The Haunted Mansion, located in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World has the most fascinating history. Much of the ride is a carbon copy of the Haunted Mansion located in Disneyland, but there are some interesting and unique differences. While Disney Imagineers were building the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland, they knew Walt Disney World was in the making. Thinking ahead, they duplicated most of this attraction in anticipation of opening a second haunted house in at a Disney park.
Imagineers took inspiration from the architecture of the Harry Packer mansion in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Since the Haunted Mansion would be located in Liberty Square, the Imagineers were seeking out stately old manor houses. The Harry Packer mansion is a Gothic mansion built in 1874 and it truly mimics the Haunted Mansion as we know it today.
I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend at the Harry Packer mansion and it truly does have “haunted mansion” vibes throughout. The interior of the Haunted Mansion was inspired by the Wrathbone estate in Albany, New York. The estate layout was perfect for this ride. Sadly this mansion no longer exists as I would have loved to visit it as well.
Disney first reached out to Imagineer Ken Anderson, with the idea for a haunted attraction in 1957. It was originally planned as a walk-through attraction, and there were multiple storylines that Disney attempted.
The first was the legend of Captain Gore, a tragic tale of a sea captain and his ill fated bride, Pricilla. About 14 guests would be brought into the mansion by a maid and a butler and then tour the old sea captain’s mansion. This tour included the picture gallery and a portrait of Captain Gore. A surprising pair of hairy hands would come out of the wall and attempt to grab the butler.
The next idea was Bloodmere Manor, where guests were brought through the 100 year old mansion which was undergoing renovations. Unfortunately, the ghosts of the estate would not allow it. There was a doomed construction worker walled up in one of the rooms. You could hear him hammering on the inside of the walls!
Next was “Welcome to Walt’s Place,” where guest would attend a wedding only to see the bride “lose her head” at the reception.
Disney’s next attempt introduced “The Headless Horseman.” Guests would see him galloping through the graveyard prior to entering the mansion. Once again you are headed into a wedding reception. Some of the guests attending were Dracula, Frankenstein and Caesar’s ghost. There was a secret fireplace passageway where guests would exit the attraction. Sadly the bride was a no-show.
Also planned was a “Museum of the Weird.” This would have showcased odd creatures and a gypsy wagon that included singing spirits.
There was a constant battle as to whether the Haunted Mansion should be scary or funny. I think it is the perfect combination of both. Eventually the doom buggy was created to get guests through the attraction more quickly.
The concept of a “ghost host” that narrated as the guests toured the mansion was at first going to be spoken by a raven. Since the raven did not work because it was so small and hard to be noticed, Disney decided to go ahead with the disembodied ghost.
The Haunted Mansion attraction finally came to be what we know it as today, after 18 years of trial and error. The final story line goes like this:
Act I: The beginning of the ride sets the scene for poltergeist activity throughout the halls and the ballroom that we see upon entering. Remember all those wedding receptions from the past?
Act II: The famous Madame Leota conjures up the spirits and convinces them to materialize. At this point guests see them all in action in the grand hall and in the attic. In September 2007, Constance the black widow bride was introduced.
Act III: The final act brings guests through the graveyard scene where the spirits have “all come out for a swinging wake.” In 2011 the enhancement of the hitchhiking ghosts was added to the attraction.
Over the years the Haunted Mansion has constantly seen upgrades and additions to the façade and the story. This is most cleverly shown throughout the queue. The interactive queue includes family plots and monuments of the Dread family which tells a great spooky story if you read the epitaphs.
My favorite addition to the Haunted Mansion is the Memento Mori shop which replaced the Old Yankee Trader in March 2013. This gift shop has Haunted Mansion specific merchandise as well as a great backstory. Madame Leota was a witch who fled from the Salem witch trials and decided to set shop as a fortune teller and palm reader. Her shop is called Memento Mori which translates to “remember that you must die.”
To learn more about the history of the Haunted Mansion, please go ahead and check out my YouTube video here:
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