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Disneyland Article
Haunted Mansion Is Celebrating It Is 50th Anniversary And These Grim Grinning Ghosts Have Plenty Of Memories

Haunted Mansion
Orange County Register
Marla Jo Fisher
August 07, 2019
August 14, 2019
Welcome, foolish mortals, to this tale of a haunted house so legendary that it’s lasted 50 years. That’s right, it’s been half a century since the Haunted Mansion opened in Disneyland as a landmark of New Orleans Square.

Since then, this antebellum manor, known to millions as the “home of 999 ghosts with always room for one more,” has spawned books, tribute websites and Facebook pages, a major motion picture, sound recordings, replicas at other Disney parks around the globe and legions of devoted fans.

“It’s timeless and is all done in the classic Disney, family-friendly tradition,” said Donna Collins, who’s such a fan that she built a replica in her husband’s office. “In the day and age of CGI, the feeling of having someone or something watching you or a cold chill brush by you still evokes the same fearful response in all of us.”

Disneyland opened in 1955, and not long afterward, plans were considered to build a New Orleans Square on the former Holidayland beside the Rivers of America.

Along with Pirates of the Caribbean, a “ghost house” was conceived, although it was originally envisioned as an attraction that people would walk through. Later, the “doom buggies” that carry guests through the scenes were added, after the invention of the “Omnimover” technology made it possible.

Early designers wanted the house to have a dilapidated, spooky facade, but Walt Disney didn’t want anything shabby in his park, so it looks like a Southern plantation house on the outside — to look appropriate for its New Orleans location. Construction began in 1962, was delayed while Disney worked on projects for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, and finally opened to guests on Aug. 9, 1969.

Disney executive and designer Kim Irvine, who today is responsible for the overall look of Disneyland, remembers wandering as a schoolgirl around the Disney model shop at WED Enterprises — the precursor to Walt Disney Imagineering — in Glendale in the 1960s as her mother, famed Imagineer Leota Toombs, worked on the detailed model for the ghost house building.

“All the model builders, including my mom, would bring things in from home, or go to the Salvation Army, to put on the model,” Irvine said. “I would see things missing from our home, and then find them on the model.”

Irvine, a self-described “Disney brat” whose parents helped create the Disney empire, remembers when a Disney sculptor was working on creating a crystal ball with a disembodied floating head inside, and needed a model to test his invention.

He cast his eyes around the shop and asked Irvine’s mother to help with the test. As a result, her mother was chosen to become the disembodied floating head called Madame Leota inside the crystal ball that creates an incantation inside the seance room — one of the memorable moments from the ride.

Much later, Irvine herself was asked to also be the head inside the crystal ball, for the seasonal Nightmare Before Christmas overlay that began appearing each holiday season in 2001.

One of the challenges in creating the haunted house was to evoke an entertainingly spooky atmosphere in a way that wasn’t too frightening for children. Scenes inside the house include a hanging, myriad ghosts and portraits that turn into ghoulish scenes.

According to tribute website DoomBuggies.com, an early working title for the mansion was “Bloodmere Manor,” where a sea captain known as Captain Blood and his bride all die in the house.

That idea was abandoned as many others were floating around, with designers even researching other famous houses such as the Winchester House in San Jose for inspiration. The death of Walt Disney during the process also led to delays, as there were disagreements about whether the house was to be scary or funny.

Ultimately, it became both, with scenes featuring, among others, a murderous bride and “hitchhiking ghosts.”

In a recent interview, actress Kat Cressida recalled being hired in 2006 to become the voice of a revamped skeletal ghost bride in the attic scene.

“Her story was that she was the last living resident of the mansion,” Cressida said she was told. “She resided in her attic reliving all of the joyous moments of beheading each husband and looking for her next … in the afterlife!”

The Haunted Mansion has continued to be one of the park’s top attractions despite its age, especially at Halloween and Christmas, when long lines develop to see the seasonal overlays.

Even many of the people who work there have become ardent fans. They recently held a 50th reunion of their own, to celebrate their friendships and romances that were sparked while working the attraction.

Eve Atkins met her husband, Dave, in 1989 when they both worked as hosts at the Haunted Mansion, where attractions hosts are dressed as old-fashioned butlers or maids. She was 19 and they met on the first day she worked there as a new hire. He was cross-training. She was an attractions hostess. They started dating, and later married.

“My husband is a goofball,” Atkins said. “He likes to say it was love at first fright.”
Attractions Referenced

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion Holiday


Pirates Of The Caribbean

Lands Referenced

New Orleans Square

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