June 1, 2015

Disneyland in 1969: Welcome Foolish Mortals

In honor of the big 60th Diamond Anniversary of Disneyland Park, a group of sixty Disney-loving bloggers is participating in a blog series celebrating Disneyland's rich history. Each day for sixty days leading up to the anniversary on July 17th, a new blogger will be writing about a single year of Disneyland history. So, you can imagine how honored I was to be included in this tribute to my happy place and to also get 1969, the year my very favorite Disneyland attraction was born. For people who love the Haunted Mansion like I do, it was a really big year. In fact, I am certain that 1969 will forever be known in Disney history as the year Disneyland guests fell in love with those playfully tragic 999 Happy Haunts.

While the mansion itself had been built in 1962 and 1963, it was not until 1969 that Disneyland guests were finally able to join those 999 Happy Haunts for a swinging wake as promised. In his Forward for Jason Surrell’s The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, Disney Legend Marty Sklar said, “It turns out that on a visit to the United Kingdom, Walt had mentioned to several reporters that one of the reasons for his trip was to search the old castles and country manor homes for ghosts… but only ghosts that had a passion to continue to practice their trade in a new environment, ‘built especially for them’ at Disneyland. Walt’s story became the inspiration for my sign copy, posted outside the completed exterior of the Haunted Mansion in 1963." For years the suspense had been growing as guests were left wondering about what was to come. It took a while but Walt and his creative team finally had a plan that was sure to impress.

Walt always wanted New Orleans Square to be picturesque and lovely so the exterior of the Haunted Mansion and its grounds has always been beautifully maintained. It isn't until unsuspecting guests actually enter the mansion that they are greeted with its gloomy darkness, endless cobwebs and the look of a mansion deserted and left in disrepair. Narrated by Paul Frees, our haunting journey is told from the point of view of the invisible but charmingly funny and maniacal Ghost Host. In the impressive Stretching Room, he confesses to committing suicide and our dark adventure begins. Once out of the Stretching Room, guests enter different areas and rooms, including a conservatory, seemingly deserted hallways, a seance room, a very social ballroom, an attic, and even a haunted graveyard. Throughout the journey, guests are serenaded by the Haunted Mansion theme, Grim Grinning Ghosts, and introduced to the cast of 999 characters, which includes such fan favorites as Madame Leota, the Bride, two dueling ghosts and even a trio of Hitchhiking Ghosts, all as we ride along in our black doom buggies.

I like to say that the Haunted Mansion is actually my favorite and second favorite Disney attraction thanks to a seasonal overlay known as Haunted Mansion Holiday. Inspired by Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas, Haunted Mansion Holiday combines the two elements Walt Disney himself insisted be a part of this classic Disneyland attraction - thrills and chills with a dash of dark humor. Seeing how the playfully scary Jack Skellington interprets Christmas and Halloween adds a new layer to the Haunted Mansion that I am sure Walt would have appreciated.

Haunted Mansion Holiday, New Orleans Square - Disneyland
Since 1969 the timeless legacy of the Haunted Mansion has outstretched far beyond the perimeters of Disneyland. In fact, a version based on Disneyland's Haunted Mansion can be found in each and every Disney Parks resort worldwide. Both Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland have their own unique versions of the Haunted Mansion. Disneyland Paris is home to the very spooky Phantom Manor and visitors to Hong Kong Disneyland can visit Mystic Manor. However, due to the Chinese culture and its views on death, guests won't find any ghosts during their visit to Mystic Manor. Instead you will find many classic Haunted Mansion references, such as moving busts and a very lively portrait of Medusa. Other than at Disneyland Park, Tokyo Disneyland is the only other Disney Park to offer its guests a chance to experience their own version of Haunted Mansion Holiday.

Haunted Mansion, Liberty Square - Magic Kingdom (WDW)
Haunted Mansion, Fantasyland - Tokyo Disneyland
Phantom Manor, Frontierland - Disneyland Paris
Mystic Manor, Mystic Point - Hong Kong Disneyland

Recently Disneyland's Haunted Mansion celebrated its own 45th anniversary and, to celebrate the occasion, Disney Parks released a very impressive collection of Haunted Mansion merchandise. This extensive collection of merchandise showcases the iconic purple "Demon Eye Wallpaper" which was created for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion long ago by Disney Legend Rolly Crump. This very unique wallpaper pattern had been designed to give guests the feeling that they were somehow being watched during their journey throughout the house and perfectly compliments the tension created by pounding hall doors, the eerie sounds of moans and far off screams, bazaar portraits and doors that somehow appear to be breathing as if the Haunted Mansion itself were alive. This collection has proven to be very popular among Disney Parks fans and items like the pricey Haunted Mansion Dooney and Bourke bags have sold out online in mere minutes.

The most recent big development in Disneyland's long Haunted Mansion history actually happened just last month. Of course I am talking about the legendary return of the beloved Hatbox Ghost. Hattie's return during the 60th Diamond Anniversary of Disneyland has been pretty epic. For decades, Disneylanders have been left debating over his back story and even his very existence. During my last trip to Disneyland I was able to ride the Haunted Mansion and see him up close and in person for the very first time and I was not disappointed at all. I won't ruin it and explain the effects involved to you... You need to visit him and see it for yourself.

The beauty of the Haunted Mansion for me is in its duality. It is classically spooky and I love all the "old school" haunted house touches. However, it also has a lighthearted comedic feel that is both playful and fun. Through the magic of storytelling and with the creative genius of such Disney Legends as Marc Davis, Claude Coats and, of course, Walt Disney himself before his death, the Haunted Mansion has been able to make guests both laugh and cringe for over 45 years. It is the first attraction we visit when visiting Disneyland and has become a time-honored family tradition as my own son has recently decided that it is one of his favorites Disney attractions as well. After all, it can truly be fun to be scared.

"If you would like to join our jamboree / There's a simple rule that's compulsory;
Mortals pay a token fee / Rest in peace, the haunting's free;
So hurry back, we would like your company..."


  1. 1969 was the second year that I visited DL - and immediately fell in love with the HM which remain my favorite today ... 46 years later. Imagine how jealous I was of my son when as a college freshman on the Walt Disney World College Program, he was one of two CP's assigned as butlers in Master Gracey's Mansion. In 1969 I visited the Mansion with my parents (I was 16) and this year my grandsons made another visit to the HM with their former "butler" dad ... the 4th generation of my family to enjoy those Grim Grinning Ghosts.

  2. The Haunted Mansion is a favorite in my house too Beth! In fact, we got to attend the "Room for One More" 40th-anniversary event at Walt Disney World and got to see video of Walt speaking about his "theater of the macabre." Knowing he was so excited and invested in this particular attraction makes it so much more lovable. In fact, the Imagineers present that night call the Haunted Mansion "Walt's final project." I've gotten to see three Disney parks (so far) and I don't think I could pick a favorite- I love that the resident haunts all have their own personalities! Thank you so much for sharing your ghoulish passion with us birthday girl!!!

    PS- Mark, you know I can't get enough of your family's personal connections to this beloved attraction; everyone should have a butler dad!

  3. I love your post! You are so right, the Haunted Mansion really is two different attractions when you think about The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. Such a bonus! We are lucky <3

  4. The Haunted Mansion was the first attraction we visited at Walt Disney World in 1972 and it has been wowing us ever since! I was blown away by Haunted Mansion Holiday during the 2014 Avenger's Half Marathon Weekend and the Hat Box Ghost did not disappoint. Those devilish tricksters are always up to something! Thank you so much for sharing the history of this attraction that is so near and dear to so many of us. We're so grateful you joined the series!