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“Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion,” your ghost host says as he invites you into the depths of the eerily quiet mansion that resides in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. For brave souls that choose to enter, the ride provides an extraordinary adventure through stretching rooms without doors, past candlesticks that move on their own, and into a graveyard filled with celebrating spooks. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, completed in 1969, is one of the best-known and loved rides in the Disney franchise, and cheerfully terrorizes visitors on a daily basis.
From the outside, the mansion is a well-maintained plantation house, with an eerily large graveyard. As you walk through the queue, notice the humorous puns and inscriptions on the nearby headstones. Upon entering the foyer, you will be greeted by the ghostly voice of your host, who directs you into a nearby room. The doors close behind you, and you’re left to wonder: are the walls actually stretching?
Once exiting the elevator, tread carefully down the darkened hallway, filled with holographic paintings and statues that alter and even seem to follow you as you pass. Board your “Doom Buggy” ride vehicle, and allow the ghosts to guide you deeper into the house. Riders are then taken through a variety of spooky rooms, enhanced by audio-animatronics, projections, and the occasional axe-murdering bride. If you make it out alive, you may certainly be tempted to listen to the ghosts’ invitation to “hurry back...hurry back, and don’t forget your death certificate!”
Walt Disney envisioned a haunted house ride before Disneyland was even built, inspired by the California Winchester Mystery House. Disney set several of his designers, called Imagineers, to work on creating the designs for the ride. One urban legend that may actually be true involved two top Imagineers charged with created a ghostly effects display controlled by a motion-sensing switch. When they arrived the next morning, they found a broom in the middle of the floor and an announcement that the janitors were never coming back.
Originally, the Haunted Mansion was intended to have a fully developed storyline, but this idea was discarded in favor of a mishmash of ghosts inhabiting their new home. Throughout the 1960s, construction proceeded on the mansion, even though the effects, story, and even the name remained under debate. During construction, it remained unclear whether the ride would be a walk-through or vehicle based ride. Eventually, a compromise was reached, with visitors getting to walk through the garden, foyer and picture corridor before boarding cars for the rest of the ride. Using a combination of magician’s tricks, audio-animatronic characters, and the engineering experienced garnered from previous rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, the world of the Haunted Mansion came to life, and was opened to the public in 1969.
Urban legends have always surrounded the Haunted Mansion, from ghostly encounters to real-life deaths in the ride. Stories have circulated about mysterious music and drums playing even when the ride was shut off, and a man in a tuxedo haunting the boarding area. Whether or not these tales are true, the mystery surrounding the ride is a tribute to the success of its creators. Since 2001, the Haunted Mansion has been gate-crashed by the characters from Tim Burton’s film, The Nightmare before Christmas. Every year, from October to January, the ride gets a total overlay of the clash between Halloween and Christmas, complete with a visit from Sandy-Claws himself. While regular guests are split between which version they prefer, the holiday overlay certainly keeps the ride fresh for frequent visitors, who can marvel at the new script, characters, and even songs provided by the ghosts.
The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland has remained popular for many reasons. The fantastic special effects are believable to even the most cynical of riders, and the atmosphere is completely immersive and exciting. Along with Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion is one of the last rides worked on by Walt Disney, and many believe the spirit of Walt is happily at home with the other 999 ghosts that inhabit the walls of the eerie dwelling.
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