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Disneyland Article
Haunted Mansion Gets Holiday Makeover In Nearly Half The Time It Has Been Crazy

Haunted Mansion Holiday
Orange County Register
Brady Macdonald
September 05, 2019
September 10, 2019
Disneyland will transform the Haunted Mansion for the holidays in nearly half the time this year with double the staff working in two shifts to get the classic E-ticket attraction ready for its popular “The Nightmare Before Christmas” incarnation.

“It’s been crazy,” Disney Parks Live Entertainment technical director Joe Peters said. “My team knows what they’re doing. I surprisingly appear to be the least stressed of everybody. Which I think is bothering them more than me.”

Haunted Mansion Holiday returns for its 19th season starting Friday, Sept. 6, as the Halloween Time season kicks off at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Peters and his crew of Disney stagehands shaved a week off the seasonal attraction overlay transformation, reducing the downtime for the classic dark ride from 18 days to 11 days. The goal: Keep Haunted Mansion open as long as possible during its 50th anniversary celebration.

“We’re throwing our first 18 seasons out the window and starting fresh this year,” Peters said in a phone interview. “We’re right on track. It’s working out the way we envisioned it.”

The Mansion makeover crew has been doubled to 40 people working 10-hour days on two shifts with the morning team starting at 6 a.m. and the evening staff beginning at 2 p.m.

“We’re in there 18 hours a day,” Peters said. “Then we turn it over to facilities so that they can do their normal routine checkups that they have to do.”

The biggest challenge for the technical services stagehand crew that handles everything from lighting, audio and decor to rigging, carpentry and animation?

“Usually about 80 percent of my crew is the same every year,” Peters said. “I had to split that 80 in half, so the tribal knowledge is 40 percent per shift for the most part.”

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” props are stored during the off-season in “dead spaces” throughout the attraction, Peters said.

“All the assets that you see in the holiday show are stored in the building,” Peters said. “Think of it as your garage or your attic space where you put all of your holiday decorations. We have found every nook and cranny that we can to store that stuff.”

Holiday decor is added to the Haunted Mansion exterior over two mornings starting before dawn.

The twin elevators that take riders down to the attraction are one of the biggest projects to tackle during the Haunted Mansion Holiday transformation. Each of the crafts teams need to work inside the elevators during the 11-day makeover.

“They can’t be in there at the same time,” Peters said. “It has to be done in a specific order.”

The Pumpkin Mountain and a trio of Ice Angels are installed in the Haunted Mansion graveyard scene by a rigging team hanging from the ceiling on ropes. Chain motors lower the massive props into position beneath an I-beam.

“They take a significant amount of work for our riggers,” Peters said. “We fly the pieces across the ceiling in order for them to get into place.”

A decor team with a half-dozen people installs 7,500-square-feet of UV-painted snow in the graveyard scene. The same team works on the wintry installation over several shifts to ensure a steady and consistent artificial snowfall.

The costuming and animatronics teams dress Jack Skellington, Sally and Oogie Boogie in new outfits every few seasons.

“After a period of time, just like our clothes get dirty and worn out, so do theirs,” Peters said.

The props in the Haunted Mansion Ballroom scene are installed in a specific order to avoid disturbing the giant gingerbread house created by the Disneyland pastry team. The last step: Setting the ballroom table.

“Frequently setting the table will happen during the last two hours of the shift before we open,” Peters said.

The darkness of the venerable dark ride hides many flaws that otherwise wouldn’t pass muster in a Disney attraction.

“It’s a very, very forgiving attraction,” Peters said. “You’ll look at something and go, ‘Oh, that doesn’t look so good.’ Then you turn off the lights and it’s like, ‘Wait, where is it?’”

Peters and his crew are constantly reminded of the Haunted Mansion’s half century of history by the tributes in a backstage area of the ride. Photos and biographies on the backstage walls of Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, Yale Gracey and Leota Toombs honor the Imagineers who worked on the beloved attraction.

“We know that this is a classic,” Peters said. “It’s an iconic attraction that’s 50 years old. We’ve contributed to it one way or another for the last 19 seasons.”

Peters has spent decades working on the holiday transformations of Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World. Which begs the obvious question: Is the Haunted Mansion haunted?

“I’ve been in there for 19 seasons and I have never, ever felt creeped out or weirded out,” Peters said. “In Small World I have been scared multiple times. When one of those dolls winks at you, that’s a pretty scary thing.”

On Friday morning, Peters will be watching surreptitiously as thousands of Disneyland fans rush to be the first to ride Haunted Mansion Holiday this season.

“That is the high that I get every year,” Peters said. “It’s amazing how quickly that line goes from nothing to a ton of people wanting to be the first to ride it each season. That’s the big pay off.”
Attractions Referenced

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion Holiday

It's A Small World

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