he decided to stick with their own faces!

Stay cool!


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