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Disneyland Article
Everything Changed In The Haunted Mansion And The Backstory Behind It All
Orange County Register
Brady Macdonald
Haunted Mansion superfans notice everything that’s ever been added or removed from the beloved Disneyland attraction throughout the half century-plus history of the enigmatic and eerie haunted house at the Anaheim theme park.

“Our fans are amazingly in love with the mansion,” Walt Disney Imagineering producer Michele Hobbs said. “It’s always been steeped in this mystery.”

Hobbs and the Imagineering team worked on the latest refurbishment of the Haunted Mansion that started in January 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the park. The 15-month home improvement project brought new draperies, carpet, wallpaper and decor inside the attraction and fresh paint and plants on the exterior. The Haunted Mansion returned when Disneyland reopened last month after a yearlong coronavirus closure.

The mysterious mansion has long been a source of fascination for die-hard fans.

“It starts back in 1963 when we built the facade. We didn’t open the attraction until six years later,” Hobbs said during an online video interview. “Where we’ve landed today is this awesome, family-friendly, funny, yet surprisingly intriguing piece of art that manages today to be totally relevant and wonderful for our guests.”

The layers of intrigue and mystique with the Haunted Mansion extend from the pet cemetery and tombstone tributes to something as simple as the exterior paint color.

“There are multiple colors of white on the mansion,” Hobbs said. “If you stand and look at it, you probably couldn’t tell. But if you get closer, you can see there’s a little bit of perspective and eeriness there in each of those different colors that gives it that look.”

The outdoor pet cemetery features subtle new planting enhancements designed to reinforce the storytelling taking place in the attraction’s outdoor queue.

A memorial for a frog named Old Flybait — his tombstone reads “He croaked” — is now surrounded by lily pads. A tombstone for a pet skunk named Stripey — “Your presence will always linger on” reads his memorial — is bordered by Society Garlic, a purple-flowered plant known for producing a skunky smell similar to marijuana. A monument to Rosie the pig is edged by roses while a cat tombstone is flanked by catnip.

“That kind of storytelling is probably not so obvious, but I think it’s important to get across to our fans who are intrigued by the mansion,” Hobbs said.

The extended closure of Disneyland allowed Imagineering to further enhance the Haunted Mansion backstory and bring back some old favorites that have been missing from the attraction for a while.

A changing portrait that may be familiar to longtime Haunted Mansion fans has rejoined the portrait gallery between the elevator and load station in the attraction queue. The “April to December” dynamic portrait based on original artwork by Disney Legend and Imagineer Marc Davis shows a lovely young woman age instantaneously.

“April to December” was removed in the early 2000s when the dynamic effects of the portrait didn’t work with some technology upgrades to the Haunted Mansion.

“We were able to extend the portrait hallway into what was otherwise a black box where you just got on your Doom Buggy,” Hobbs said.

Superfans notice when Imagineering adds or removes the smallest details from the Haunted Mansion, according to Hobbs. Hardcore mansion fans obsess over seemingly minor additions like the “April to December” portrait.

“When we’re able to bring it back in an even better way than it was before, which I think we’ve done, it enhances the story so much for us and drives the demand to ride the attraction,” Hobbs said.

A new cat statue next to the “April to December” portrait is based on discarded Haunted Mansion concept art created by Disney Legend and Imagineer X Atencio. One eye of the cat statue occasionally glows red.

Walt Disney deemed the original cat concept dreamed up by Atencio as too scary for his family-friendly park, according to Hobbs.

“X had this idea of this fiendish, devilish cat with a red eye,” Hobbs said. “He was going to be the host and you would see him like you do the raven in the scenes. It was definitely deemed a lot more intimidating, so it was scrapped for the raven.”

A new dollhouse has been added to the attic scene in the Haunted Mansion.

“The dollhouse is symbolic of the mansion itself,” Hobbs said. “If you get a good look at it, it’s a neat play on the architecture of the mansion itself.”

Eagle-eyed Haunted Mansion fans will want to look for a smattering of trinkets belonging to Constance Hatchaway the black widow bride that tell her “love story” with her five deceased husbands.

“You get more feedback and some storytelling on who they were,” Hobbs said. “You should be looking for new things and then also looking for some enhancements in terms of how we staged things. Things are staged a little bit differently to bring to light some of the more prominent pieces.”

A new floating wicker chair has been introduced in the seance scene.

“If you look at the balcony of the mansion, there’s some furniture out there,” Hobbs said. “Maybe that was an old piece that was out on the balcony at one point.”

Longtime fans may spot some enhancements to the graveyard scene they might not have noticed before — like a laughing mummy sitting with a tea cup.

“You’re able to see so much more now,” Hobbs said. “There are so many things that, especially as you go through the graveyard scene, that have been enhanced from a color perspective.”

Before the latest Haunted Mansion makeover, Hobbs worked on the Sleeping Beauty Castle renovation, Tropical Hideaway eatery expansion and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa refurbishment.

Before Imagineering, Hobbs was the first female officer in the U.S. Army’s 10th Engineer Battalion, which is part of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“My transition from the Army to Disneyland was amazing,” Hobbs said. “I’m much older than I was back when I was in the Army. I’d much rather work on the Haunted Mansion than be sleeping in the rain with a poncho over my head.”

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