A Haunting in Orlando

Posted:  Educational Parks

Greetings and salutations, Foolish Mortals! There are many iconic attractions at Walt Disney World, but few are more iconic than The Haunted Mansion. If you were to spend any time here in the David’s Vacation Club Rentals office, you would find a lot of fans of this creepy comedy classic. This iconic attraction has its own Lego set and two theatrical movies and is easily one of the most recognizable attractions at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Since I’ve talked about the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Space Mountain in the past, it’s time to take another look at a legendary Disney ride.

Exterior of the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom. The brown building is at the top of a grassy hill, and a rod-iron fence is at the front of the photo.

Queue for the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom. A sign that reads "Open for Visitation" is on a brick wall, pointing toward five busts.

The original idea of the Haunted Mansion was discussed early in the planning of Disneyland as a walkthrough attraction. The early designs by Ken Anderson were what you would expect a spooky manor to look like: an abandoned, run-down structure. However, Walt was firmly against the idea of the Haunted Mansion looking like a decrepit old house. The job of creating the Haunted Mansion was eventually given to Marc Davis and Claude Coats as the art directors, and Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey were put in charge of building all the interior effects.

Tombstones in the cemetery in the queue of the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom.

The big issue that caused delays was Davis and Coats’ disagreements over what tone the Haunted Mansion should have. Marc Davis wanted a more humorous tone for the Haunted Mansion, while Claude Coats wanted to lean more into an actually scary vibe. On top of that, Disney prioritized projects for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York. With Davis and Coats continuing to debate the ride’s theme and waiting for Walt to make a final decision, Pirates of the Caribbean was pushed up on the priority list, and the Haunted Mansion was put on the back burner.

Madam Leota's tombstone in the cemetery in the queue of the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom.

Master Gracey's portrait above the mantel in the beginning of the Haunted Mansion.

When Walt tragically passed in December 1966, the creative differences still weren’t resolved, and now it was up to the Imagineers to figure it out. It wouldn’t be until 1969, ten years after the project was started, that the Haunted Mansion would finally open. Davis and Coats clearly managed to reach a surprisingly good compromise, with the first half of the ride being the spookier tone Coats wanted, but once ‘Grim Grinning Ghosts’ starts up, the ride transitions into the more fun, lighter tone Davis wanted.

Dusty end table, flower arrangement, and mirror in the Haunted Mansion.

The Haunted Mansion also contains some important names providing voices for its characters. Paul Frees, who played several roles for Disney, including Ludwig von Drake, was the voice of the Ghost Host. For the role of everyone’s favorite crystal ball inhabitant, Madame Leota, Imagineer Leota Toombs provided her face for the character, and the voicework was done by Eleanor Audrey, who voiced both Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.

Painting of an older woman sitting on a tombstone in the stretching room on the Haunted Mansion.

Fortunately, the construction of the Walt Disney World version of the Haunted Mansion went much more smoothly as during the production of the Disneyland original, the Imagineers made duplicates of all the interior props specifically for its Florida counterpart. The Disney World version has a different exterior done in a Gothic style to fit in with the Liberty Square section of Magic Kingdom. The other big difference was the stretching room. The Disneyland version was built to hide the fact that the room is an elevator that lowers guests underneath the Mansion to the ride queue. In Florida, this underground section didn’t exist, but the stretching room was so iconic it had to be included.

Painting of a man sitting on another man's shoulders in the stretching room of the Haunted Mansion.

Like so many iconic Disney rides, the Haunted Mansion went on to appear in Disney parks around the world. The one in Tokyo is a copy of the one in Walt Disney World. The one in Disneyland Paris features some different theming and is the only version where the Mansion has the kind of run-down, abandoned look that Walt rejected back during the planning for the original. The Hong Kong version, known as Mystic Manor, is the most radically different, featuring completely different theming and an entirely new soundtrack composed by Danny Elfman.

The Ghost Band inside the Gim Grinning Ghosts cemetery on the Haunted Mansion.

As for the Haunted Mansions in Anaheim and Orlando, they have had a few updates over the years, including adding a floating version of Leota’s head to the seance room in 2004. One feature that was removed from the Haunted Mansion during its first week was the Hatbox Ghost, as the effect didn’t work properly inside the Mansion. The Hatbox Ghost would finally be reinstated in 2015 when Imagineer Daniel Joseph fixed the effect.

Large Memorial Tombstone at the exit to the Haunted Mansion.

So, the next time you find yourself in Magic Kingdom, be sure to drop by this famous attraction. After all, they’ve been dying to have you…



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